Friday, April 08, 2005

beauty

why do we try so hard to be beautiful?

we women spend simply ages either trying to look beautiful or worrying that were not trying! If youre trying, you’re on a long endless path that’s fast becoming a rat race, and if youre not, what a loser.

we starve ourselves, wear uncomfortable clothes, get our bodies operated on, undergo excruciatingly painful procedures, mince on high heels that are killing on the toes and wear synthetics and leather in summer - while putting up with jeering while going through this rigmarole. why. what makes us so desperate to be noticed?

The answer just stares you in the face doesn’t it. in a global culture that rejects the un-beautiful (as defined in a totally synthetic, racist and narrow sense), the un-perfect or the un-stereotyped, how else would you be seen? - its not enough that youve struggled your way to education, gotten a job and are good at what you do. if you dont look good none of it matters. The sum of your life, your skills, experience, sheer niceness as a person is zero against this one factor.

Leave alone being noticed – not everyone happens to mind being left alone in a corner of the room. this culture also bestows the "right" to abuse, belittle, insult and traumatize the non-supermodels (ie the overwhelming majority of us). real people come in different shapes, sizes and colours, and there's nothing wrong with that. how idiotic to expect to people to look like the touched up, remade folks on the big screen!

behavioural and sociopsychological studies have found the phenomenon to be true beyond doubt: looking good gets you places, but being plain is something youll have to fight against and square off all your life. For all that weve been told sanctimoniously that beauty is only skin deep, the real world belies it - whether its about making friends, getting a job, winning a client, appealing for donations or finding a spouse, being beautiful definitely matters in our world.

the urgency to look good is something that’s been drilled into our heads. weve seen the images in popular culture - we are surrounded by images of carefully sculpted women who have to spend hours (not to mention heaps of money) on their appearance. im sure the majority of us is more familiar with cindy crawfords mole than with the scar on our mothers stomach from the cesarean!!

Womens magazines teach us to be better customers. They catch em young too. Magazines for school kids and teenagers teach how you just how to get that pouty effect with the latest in xyz lipstick. Got pimples? Try blah and blah cream enriched with vitamin e supplements. (Puberty means pimples. Face it. lump it.). see a womens program on tv and youll think theres nothing in the world to think about beyond the spots on your nose and how your butt looks from the side.

but these are the obvious gambits… if youre a rebel you may be able to resist caving in under that kind of pressure. what about use this deodorant for confidence and this cell phone for popularity? dont snigger at those two corny examples – im not mentioning names, but I just saw two ads on tv saying exactly this! the ads were targeting adults.

And oh, the peer pressure. Its almost impossible to not hack the number - the most rebellious, independent Attitude women ive seen still have to concede at least in part to run the rat race. For all that they may reject bimbo culture, they’ll still have to do their eyebrows, smear on lipstick for the occasional function, epilate…. And that’s just the bare minimum. All to measure up to some trashy image that’s anyway not realistically achieved. as germaine greer aptly summed it up “the further from natural a female form, the more attractive it becomes. the further from natural a female form, the more feminine it is.”

yeah i know - its not just the women. this pressure is on the men too. from beer pack abs (it happens to depend on body musculature – you may not be carrying an ounce of extra fat, but still if your body is not built that way, you wont have it), to gels they must needs use to spike their hair, high power fuel inefficient bikes they should use in the city to be cool, to the quantity of alcohol they must “do” … theyre not much better off than the women.

But there are comforts though - at least aging is something that’s not yet been denied to men. A man with grey hair looks distinguished. Hes a man of the world. Hes been there, seen that. a woman who looks old is a hag. Women positively must not, cannot look old. Look at the tv programs – the “old” women will sport the same plastic frozen be-facial-ed appearance as the young ones, with two artistic wings of “grey” hair to concede age. Wrinkles? – you must be kidding!! Old is unacceptable. Im not going to quote this research that was done on images built by the media, but why don’t you check out your news channels carefully one day? Have a close look at the anchors – how many of ‘em are old, and how many of the older people are women?

Ours is a silly destructive cynical culture that belittles natural maleness and femaleness. you have to almost fight for the right to feel good about yourself the way you are - body comfort is so difficult to achieve, leave alone body pride. I was reading an essay today and this phrase just leapt off the page : “carefully cultivated disgust” with our own bodies. How very, very true.

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23 Comments:

Anonymous misha said...

Atta girl!!

9:16 am  
Blogger wooaaooww said...

