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My Answer To Those Who Commented On My Earlier Post Telling Me Not To “Overthink Compliments”

Beauty is a very clever, very evil capitalist tool. It traps those who have it into hanging on to it for dear life and those who don't into mutilating, torturing themselves to achieve the unachievable.

I recently wrote a piece about MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet in which he had shared a pic with six women parliamentarians tagging them and saying “Who says the Lok Sabha isn’t an attractive place to work?”

There was a rash of comments on the post shared on Instagram, which ranged from “chill, it’s just a compliment” and “stop overthinking compliments”, to (worried) men lamenting about “these feminazi”.

Here’s my answer to all those comments.

One of the reasons complimenting someone’s looks is problematic, is because our idea of ‘good looks’ or ‘attractiveness’ are not this organic, aha moment where we look at someone and suddenly find them attractive. We have been schooled to the point of a cult level of conditioning.

When did we begin to think that fat is ugly and thin is beautiful? When did we begin to think that fair is beautiful but dark is not? When did we know that big noses are ugly and thin aquiline noses are gorgeous? Who taught us these things?

And yes, these things were taught.

It all started from here, as the title of this pic says

‘Beautiful’ and ‘Ugly’ as defined by an early children’s book.

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The billboards and magazines with impossibly thin caucasian women selling us things we never knew we needed, the light skinned, extremely thin Punjabi women who are passed off as Tamil women in Tamil cinema, the complete lack of any representation of real actual tribal people, but passing off black-faced and dirty looking half-naked actors as tribals.

Did we really think beauty is in the eyes of the beholder when your eyes had no chance of making that decision for you, because your brain was fucked up from birth?

The problem with these ‘beauty standards’ is often that the onus falls on the women to be reflections of what culture demands of femininity, attractiveness.

Why is the default considered a ‘slim, fair, young’ Indian woman?

Yesterday a friend sent me some videos of a nukkad style play being staged by another friend. I watched with growing realisation that all the female cast were thin and fair and very young. Even in street theatre there are no dark-skinned, fat, older women. And as far as I noticed, the play was a social commentary that didn’t particularly demand a cast of women who were young and fair and thin.

Another example: a portrait artist I know, never paints dark-skinned people. He says that there is no beauty in dark skin, it doesn’t appeal to the artist in him. Even when he does paint a dark-skinned person, he whitewashes the skin to the point where an Indian woman begins to resemble a white European.

Same goes for any person from any marginalised communities. Ahana Kumra keeps saying “Janaab” in Call My Agent, because she plays a  Muslim character and of course all Muslims always say janaab! Our idea of a trans woman is either cis men Sharad Kelkar or Akshay Kumar in sarees (Laxmii) or a cis woman Vaani Kapoor (upcoming Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui).

‘Attractiveness’ deemed most important in women

The problem with women being told they are attractive is firstly that their ‘attractiveness’ becomes more important than any other achievement that they have slaved for (Shashi Tharoor making a creepy uncle tweet on his fellow women parliamentarians making the Lok Sabha an attractive place, or the aged Amitabh Bachchan drooling over Chief Economist of the IMF Gita Gopinath’s looks).

Secondly, all notions of attractiveness are relational to those that aren’t- the fat women, dark skinned women, disabled, neurodivergent who pay a huge price for not fitting into the very narrow, stringent boundaries of attractiveness. Imagine going through most of your life being told you are ugly because you are dark-skinned.

This focus on women’s looks destroys lives

When I wrote my poem Kali in 2018 on the perils of being dark-skinned in a nation obsessed with fair skin, I did not imagine that I’d be receiving mail from people who burnt their skin in the process of trying to grow lighter. A young girl wrote to me saying she’d been on the verge of throwing herself out of her hostel window when she read my poem.

Beauty is a very clever, very evil capitalist tool. It traps those who have it into hanging on to it for dear life and those who don’t into mutilating, torturing themselves to achieve the unachievable.

So the next time you wish to compliment someone, particularly a woman, think long and hard of how you contributed to their self-image, their mental state. Compliment them instead on their character, their achievements.

In truth, this ‘beauty’ that cis het men look for doesn’t matter!

There is an old story of a king who finds a small lost child crying for its mother. The king asks the child what its mother looks like and the little boy answers, she is the most beautiful woman in the whole world.

The king is amused. He takes the child to the palace where he shows the child the beautiful women in the palace, the queen, when the child shakes his head and says no, his mother is the most beautiful woman in the world, the king then takes the child to houses of noble women, dancers, each time the child shakes his head claiming his mother was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Finally they stop at a small thatched roof hut. And there standing worriedly outside the house is a short woman in an ordinary saree, hair in disarray, skin browned and roughened by hard work and the harsh sun. The little boy rushes to her and she grabs him and hugs him tightly to her bosom, scolding him for running away, making her worry, all the while raining sweet kisses on his face. The boy triumphantly looks at the king – isn’t she the most beautiful woman in the world?

Beauty is as beauty does.

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About the Author

Hema Gopinathan

Hema Gopinathan left a blight of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in read more...

36 Posts | 211,878 Views

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