‘Don’t Stop Dancing’: The Pressure of Perfection

“If I don’t post new content every day, then I’ll lose followers and if I lose followers, then I’ll lose my brand name, I’ll lose everything.”

A lot of us are well versed in the characterisation of Sarah Lynn in Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. Sarah Lynn was, as a successful child artist, loved by everyone. Rather, everyone loved her work, something which reassured her of her importance to her craft and her chances to be made immortal.

So, Sarah Lynn continued to be a sensation with her music videos. But then the anxiety of constantly performing and creating content to gratify her audiences eventually catches up to her.

While initially discussing the show with some friends, we concluded that her tragic downfall was the result of her addictions and not the broken society she lived in. But I now believe that tragedies like this befall many artists because of the society that he/she is inspired by – a society artists are constantly trying to appease.

There is essentially no end to the show called life, only intervals – intervals where you can quickly find yourself replaced. Several actors, performers and writers have spoken up about this constant looming pressure to produce and fashion the latest trends. And what trends is constantly changing, and is always motivated by the interests of the viewers.

Also read: The Influencer Life – ‘Truth and Advertising’

This scrutiny has overturned the concept of ‘artists and their work’ to ‘artists and people pleasing’. Many spend their whole lives trying to make their fans happy. They get validation for their work to only realise they lost themselves along the way.

There are some that would argue that stars have an undue influence on our lives, right down to the way we dress and talk. That’s true. But society at large plays its own role by being a cause of the diminishing mental health of the artists too.

Allow me to share an example of an influencer I met through Instagram, who happened to be a distant relative. Let’s call her May*.

May, who is a successful fashion blogger, started off five years ago and is at the top of her game. Her selling point from the very beginning was that she’s a voluptuous woman, confident about her curves, stretch marks and dark skin. She started sharing photos, writing blogs and recommending comfortable and easy-to-buy plus-size clothing.

As time went by, she gained more and more followers. This led to an emotional and mental change. The 18-year-old girl who had not been ashamed of her body – even when she was told ‘you’d look so pretty if you were thinner’ – was now giving out weight loss tips and doing her best to conform to the universally approved body image.

Essentially, as she gained more and more success and inched closer to everything she had dreamed about, she succumbed and allowed her followers to start influencing her lifestyle choices. She constantly obsesses about her thin figure now, and even uses and recommends fairness enhancing creams.

Think about it. It took us five years as a society to change a woman’s confidence and self-perception, and directly influence her deteriorating mental health.

May seems high on life with many followers and brands to her name. But I keep thinking about how much it must hurt to be in her position, to fear even that one troll who might send her on an emotional rollercoaster.

It’s not the fault of artists that they are not ‘young’ enough or perfect enough for us anymore. We have failed our artists by constantly demanding perfection. When we get it, we feel that this is the only ‘right’ way for them to be instead of embracing the vulnerable, creative side each one of us has.

As the song from the BoJack Horseman goes:

Life is a never-ending show, my friend,
A twisting-turning, ever-bending show.
The audience is everyone you know, my friend;
Leave them with a smile when you go!
You can bet, that you’re a star, so don’t forget
How fun you are!
Get up there and give it your all
And don’t stop dancing, don’t stop dancing ’til the curtains fall!
You are a rotten little cog, mon frère;
Spun by forces you don’t understand!
Living is a bitter nasty slog, mein herr;
Why not sell your sadness as a brand?
Paint your face and brush your mane and find someplace to cut your pain
To portions we can buy at the mall!
And don’t stop dancing—
no you can’t stop dancing ’til the curtains fall!
Aw shucks!
Today’s the day you’ve got the spark
and find the way to make your mark
and get your tiny name on that wall
So don’t stop dancing, baby don’t stop spinnin’!
Don’t stop beltin’ buddy; now we’re winnin’!
Grief consumes you but you just keep grinnin’!
The ache becomes you and it’s just beginnin’!
Don’t stop dancin’
Nothing’s certain but the curtain!

Shailja Gusain is an aspiring writer/translator based in Delhi. She reads to be more empathetic to her counterparts no matter what country, age or identity.

Featured image credit: Netflix