When Does Wanting It All Leave You With Nothing Worth Having? by Amy Liptrott

12 August 2017

As a young girl, being brought up in the 80s (yes, it is rude to ask a lady’s age. Thankfully I’m not a lady. I’m 38. And love my age), I was surrounded by the back catalogue of two ideals. Firstly, following the 1950s model, the ideal to be well educated and then marry well and bring up children. Secondly, the 1960s/70s ideal of another round of female emancipation. Burning bras, feminism becoming a word to make men ‘roll their eyes’ and the gradual but important recognition of the glass ceiling and unequal pay. 

So, in the 80s, how did that develop? I reckon my generation is feeling the fallout of this. At school we were told women can and should do anything. We put pressure on ourselves to outstrip the boys and were doing rather well. The traditional method of education we have in this country favours girls and the way they learn. Or we made it so – to out run the boys. We were given role models of women in the top jobs. Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister in 1979 made me a so called ‘Thatcher baby’ and showed that women could reach the top and have a family. The bar was set. Now, not only could we do anything, we had to do everything. 

I’m not using official statistics to prove this. I’m still living through it. There is still an expectation on me from family and family friends to settle down, get married, have children and work, the traditional model perfected in the 1950s and regurgitated through 1970s and 80s films and animations – including, of course, Disney. If Ariel can do it, if she can get her prince and live happily ever after, so can I. This idea of having something being the end goal has become a very fixed idea. What we never saw was 3 years down the line when Eric and Ariel have settled into married life and aren’t living the fairy tale any more. Now, that I would pay to see. At the same time, we had the ‘fairy tale’ marriage of a real life prince – Prince Charles – to his princess, Diana. Oof, how the media leapt on this as the real life fairy tale. It’s telling that 20 years after her death, the press and media are still making a mint from selling the reality of that particular fairy tale. We want the fairy tale, but we revel in its public failure. 

What we never saw was 3 years down the line when Eric and Ariel have settled into married life and aren’t living the fairy tale any more.

When given such perfect goals to aim for, I was always going to fall short. I even, stupidly, accepted a job in the hope of meeting my prince charming at work and ‘being saved’. It didn’t work, surprisingly! Buying into these ideals is dangerous but so difficult to ignore. The commercial society we live in keeps us striving for perfection and pitting us against each other in order to keep us buying into their products. 

Material things buy happiness – so we’re told. It’s bad for business for us all to be content with our appearance, our homes, our cars, our jobs, our lives. Keeping up with the Joneses is a very clear and successful marketing idea. It’s human instinct to not be left behind. We want to be part of the in-crowd. That will make us better people. That will allow us to live happily ever after. 

Sadly, it doesn’t. It doesn’t strike me as surprising that the rise in reported and acknowledged issues surrounding mental health has soared since the 1980s. The pressure we put on ourselves and the ideals we strive to achieve are making society ill. This issue isn’t limited to women – I am talking from my own perspective but wholeheartedly recognise the strain felt by men to aspire and conform to the Gucci image they’re told is the perfection they have to buy into. 

Is it worth it? That probably depends on who you are and how immune you can be to the pressure. It also probably depends on how much you can avoid putting pressure on others. And think about Ariel and Eric 30 years on. The fairy tale will have faded. Will the magic still be there?

The Soft Subject (A Love Story) joins Assembly Festival at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 3-28 August 2017 at 16:25 @ Assembly Hall - Baillie Room. See more of The Soft Subject (A Love Story) here!