Representation Matters

I recently wrote a post dedicated to women and in that post, I mentioned that I didn’t really have a role model growing up.

My exact words were: “I didn’t grow up with any female role models. The closest thing I had was Lara Croft, but to be honest she was a rich adventuring woman whose butler I used to lock in the freezer, which isn’t really a relatable lifestyle. Plus, if we’re basing this on the PlayStation version, then she was a cartoon figure with triangle boobs so she wasn’t really much of a role model either.”

Unrealistic body expectations and all that.

But the truth is that if you took away all of the sexualisation of the gaming character, and just focussed on the Lara Croft character past her computer-animated aesthetics; that cartoon was a pretty good role model when it comes to representing a different side of women. Because minus the unattainable lifestyle and the butler with stalker tendencies and an incredibly annoying rattly tray; Lara Croft was very much who and what she wanted to be.

The media would class Lara Croft as “a woman in a man’s world”, but not once throughout the original games did it feel like that. She was a bit of a psycho, sure. But what highly educated tomb-raiding billionaire wouldn’t be. I mean when most people have enough outside space; they add a swing set to the garden. Lara Croft had an obstacle course. She’s literally stealing artifacts off its native land to keep for her personal collection so she’s hardly an angel herself – but these ethics wouldn’t have been bought into the discussion if she was a man, and so they’re not going to be now.

So, back to the ‘Lara Croft being whatever she wanted to be’ bit.

Lara Croft’s presence in tomb-raiding was never questioned for being a woman. She was in those tombs because she wanted to be, not because she had to be and she was fearless, badass and a bit mental in her pursuit of that. She was the first character where boys in the neighbourhood where I grew up thought she was cool, and it wasn’t to do with being regarded as a computer-animated pin-up. It was because she was strong and capable.  There was never any doubt. Lara Croft didn’t need the “This Girl Can” movement. She was the movement. Except it didn’t really move far because it’s been over twenty years and the media still portrays strong women as unattractive, and vulnerable women as weak. It breaks my heart because humans as a whole are so multifaceted. You can be strong AND weak AND smart AND naive AND fun AND serious and there are so many more examples of things that contradict each other, yet are felt by the masses. You don’t have to be one or the other, you can be both. And for me, Lara Croft was the first embodiment I saw of this.

She had what would be considered as both feminine and masculine attributes but they were never labelled, just accepted. Minus the weird computer aesthetics which made everything a bit distorted in terms of body shape – her appearance was never the main focus of the game – the character and her goals were.

I was only young when the game came out so there are only certain parts which I remember. I could be looking at this whole thing through rose coloured glasses. Which would be embarrassing considering I wrote this 1865 word article on it. But I was 5 years old when the Lara Croft game out and it wasn’t even my game to play. I was too busy climbing trees, seeing how many people we could fit on (and in) a Little Tikes cosy car and being covered in dirt and food. The Lara Croft game was my older brothers. I remember that Lara Croft’s identity was never torn apart; it was accepted and the game played as it was supposed to be (minus the locking the butler in the meat freezer – I’m pretty sure that was never in the game’s objectives).

I look at the media now and I realise how many behaviours are taught, learned and shaped by the opinions of others. That one person’s opinion can grow into another’s and that sometimes it can create a movement, but other times it can grow and fester. You only have to look at the comment section of a Daily Fail article to see how one viewpoint can breed more of it; I’ve never seen an online space as hate-filled as that website is. But hey – I guess your vibe really does attract your tribe!

Anyway. When I take a step back to look at this I can see why it happens; there is barely any diversity in so many of the mainstream outlets. And if there isn’t any representation of differences amongst humans, then how are people supposed to know that they exist? How are we supposed to learn about new things if we shoot down anything which is different? Why, when somebody comes along and challenges the status quo, are they faced with rejection and personal attacks? It relates to so many areas; appearance, gender, political affiliation, sexuality, personality – the characteristics which are ingrained into somebody’s very being. It shows that acceptance matters. Representation matters. For example; children don’t grow up wanting to become somebody who objectifies and sexualises women. Children don’t grow up wanting to tear apart another person about their interests, or their appearance, or how they speak, act, look or feel. At some point, this behaviour is learned.