I had this 'feminist' friend who tells another friend of mine, " So what if u're dark and not-so good looking, you have very nice eyes and good skin." :)

9:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'a thing of beauty is a joy forever'

10:17 am  
Blogger Sridhar said...

I know what you mean. I forgot to shave for just a month or so and my colleagues started asking me when I was going to shave. Whats our society coming to when a chap can't be suitably dishevelled!

on a more serious note, all I'd say is that we all want a perfect world where everbody is treated just the way they want to be treated, and everybody is absolutely equal.

That would be an unimaginable nightmare.

12:34 am  
Blogger Woodworm said...

Hear! Hear!

"I'm sure the majority of us is more familiar with cindy crawfords mole than with the scar on our mothers stomach from the cesarean!!"

That was powerful!

3:57 am  
Anonymous kp said...

woodworm, u just stole the words from my mouth:)
m..ur "punch dialogues" really knock ppl way out of the ring!!

8:53 am  
Blogger kenjihara said...

It's all well and good to be extravagantly aggravated with the "beauty obsession" of the western world, but what about aesthetics? Isn't it empowering to enhance one's appearance? I think that people's idea of what is beautiful and what isn't can be pretty hilarious, but why is their opinion less valid than yours?

9:47 am  
Blogger kenjihara said...

...then again, one night while researching female self-image disorders, I stumbled onto a page where women who are soon to have boob jobs and women who have had boob jobs can all chat in a chat room about their fake boobs. I logged in and eavesdropped, asked a few questions...

...all I can say is, it was disturbing. One woman had been saving up for 14 years to buy some fake breasts. Another received hers as a birthday present from her husband, another was having them done the week before Christmas.

What a world.

9:50 am  
Anonymous kp said...

hey m..
i have been reminded of u many-a-time when i read abt casting couch in bollywood...
heres one account of the shady behind-the-scenes of bollywood:
http://headlines.sify.com/news/fullstory.php?id=13714314&headline=British~Asian~actresses~expose~Bollywood

10:21 am  
Blogger m. said...

@wooaaooww : hullo & welcome :-)its refreshing to know people like that aint it...

woodworm and kp - thanks :d

10:23 am  
Blogger m. said...

If anyone’s curious....
the study I mentioned in the end about media images found that on TV news, 97% of the anchors over the age of 40 are men.

11:21 pm  
Blogger Vitalstatistix said...

A new dimension to what you have said - why restrict only to human beings ? Lets consider an inanimate object - a stone. A pebble on the road side is a stone, as is a diamond. Then why do people prefer to wear diamonds on their rings ? I think there's no solution to man/woman's obsession with physical appearance. Interesting fact that about news programme anchors. Fourth Umpire stands testimonial to what you have said.

11:49 pm  
Blogger KoPoS said...

As it is said "Athina sarvatra varjayet"

Anything and everything has a limit to it, and becomes harmful when that limit is crossed, isnt it?

In that sense, there is nothing wrong in valuing beauty as there is nothing wrong in valuing intelligence or the inner self. Yeah obsession always has the problem.

For a person like me, i get completely lost when ppl talk about cricket. And i sometimes cant understand the craziness in cricket.

All have a limit. Some people choose the former, some choose the latter. And every choice has its own repurcussions.

Its something like we value things we dont have than things we dont have. We might value fairer skin and good height and six pack abs. Why? It sets us apart. And gives the identity. Others might want tanned skin. Atleast thats what the media makes us to believe. O/w how will the capitalist machinery going to feed itself?

6:20 am  
Blogger Arch Storm said...

Hey m.
one of the reasons why most people try to look good is to increase their self image. and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that...do u know why? its because your income will never exceed ur self image. Yeah some of us are blessed with incredibly high self confidence levels even though we dont look good. but for the majority of us, looking good is important to boost up our self image, which in turn helps us boost our income.
The other day i was in this conference, and this radical friend of mine shows up in jeans when its mentioned that you hav to be in formal attire..when asked he tells me that 'This is who I am'...any of u ever heard that line before? well....if a person is so inflexible so as to define his whole purpose of existance by a jean and a t-shirt then somethings wrong somewhere.
And another thing...looking good or trying to loook good is not bad guys...if any of you were employers, and two people come with EXACTLY equal qualifications...guess whom ur gonna hire...
manoj

9:01 am  
Blogger Arch Storm said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:01 am  
Blogger Sanketh said...

There is a standard for males? What magazine says that? Did I miss an issue? What on earth ! Darn it.

And when I heard them talk about six packs I headed for the nearest liquor store. Seesh!

