Of Beauty, Barbie and Granny Hair

It is the quest for the perfect face and body that has spawned and is sustaining a multi-billion-dollar beauty industry. Take for instance the beauty pageants. I have always found it abhorrent that someone judged one’s beauty based on some prescribed standards and parameters. I couldn’t and still don’t understand how women can allow themselves to be paraded to be judged as a ‘beauty queen’. The votaries of ‘women’s empowerment’ would descend on my head for even voicing such an opinion, for they claim it is their right to do what they want with their bodies. Perfect, so why not be confident in one’s beauty instead of trying to conform to someone else’s idea of perfection after putting the body through so much pain and torture?

Miss Universe 2017

Perhaps it makes sense in the ad-driven world of today where the winners and even participants stand to gain millions in terms of endorsements and the chance to enter show-biz or even the movies.

When Women’s Day rolls around on March 8 every year, we are flooded with token and real initiatives and loads of mushy posts and videos paying tributes to womankind, before going back the very next day to judging them on the basis of some set standards of beauty. The worst thing is when women feel the need to justify their looks or themselves.

All said and done, it is still the day of manufactured beauty, where the sponsors of cosmetics and personal care products ‘create’ beautiful faces and bodies, which then are put to use to sell their products to other gullible women. And beauty contest results are not above board either. Just as in many other fields, the winners of these beauty pageants are pre-determined depending upon which part of the country/globe the industry wants to push its products in.

Women who want to compete in these contests and even otherwise, subject their bodies to a lot of pain including invasive procedures – that promise to make them look like beauty queens. Gone are the imperfect teeth, thin lips and fat bellies in a wink and voila! You have a virtual Aphrodite in place of the girl that went under anesthesia. If you ask me a little imperfection actually enhances beauty. Remember the kala-tika?

I am reminded here of a lovely post by my friend Vidya Suri on imperfection, or the philosophy of Wabi Sabi of  Zen Buddhism.

Real life Barbie

It is not just beauty pageants that peddle the parameters of beauty, but also the toy industry. Barbie is the classic example, whose body measurements if imitated in real life could make one severely anorexic and sick, not just in body but also in mind. Did you know that there is actually a real life Barbie in the person of Ukrainian Valeria Lukyanova? Take a look.

Then along came a young artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm who created Lammily dolls modeled on an average 19-year-old American girl. Compared to Barbie’s pencil thin form, this one was more ‘realistic’, what with stick-on cellulite, scars, bruises and even stretch marks. Perhaps when dolls with cross-eyes, misshapen nose. paunch or large ears make an appearance in-the-not-too-distant-future, they can be truly called realistic dolls. Anyway, they are only superficial imperfections.

Lammily with her ‘imperfections’

I don’t believe that these dolls can significantly alter the perception of beauty, because for all their superficial  ‘imperfections’, they are also too perfect in figure and face, in a Western kind of way.  You are only replacing the one with the other thereby continuing to perpetuate the myth of perfect beauty.

And this spawns another danger: When a Barbie or Lammily come along, girls growing up with them even in far corners of the globe aspire to look like them, regardless of their genetic features and looks.  Which is why the very idea of using dolls to make a beauty statement is doomed from its conception, whether it is Barbie or Lammily.

And now, suddenly the world has woken up to the horrors of peddling perfection in beauty as being offensive to the woman and has swung to the other extreme of showcasing ‘imperfections’.  Israel has apparently banned underweight models, which means soon the ‘zero-sized’ model would be unemployed. The time is ripe for those with imperfect features, buxom figures and flaws to become fashion icons and role models.

And going by past experience, I bet there will soon be surgeries to give a scar, a crooked tooth or small breasts to make a woman look fashionable and with-it. And have beauty contests to judge who is ‘naturally imperfect’ maybe?

The key words here are ‘naturally imperfect’.

So don’t start celebrating yet. If you are a dozen kgs overweight it is no use – you have to have  ‘earned ‘those extra kilos, by going on special diets or having silicone implants on the tummy and behind in order to be part of the elite imperfect beauty bandwagon. 

And then we have a whole new industry that is working hard to make the woman look ‘natural’ and again there are no half measures here. It is all the way to the other extreme – from haute couture to slob dressing. The trend goes by the fancy names of slob wave and normcore, and pajama dressing with celebrities latching on to it faster than you can say fashion. But they do it in style – in clothes created to look dowdy by the likes of Yves St. Laurent and Gucci. (Did I get the brand names right?)

