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Fairest Of Them All – Does It Matter How You Look?

Posted: August 27, 2019

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“To look good is everything.” This is something we have all heard at some point of time. Is being outwardly attractive the only factor that matters?

A four-year-old enhances her vocabulary and takes a fancy to pronouncing big words. Among these are words like ‘bioluminescent’ and ‘discrimination’.

While the science project at her pre-school summer camp gave her an idea that ‘bioluminescent’ was related to light, she was blissfully unaware of ‘discrimination’.

However, given how common the word is, a little child is definitely aware of it. Be it racial, cultural or colour based discrimination or even gender bias, an anti-LGBTQ stance, the world is abuzz with prejudice. And while it is not as explicitly discussed, it still prevails, the discrimination against unattractive people. It comes under the banner of Lookism.

Obsession with good looks

It was an April Fool’s day when I opened Facebook and saw a picture of my friend on the cover of a fashion magazine. As I tried to figure out how she got the modelling assignment, I saw several other magazine covers. All these had faces of people I knew.

What was it all about? “Your face on a glamorous magazine cover in seconds.” It was an app that apparently gave the face a total makeover within seconds of it being uploaded. The new photo would then be superimposed on a magazine cover.

It was a fun activity, and sure there was no harm in believing that you were a diva for a few fleeting moments. However, it only shows how most of us are enticed by the glitz, glamour and the sophistication. And, yes, how we all love to sport an attractive look!

To look good is everything?

Why does physical appearance have to be pleasing to the eyes? Starting with the most minuscule level of fairy tales and literature, we are told that the nice characters are beautiful and handsome. At the same time, it is the villains who are depicted as ugly and not as pleasing to look at.

It is these representations that play a big role in shaping the child’s psyche. That one needs to look pretty to be accepted in the society gets ingrained in their brains.

The ugly duckling

Danish poet and author Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ centres around the theme of personal transformation and self-image.

A bird hatches out of an egg that was accidentally left by a mother in a duck’s nest. It faces physical and verbal abuse by other ducks who think it is plain and ugly. This leads to it fleeing from the farm and after wandering for a long time, where it is taunted, insulted and humiliated, it finally finds itself in the company of swans.

Looking at its own reflection in the lake, it realises that over time, it has matured into a beautiful swan. It happily joins the gaggle of swans where it is welcomed.

The story of the ugly duckling unfolds in the human world as well where people struggle to be accepted and treated with respect.

Criticism for how they look

It is the sad truth, but there are many people who have suffered simply because they are considered unattractive. The world may have made economic and scientific progress but we go back a few steps in humanity when we judge people on their looks. It is a shame that people with visual disfigurements are at times ostracised and face the pangs of isolation.

An Indian human rights activist Shirin Juwaley is an acid attack survivor. She now helps several others who have gone through that same trauma as her.

It was an odyssey fraught with many challenges, and she says about her post-attack agony, “It dawned on me quite by shock that people were scared of my face. It was painful to be constantly stared at, listen to the gasps and expletives, and watch expressions of fright when people saw me.“

In her candid and humorous 2010 TED talk, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright shares how there was so much discussion about how she looked, and what she wore when she was in prominence. She also made a reference to how Condoleezza Rice was criticised for wearing boots at some event.

Aren’t only women criticised?

Well, hand in hand with the stigma of lookism, what comes in here is gender bias too because as Albright says “no guy ever gets criticised” for that. For these diplomats, honesty, integrity and professional accomplishments need to take the limelight. Wardrobe closets fall into the extraneous section and should not be the topics for gossip.

Indian actress Priyanka Chopra who has also made her impressive mark in Hollywood was appointed as the global UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in December 2016. Shortly after this honour, a news headline read, “Priyanka Chopra showing off her tummy with pride is a punch in the face of lookism”.

The article described how she looked chic on the red carpet, how to the surprise of a few, she let a slight paunch show through her figure-hugging dress. This was “a welcome relief for real girls across the world.” Well, Miss World 2000 could truly provide inspiration to those youngsters so insanely obsessed with thinness. Thereby resulting in severe dieting and excessive weight loss.

Taking care of yourself does matter

In no way am I advocating in favour of an unkempt, dishevelled look. To be properly groomed, to dress tastefully and appropriately is itself an art. I am not being judgmental about anyone taking good care of their health, exercising, and eating right to keep off the extra pounds.

Blessed are those who look young for their age or who have that charming countenance. But mankind needs to see far beyond, and treatment of fellow beings should not be guided by prejudice of any form. The underlying premise is that beauty is skin-deep.

So you might as well ignore the mirror that pronounces, “Who’s the fairest of us all!”

Picture credits: Unsplash

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Born in India, Rashmi Bora Das moved to the United States in the early nineties.

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