As I’ve stated in the past, in posts such as “What If It’s All Just A Dream?“, The Twilight Zone is one of my favorite television shows. Those classic 1950s episodes had so much insight that also continues to be relevant in today’s world. One such episode is titled, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.” I find this episode to be one of the most impactful ones I’ve ever seen. Its focus is on body image and I feel this is one of those episodes that just proves Rod Serling – The Twilight Zone’s creator – was way before his time. This is one of those episodes that still hold much relevance in today’s society.
Summing It Up
As the episode opens, we get to know a girl named Marilyn. She has now turned 18, and as a rule in her futuristic society, she is now to become “beautiful”. This is accomplished through a surgery that remolds the body and changes the brain so that the mind works just like it’s “supposed” to in the world. All men and women are to choose from two different looks per gender. You can either look one way, or another. No more unique characteristics, as uniqueness equates to ugliness in the world. Since everyone pretty much looks the same way, all people must wear nametags on their chest. That is the only way to tell someone apart from another look-alike. Sadly, this is not the only way in which society has changed. No longer are there books and teachings of Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare, as well as other philosophers, creative and free thinkers. Such books have been banned in the world, as they challenge the world’s goal of conformity. All people are to conform to this “perfect” civilization; otherwise they are committing a crime.
Marilyn’s mother, Lana, and her best friend, Valerie (Val), have both already gone through the change, and now it’s Marilyn’s turn. However, when most young adults are thrilled for their time of change to come, Marilyn is the complete opposite. She does not want to change. She wants to stay who she is. She loves the arts, philosophy, history, and all that the old world has to offer. When threatened by her doctor that she could be in serious trouble for speaking of such things, she explains that her deceased father gave her the books on the old world. She has learned about it throughout her childhood and teenaged years, and does not want to lose her love and appreciation for it all. The surgery that makes people perfect, will also remove such memories, desires, and passions from her mind. She will be like everyone else, and live a shallow and extra-long life, as the change also increases the lifespan through the elimination of diseases and illnesses.
We also go on to learn that Marilyn’s father took his own life, years after he had the surgery. He hated what he had become. He hated that his individuality had been taken. He didn’t have the passions and love for life that he had prior to the change. Marilyn does not want to lose her identity either, and she definitely does not want to lose the love for her father, as the change normally leaves people self-centered, narcissistic and without any care or concern for others. We’re lead to understand that her father had such a strong sense of himself, prior to the surgery, that some of that remained with him afterward. It was for that reason that he tried to instill those same values into his daughter, before it became too much for him.
Marilyn continues to fight the doctors, nurses, her mother, and best friend. Every one of them treats her like she is crazy for not wanting to make the change. Val, who chose the look referred to as “Number 12”, is an annoying, shallow, narcissistic and careless human being (using the term loosely here), and Marilyn sees it. She tries to convince her that such great things lie within a life of uniqueness, critical thinking, and creativity. But, all Val can focus on is how pretty she is and how life is perfect for her. She just doesn’t understand Marilyn’s reluctance.
Finally, Marilyn runs off throughout the hospital. She’s terrified that the time has come for the surgery and she wants to get away. Unfortunately, she runs to hide in a room that turns out to be the surgery room. The doctor and nurse are waiting for her, as the special incubation style table appears on screen, before fading out.
Next, we see Lana and Val talking about superficial issues, waiting for the doctor to come out of the room. The doctor then comes around the corner and tells them that all went well and Marilyn made it through just fine. The sweet, empathetic and intelligent girl that we followed throughout the episode now comes into the scene. She has been changed into Number 12, just like her friend Val. She runs up to the mirror in the hallway and stares endlessly at how she looks. The look on her face is one of self-loving. She then turns with a huge smile, looks at Val and says, “And the nicest part of all, Val… I look just like you!”
Our Marilyn has changed.
This episode is one of the best commentaries on the stress that is placed upon people to look a certain way. Forget the beauty inside, as that is not important. What’s important is what’s on the outside and for all to see. It’s disgusting to think that this was an episode from the 1950s, and yet we still deal with such issues with the “perfect” body image in today’s society. From airbrushed models on magazines, to gaunt looking celebrities on the screen, we see too many misrepresentations of the ideal body image. And, then we have the constant stories about someone famous gaining weight and “oh my gosh… what’s happened” to them.
Jessica Simpson comes to mind at the moment, as she is someone who has recently been consistently criticized for being overweight. People attack her for struggling with her weight, but what is wrong with her just being human? That’s what normal people do… we struggle with issues in life. For some it’s weight and eating disorders, for others it’s drugs or alcohol, or for some it’s mental illness, or some other issue. Being attacked for every single imperfection, of which we are already well aware, is just cruel and extremely unhelpful. In fact, it’s detrimental and does the complete opposite of help, for those who think they are encouraging through insults.
About five years ago, after I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I went on an extremely difficult diet. I’ve talked about it before in The Overweight Moon, but basically, it was an 800-calorie/day diet, and no more than 20 carbs per day. It was horrible and lead to my gallbladder giving out on me. Well, about a month or so into the diet, I had been struggling, but working really hard. I had lost 18 pounds at that point and felt proud of myself. Then, one day I was in a parking lot when a woman with her two young kids (around 5 and 7 in age) was walking behind me. No one else was in that area of the parking lot at the time. I then heard one of the kids say, “She probably has high blood pressure, huh?” My heart sunk. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I fully expected the mom to set the kid straight on manners and being polite, but my idea of a responsible parent was non-existent. The mom just replied to the kid, “Yeah, because that’s what happens when someone is overweight, right!?”
So, this woman is not only teaching her kids that someone who is overweight doesn’t deserve any respect or dignity, but also that it’s ok to make assumptions and generalizations based on how someone looks. I was left so crushed after this experience. I could not stop thinking about it, and it made me want to say, “Screw it!” in regard to my diet. I had lost 18 pounds, and I was so proud up until that point. Then, here is a woman who is teaching her kids to not even consider what someone’s life may be like. She didn’t know that I had lost weight at that point and that I was trying to get healthy. All, she cared about was how I looked, and the rest did not matter. How I looked said it all, because of course everyone’s life can be completely summed up in his or her looks.
“Number 12 Looks Just Like You”, is a perfect example of all of this, and so many other experiences that people endure. Marilyn was someone who wanted to be accepted and respected for who she was inside, but instead was treated as an ugly outcast due to her not looking like everyone else. She was someone to be pointed at and talked about behind her back, because she was not worth anything in her “ugly” state.
But, look at what a flawless body and mind did to Marilyn. She didn’t have anything wrong physically or mentally, because there wasn’t anything worthwhile left inside of her that could go wrong. Her personality and emotions had been stripped away. Everything that makes a person who he or she is was taken from Marilyn, and she was left with merely a shell of “perfection”, and an empty center. To me, that is ugly.
Would mental illness exist in Marilyn’s world? No, it would not, but that would be due to a lack of all-around mental sustenance. I prefer to keep my brain, no matter how screwed up it may be.
When you really think about it, our differences are what should bring us together, as a way to learn both from and about each other. If we were all just like Lana, Val and eventually Marilyn, then we’d have no reason to get to know one another. It’s our differences that make us interesting and special. It’s our differences that provide a rewarding existence.
It’s our differences that make the world beautiful, and truly bring us all together.