Style & Beauty
Style September 12, 2017
We should be saying, "It doesn't matter."
Every other day, my social media calls attention to a new article on “body positivity” or “attractiveness.”
Being the feminist that I am, I quickly follow up on such pieces. Their content ranges from encouraging calls to little girls to see their bodies as beautiful, shutting down body shaming and fat shaming, to self-aware pieces that finally criticize so-called women’s magazines for profiteering by undermining and nit-picking women’s bodies.
Most of them I find myself in agreement with, but some, not so much. I see the surfeit of “feminist” pieces today arguing that everything is beautiful, all bodies are beautiful, and I wonder. I appreciate the sentiment behind these movements, but in a twist to the story, I would call upon these writers to not equate everything to being beautiful, but to move beyond our obsession with beauty.
In my own life, I have found far greater strength in dismissing “beauty” as staggeringly important. So when I see the advertisements, the beauty regimes and the social movements attempting to portray everyone as beautiful – I understand and recognize where they come from, but I wonder whether we are not further entrapping women and girls within expectations borne of the weakness of human nature.
If we truly want our little girls to grow up to be strong, confident young women, we cannot tell them that everything is fine, because it won’t be. There will be that mean kid in class who may call them ugly, the partner who comments on the way they look. There will continue to be certain standard conceptions of beauty, even if they are not the same as they are now.
Our goal should not be to convince our daughters that everything and everyone is always beautiful. Because, guess what? It never will be. The world, human nature, competitiveness and our appeal towards aesthetics will always survive. Rather than feed it by calling upon the world to expand its range of tastes, should we not seek to reduce its influence? Let me explain.
To this day, my mother herself sometimes wonders how I turned out to be so unwaveringly feminist, how I devised my own set of rules and principles to live by, and how it was that I started on this path. Many a time, when I have described to her the subtle and not so subtle ways in which other girls have found themselves undermined, she wonders why despite not identifying as a feminist herself, I had not been subjected to any such influences.
I always tell her, “You forgot to tell me that I was lesser because I was not a boy. You simply forgot to tell me there were some things I was not destined for.” But unbeknownst to her, in one other way, my mother would lay one of the strongest foundations for her daughter’s feminism.
Some time when I was 10 -12 years old, I remember a conversation with my mother — where I had pitied someone for being, as I thought it, “ugly.” My mother quickly reprimanded me, and said (and I still remember this), “Never judge someone for their looks. It is something they have no control over. How can you judge someone for something they can’t change?” Tagged to this lesson, of course, was one in morality – it was cruel to let one’s view of a person be influenced by an aspect that they can’t control.
To this day, I remember that lesson. I remembered that when people mocked or poked fun at my own looks — rather than feeling angry, hurt or humiliated, I thought it pathetic of them to pick on something one can’t change. From that day on, looks became the most idiotic thing, (in my mind) that one could focus on. When the customary rash of experimentation with fairness creams began in my teens in my school, I refused to use them. If I did, I would be bothered about “my looks,” which seemed inordinately silly.
Why waste time on something that wasn’t in your control in the first place? I’m pretty sure my mother doesn’t dwell on how much this lesson of hers contributed to my confidence, but it did. To a certain extent, my disdain for an obsession with “attractiveness” was a very effective armor against society. That idea, that my looks weren’t in my control, and so to obsess about it was just a waste of time, would determine my mental makeup for most of my teens.
Not only did it keep me safe from succumbing to influences about “beauty,” but it also meant that I viewed with derision anyone else’s obsession with it, and that is how I would decide who I liked and didn’t like.
In my teens, as a dark-skinned girl with bushy hair, I never considered myself pretty. In fact, I was very sure I was not. And I didn’t care. Of far more concern were my studies and my extracurricular activities. As luck would have it, those would turn out to be the chinks in my armor later on, but I think issues relating to accomplishments are far easier dealt with than with looks.
This is not to suggest that I am entirely unaffected by emotions or thoughts relating to beauty or attractiveness, and as I grew older and formed more definite views about what I liked, would certainly invest time and effort into some aspects of the beauty regime, mostly with my mother’s approval or participation. Contrary to issues with looks as in skin colour and features, I grew to to be highly critical of myself in regards to weight, since I deemed that as an aspect that I should be in control of.
But my mom’s lesson protected me from countless hours of emotion spent on insecurity and sadness about looks, and became the the most accurate determinant of character for me to use in my own interactions. I could never bring myself to respect or value those who used physical attractiveness as grounds to bludgeon or evaluate someone. Rather than anger, I reacted with scorn and pity for those who did. A social system based on attractiveness, for anything other than sexual / romantic interest (in which case I fully acknowledge the role physicality plays) seemed utterly and completely despicable to me .
This dislike prevented me from wasting time on obtaining or struggling for social validation in one sense or the other. This mindset unerringly helped me pick out the people with whom I would be most suited to be friends. To this day, those who dismissed such ideas have continued to be the most wonderful human beings I know.
This may be an individual’s story, and I do not seek to proclaim that discarding an emphasis on one’s looks is easily said or accomplished in today’s world. I would also not suggest that this perspective will be the answer to all of the self-confidence problems plaguing female social interactions today. I definitely do not deny the role physicality plays in a romantic / sexual interaction. But in a world obsessed with beauty, we should be rejecting that standard for our little girls and focusing on character.
Let’s not tell them that they are beautiful – instead tell them it is irrelevant. When retaliating against body shaming, by insisting that “all bodies are beautiful” we are still buying into the idea that beauty is the end goal, the ultimate prize. Imagine if we can say, “maybe I’m not beautiful, but that is irrelevant,” “maybe I’m not great-looking, but how does it matter?”
Then maybe we can truly be free of an industry and a culture that will always look to profit off of our need to be beautiful.
Send this to a friend