IMHO, you are right on most issues. However, I guess it is natural that the more "attractive" among us get noticed more than others. I guess some very base instincts are at work there. It is something evolution has given us. There is some interesting research with respect to innateness of our appreciation of beauty. It turns out infants (those unbiased little gremlins) respond more positively to "pretty" faces than others. Humans are "forced" to look at some features in the opposite sex which take precedence over everything else. All overt sexuality is a way that they can ensure their genes are passed on.

Beauty is just another quantifier (ok! definite understatement!). People have different characteristics. There are millions of possible combinations of eyes,ears,lips,hair etc. and some of these combinations work better than others. I think it is pretty natural for human beings to grade them. Some characteristics definitely appeal more than others.

You pretty much have the same scale for intelligence. Some people are a lot more intelligent than others. It helps for us to be able to differentiate between them. Being intelligent definitely helps you get ahead in life. Some may argue why should it be any different with how a person looks?
You use study guides for exams, take coaching classes for JEE and cram like there is no tomorrow while at school. When you are being tested you aren't being tested for you "natural" intelligence are you? Those study aids have as much to do with your success as that bundle of neurons.

You'd argue that no exam is a true measure of intelligence. I agree. It is the same way with beauty.

Some are born with characteristics that gives them an edge over others. If it bothers the others they overcome their insecurities using the different "tools" that society makes available.

Now I agree culture todat promotes the superficial. All your points are valid. There is definitely discrimination based on how attractive a person is. There is a limit to that though. I believe our obsession with how we look is promoted by our own insecurities.

If you know your stuff and are talented and hungry for success I don't think you'll go farther than making yourself presentable.

This culture of insecurity has always been there. There are always going to be people who aren't sure they have enough to make it in this world. They are willing to go that extra mile to be someone they are not. Beauty is just one way that this insecurity becomes apparent. Our obsession with Engineering and Medicine, neglect of arts, our obeisance to wealth, all reflect on our insecurities.

10:40 am  
Blogger Sridhar said...

@sanket

I agree with you. I'd say this is just another manifestation of a competition for resources thats basically gotten a lot worse over time.

Everybody judges and so people keep trying to give themselves whatever little edge they can.

For example:

@m. you'd written

"you may not be carrying an ounce of extra fat but still if your body is not built that way, you wont have it"

that statement gives the impression that having extra fat is bad and that fat people cant be attractive. Don't get me wrong, I'm just using this as an example to show that all of us judge, consciously or sub-consciously.

and human beings will always try to improve their chances of getting any resource. add to that the fact that human beings will also believe most things if they are told what they want to hear. and yay! we have brad pitt stealing fat from liposuction clinics in fight club to make soap.

11:40 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@ manoj : not saying you cant feel good about the way we look -thats one of the points of this post!:-)

@sanketh: interesting - didnt know about the "gremlins"! "This culture of insecurity" .. super. sums it up so neatly. (darn.. and i spent what? 800 words saying it? :p!)

@ sridhar: oww... the "it" was the ab'nal muscles!! but yesh, i AM judgemental about not looks, but other stuff :-)

has neone seen the body shop campaign? i think the tag line was "big hips fat thighs thick lips? so what! love your body" ...

3:25 am  
Blogger Sridhar said...

@m. ah well...my goof up.

11:13 pm  
Blogger Manish said...

beauty hmmmmm and girl it is directly related. but from my point of view beauty is innermost thing. beauty is persons thinking not the body part, it is, it is one part of the beauty.......................

11:34 pm  
Blogger sexedman said...

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4:18 pm  
Blogger Adrianne said...

So I definitely see your point on the whole beauty debate, but I really think that part of the problem is the intra gender competition for the attention of the oppostite sex. I was a treeplanter in the middle of nowhere, the only girl amongst 30 guys. I really felt totally accepted to look the way I do naturally, not to have the right clothes, wear makeup, etc. As soon as I hit the city, totally different story. I felt insecure and out of place without dressing the part. Females are doing each other the diservice by constantly competing with each other to be pretty. We are dressing for each other, trying to one up each other. Men really don't care that much about the way we look.

5:48 am  
Blogger m. said...

adrianne: for one thing, there's the difference in cultures, though i would agree with you that women also tend to keep assessing each by patriarchally defined notions of beauty. the peer pressure is certainly high, yes. but what makes us cringe and wonder if we measure up as well as the next person does? a sense of insecurity thats daily built on by media and societal conditioning?

8:42 pm  

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