And as adults, we all have to take responsibility for that.

Children are blank canvases when they are born, filled with nothing but love, horrible cries and poop. Apparently, the love outweighs the other bits but at some point, a change occurs and children go from being filled with love to being filled with hate, jealousy, disdain, envy or fear.

Somewhere between being born and growing into an adult a child who naturally accepts and questions everything (you’ve all seen and or heard a child who asks “why” every five seconds before the parent implodes into a pile of dust and a definitive “because I said so that’s why”) transform from being naturally curious to not questioning a single thing.

We are shaped by our surroundings and sometimes those surroundings corrupt our understanding of acceptance.

When I was growing up I wasn’t considered attractive. I was makeup free and wore baggy clothes. I played football and lived in trainers. I was ohmygodihatethisphrase “one of the lads”. Boys weren’t interested in me because I was too busy climbing trees, fishing with my dad or just generally being covered in dirt. On the occasion I dressed in what was considered “feminine” clothes and wore dresses or skirts, I felt like I was dressing up. It didn’t feel like me. I felt vulnerable because I couldn’t do the things I enjoyed doing in those clothes. Have you ever tried bending over in a miniskirt? You can’t. Have you ever tried climbing a tree in a mini skirt? You can’t. I mean – technically you can, but if you don’t want any passersby getting an eyeful, then you definitely can’t. At the time it felt like I had to be one or the other. That I could only be feminine, or masculine because the two weren’t harmonious with one another.

When I got older my previously unappealing state, suddenly started to appeal to people. Apparently, because I wasn’t into makeup or shopping, or handbags or shoes, I (and I quote – through gritted teeth) “wasn’t like other girls” I was the “cool girl”.

But it’s bulllshit.
I wasn’t cool. I mean I was (maybe, who knows) but not in the sense it was intended for. That phrase is one which is used to divide women. To make one woman feel special by comparing them against another, rather than celebrating the individual for being themselves. This might apply to men too, but considering I am a woman I cannot write about that – this blog is about first-hand experiences after all.

But the thing is, is whilst I am different from other people, I am also exactly like everybody else. There are plenty of people who are kind and sharp, fearless yet self-conscious, determined yet love to rest. We just have different concentrations of those things, and when I was created, they apparently went a little heavy on the sass and sarcasm. The thing is – is we have more similarities than we do differences. We have more that connects us than divides us and this is why representation matters. Because if it’s not represented, then we cannot see it, and if we can’t see it we don’t believe it and we can’t feel it.

If there aren’t others like you, you feel alone. Like an anomaly. You feel different and isolated because there is nobody to connect with. But if we represent our true selves a little more authentically, that isolation will melt away.

Lara Croft was considered a paradox, caught between being the fearless, agile psycho who could conquer anything she tried with persistence, to being simplified to a sexualisation by gaming media. But with other opinions moved to one side for a moment, she was also so much more. Lara Croft was a representation that one person can be made up of so many fundamental differences, yet still, be whole and not parts of a whole. She was one of many elements which first inspired me to travel. I envisioned myself venturing through ruins and discovering untold treasures. I dreamt of discovering the “next big thing” that was as big as the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. But after subscribing to an archaeology magazine I realised that it wasn’t in my interests. It sounds ridiculous because back then, Lara Croft was a game. She wasn’t real, she was fictional. But to my younger-self, Lara Croft was an embodiment of a state of mind where you could be anything you wanted to be. As for the film? I haven’t seen it yet – but from what I’ve seen Alicia Vikander trained HARD for the role by packing on 12 lbs of additional muscle and working out every day with the skill set required for the Lara Croft character. She took up fighting, swimming and strength training. And as far as I’m aware, there were no butlers locked in fridges! But all jokes aside, I hope the storyline does justice to the leading character and doesn’t reduce her to a token which contradicts the characteristics she was founded upon. But I guess time will tell…

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Were there any fictional characters that made an impact on your childhood? Let me know in the comments!

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