You’ve all read a YA story like this: the protagonist is a young woman with self-esteem issues, a forced love interest, a painful lack of friends, and who doesn’t think she’s beautiful. Whether it’s in a dystopia or a high fantasy, our girl reacts to positive compliments about her appearance with everything ranging from rage and relief to shame and disbelief. Sound familiar?
Beauty is a loaded topic on its own and this is the reason questions about ‘make-up vs going natural’ or comments about certain countries having a greater percentage attractive people (um, what?) tend to blow up on social media and lead to fights both on and offline.
In short, many people seem to think that taking care of one’s appearance is of the utmost importance.
I beg to disagree.
‘What?’ you might gasp, hoping you’ll never meet this crazy college student who supposedly thinks it’s all right to walk around without brushing one’s teeth or doing their hair or wearing yesterday’s clothes.
No, that’s not what I mean at all.
You see, taking care of one’s health is of the utmost importance and that’s where brushing your teeth, taking a shower and wearing clean clothes comes in.
But your appearance?
Allow me to share my thoughts.
We’re in the age of body positivity now and in short, I love it. Girls complimenting other girls, supporting each other’s struggles, accepting and appreciating all body types and skin colors and physical features….this not our complete reality yet, but just a few years ago it was almost unthinkable to see such validation in mainstream culture. In recent times, terms like girl-on-girl hate have come into common usage and is now a point of criticism when dealing with media where women are set up as enemies against each other and brutally compared on the basis of their looks (read: their perceived attractiveness in the eyes of men).
But take a look at our magazines and movies and music today. Though stumbling and imperfect, we have come a long way from the time when so-called beauty was a high, almost unreachable ideal that could only be gained by a select few after vicious competition and merciless elimination. Now we live in a more friendly environment where it’s easier to call everyone you see ‘beautiful’ and not in spite of their supposed flaws or deviations from conventional ideals of attraction, but because of it.
However, this isn’t the solution either.
When a friend, family member or acquaintance confides a personal inhibition about an aspect of their appearance, be it weight issues or skin problems or hair texture, it’s become almost a knee-jerk reaction for the listener to jump and brush these concerns aside with a loud, overpowering, “but you’re beautiful!” or “don’t say that, you’re so pretty!” or something along those lines.
Why is it wrong? Let’s unpack this a bit. The above scenario is a common one and we must have all gone through it as either the speaker or the listener dozens if not hundred of times without giving any special thought to the encounter. It’s gratifying to come out with worries or dissatisfaction about a very intimate and often hard to change part of one’s external self, and be met with warm understanding and the reassurance of one’s beauty. However, that’s where the problem begins. When we automatically assume that ‘looking beautiful’ is the other person’s desire and immediately jump in to tell them so, we construct beauty as a qualification that must be achieved, but one that can also be lost by ‘failing in various ways (such as getting pimples, stretch marks, cellulite, uneven tanning, facial hair growth, and so on). When we try to make someone feel better by praising their physical appearance or attractiveness, we are ultimately framing beauty as a requirement for every woman, when in reality, it is anything but.
Via fairycosmos on Tumblr
There are definite requirements for individuals in life. Personal hygiene, for example. Ensuring one’s health and safety. Mental and emotional maturity. Being mindful of etiquette.
But beauty? Not even close.
Advertising companies have already latched onto this. Before, cosmetics were sold in order to sell beauty to clients. Now, the marketing strategy has evolved and the same cosmetics are sold but while extolling the already existing beauty of the client. The products just promise to further enhance it. These companies would probably have difficulty with promoting their cosmetics in a world where men and women believe that they do not need to rise to a certain standard of beauty and that existing bare faced makes someone just as attractive as being elegantly made up.
Too many people treat beauty as a thing on a switch that can be raised and lowered as and when required. Going to a wedding? Take it up to maximum. Nothing can be spared to make you look your ‘best’. Off to the grocery store? Turn it down, you don’t need to even need to put on eyeliner, really. Especially in a country like Japan, it’s common to meet many women admit to wearing white surgical masks not because they’re sick but due to the fact that they haven’t had time to put on their make-up or that they look tired and don’t want to ‘inflict’ their faces on others. (Do men do this as well? Not as frequently, I’m sure)
We shouldn’t fault the individual for this kind of mindset, but the society and media that keeps screaming that we are inherently beautiful, while also insisting that beauty is a spectrum and a lot of the times, we’re just not up to mark.
I’ve tried to start a change in the way I think about beauty with regard to my own appearance. Before, I used to tell myself that I looked ‘fine’, ‘good’ or ‘acceptable,’ struggling to pick out the features that could help substantiate my argument and further ‘improving’ them.
Now, I do something different. I don’t tell myself that I’m beautiful or good looking when I’m reluctant to believe it. Instead, on the occasions when I am tired, sick, depressed or just don’t feel my best, I accept my dark ringed eyes, the marks on my cheeks, the wide and turned up nose and tell myself that whatever I look like, the respect I receive from the people around me should have nothing to do with my physical appearance on that day. I don’t try to fall in love with what I consider my flaws. Instead, I save my efforts and now channel it towards other parts of my appearance, like sleeping in to look better rested, exercising more frequently, or ironing a freshly washed shirt for my next outing.
My perspective has really changed the way I look at others now. I never really used to judge, but I would fixate on another person’s physical features and wonder how they were perceived by the people around them, and maybe try to guess at what could constitute thing things that they considered ‘flaws’. Now, I don’t care. I’ve detached myself from the idea of beauty being something people should strive towards and I’ve done it in such a way that I don’t feel any differently about those who do.
I’m quite comfortable with the idea that there are thousands if not millions of people who might spend their entire lives on this earth without ever pleasuring the eyes of another person, no matter whatever efforts they take with their personal appearance. But that’s completely all right because they have just as much right to be here as someone who is considered ‘conventionally attractive’. Even if I fall into the former category, I wouldn’t mind. Because, between you and me, I’d rather give someone out to judge my physical appearance a good old-fashioned headache any day.