Beauty – An Enigma Unresolved

Society's concept of beauty only serves to reinforce sexist beliefs and reduces the value and worth of women.


Beauty and womenGuest Blogger Abhilasha Watsa is an aspiring activist for the cause of gender equality and holds a Masters degree in Political Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU).

If one traces women’s genealogy it can be observed that a woman’s body has mostly taken prominence over her cognitive faculties in most societies. Even in the western discourse philosophers like Aristotle, Nietzche, Kant, Plato and several others have thought women not to be rational or at most given them a semi rational position. Along with this there has also been denial of autonomy and agency to her in various respects. Consequently it has always been the beauty of her body which has given her identity. A woman is psychologically conditioned in a manner were she is bound to think that if she does not subscribe to the prescribed norms of beauty, she will become invisible from the day to day proceedings.

Forgotten is the proverb “beauty is skin deep”. The accepted framework of beauty narrates a different story. What we see is an extremely shallow manifestation of beauty. Since time immemorial there have been debates about bestowing the so called “inner beauty” an edge over the outer appearance. Unfortunately this remains mere rhetoric, although in 1968-69 for the first time this notion about beauty was questioned when women’s liberation in America staged demonstrations at the annual Miss America Beauty pageant held in Atlantic City.

The 1968 protest originated with New York Radical Women, one of the earliest women’s liberation groups in the country. They argued that the contest reverberated that the most important thing about a woman is how she looks. All women were made to believe that they were inferior because they couldn’t measure up to Miss America beauty standards.

The movement was of course a big step towards diluting the rigid socially created norms about beauty, but later it was restricted to the feminist discourse at large. Till today there is no explicit debate and discussion about the need to radically redefine the persisting absurd meaning of beauty.

Beauty is neither an evil in itself nor a boon in every form, it is more or less a neutral and flexible concept. This implies that it can be moulded into a pattern that we as individuals choose.

Unfortunately the factors which play an overarching role in setting up these standards lie within the deeply entrenched societal conditioning. Even more unfortunate is the fact, that we the so called rational beings endowed with the power to analyse and question, conveniently fall prey to these societal manipulations.

Chasing this severely contaminated projection of beauty is like chasing a mirage. Our standards of beauty can never be reached.

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Chasing this severely contaminated projection of beauty is like chasing a mirage. Our standards of beauty can never be reached. And even if it is reached the bar would be raised again. Monali Sharma in her article Beauty In The Times Of Botox very rightly asserts, “The dark skinned wants to be fair, the fair wants to be fair-er, the fairest wants to be marks free, the marks- free, wants to be perfect skinned, the perfect skinned wants something that can’t be figured out and faithfully awaits a beauty brand to invent some new flaw and dedicate a range for removing it.

In India we see a negative diversification of beauty, which means that it varies from region to class to caste. For instance north Indians are considered to be better looking than south Indians. Dalit population or the population comprising of any lower caste will be considered less attractive when compared to the upper caste citizenry. Being a patriarchal society, the onus of a perfect body, flawless skin, splendid features still falls on the shoulders of a  woman, though  in contemporary times with the coming up of the concept of  metro sexuality, men too have been burdened with the need to have eye candy looks. But they still are placed in a much better position than women. It still remains a matter of choice for men as opposed to women. For women, looking good is still mandatory even if she is economically empowered.

So shallow is the attitude of many societies that a woman’s beauty is often related to chastity. A conventionally beautiful woman is supposed to be as pure as a white lily. Sexuality and virginity are considered to be central elements that makes the beauty complete for her. This leads to a situation where outraging the modesty of a woman through rape and acid attacks becomes an easy weapon to demean, disgrace and humiliate her. This rips her confidence and self-esteem apart. It is a belief that if this dimension of beauty is played with, the honour and respect of the woman as well as her family would be tarnished. What a shameless attempt to stigmatize beauty!

The market of beauty has been quite successful in brainwashing our psyche so much so that we do not mind torturing ourselves under knives and chemicals.

Commercialisation is a major factor behind this whole chaos and frenzy regarding appearance. The market of beauty has been quite successful in brainwashing our psyche so much so that we do not mind torturing ourselves under knives and chemicals. There is a product in the market called Clean And Dry Intimate which  promises fresher and fairer lady parts! This market legitimizes, solidifies and propagates beauty in its most ruthless form. It is robbing us of our finances, self-respect and even good health. So severe is its impact that even a slight abnormality appears to be magnified. What could be the way forward then? The problem does not lie with the concept of beauty, it rather is with outdated notions and our obsession with appearance.

I have no intention to suggest quick fixes to the sad state of affairs regarding beauty. Human beings are endowed with the innate capacity to think rationally. It is time we analyse and critically question both pros and cons of beauty with an unbiased mindset.

We should celebrate our own body regardless of what the others perceive it to be. It is high time we condemn this contaminated notion of beauty that we ourselves encourage through our everyday endeavours, perhaps unknowingly. Beauty is enigmatic and diverse in nature. This diversity deserves to be embraced and adored.

*Photo credit: M.H.G (Bah) (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)


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