So much for clothes. Coming to general appearance, it has gone from perfectly made faces and hair to the out-of-bed look. If you think that you can just wake up and hit the street with your hair flying all over the place, you are in for a rude shock. Whether it is nude make-up, out-of-bed-look or the oily-look, they all need a lot of work to achieve the desired effect of looking un-made-up. Don’t believe me? Go on, check it out.

The latest I heard is that grey hair is ‘sassy’ and young women are rushing to bleach their blond/black/brown/red hair to get the ‘granny look!’ But mind you, it is not for grannies, who continue to dye their locks to look young but for PYTs who want to look cool.

Granny hair is sassy!

The closest I have ever come to being fashionable was during my college days, when social workers (volunteers as they were called then) and journalists sported the carelessly casual look – with crumpled clothes and jhola. The more unkempt you were, the more professional you were deemed to be.

But it was Jaya Bhaduri who was my fashion icon as she was to thousands of young girls of the early 70s whose conservative families frowned on fashion. Jaya had introduced and popularised the dowdy look, with her pallu demurely wrapped around her body and a long plait hanging down her back. And folks, that was one fashion craze that I was freely allowed to adopt by my mother!

We all know that fashion keeps going in circles and so we can all be fashionable at some point in our lives, but the concept of beauty itself is getting more and more market driven and bizarre. So why do we bend ourselves backwards and tie ourselves in knots to conform to some transient ideal of beauty or fashion, which has anyway been set by someone with an agenda? Where is our own sense of self-worth?

No, I won’t buy the favourite arguments of social conditioning or blaming patriarchy – for haven’t we successfully broken out of so many stereotypes and set out on our own path? What is more worrying is that it is not just the insecure or socially suppressed women who fall victims to such ideals of beauty and fashion, but even the aware and empowered women who are taking recourse to corrective surgeries and aiming for impossibly ‘perfect’ looks (and now ‘imperfect looks’).  The bottom line is, it is still conforming to a parameter of beauty set by someone else.

Of late we have the new empowered women proclaiming to the world through social media platforms – ‘It is my body and I am proud of it’ and ‘#I love my body’ and so on.  Or they make a statement by ‘standing’ for or against some celebrity – created or otherwise – for perceived slights about  ‘body shaming’ or ‘fat shaming’.

I genuinely don’t understand the need to justify one’s body or beauty to the world. It actually betrays the insecurity in my opinion. Perhaps it is a way of gaining popularity?

True confidence should be speaking for itself and making at least the empowered woman feel beautiful without having to articulate it in so many words.

Women have bigger and better achievements to boast about than justifying their looks which after all is merely skin-deep.

I think it is time we gave the concept of BEAUTY a complete makeover, don’t you?

(This post has been updated from the archives.)

Image courtesy: Homepage: thebestoftucson.org

Granny Hair: http://www.fashionlady.in/


  1. “Women have bigger and better achievements to boast about than justifying their looks which after all is merely skin-deep.” — This sentence is a gem! All this beauty pageant business sold off as some sort of women empowerment and all these ‘my choice, my body, my freedom’ sort of cliches are nothing but a way to enroll more and more women across the globe into the consumer pool. And boy, what high-sounding ideals are being used to sell these pageants to gullible masses! Lately I have been sick of all the entertainment industry as well – what with their single-minded focus to sell more and more crap, and facilitate faster downfall of the societal values, corrupting minds with all sorts of garbage. I think I am turning into my grandmother who used to say – ghor kaliyug hai, ghor kaliyug hai….I repeat this often now. I don’t know what the solution is to stop/reverse this downfall of collective psychology led by entertainment, mass media, advertising and everything associated with these, I am only trying to pull myself away from their influence as much as I can.

    Thanks Zephyr for writing this important article. Glad you reshared this now around the Women’s Day. I sincerely hope this type of message reach the ears, eyes and hearts of those women who really need to hear it and reflect on it.


    1. Agree with your grandmother. It is indeed ghor kaliyug! I am totally at a loss to understand how ’empowered’ women even take part in these beauty pageants. And now they are targeting even small town girls to ensnare them into the cosmetic web. And today’s beauty queens are more the products of these cosmetics and doctored beauty. If we need to use cosmetics at all, why not use the age-old, natural and safe ones like kajal, sindoor, haldi and the like?

      My latest post takes this one further and damns all celebrity mania that is turning our youth into gullible fools who are ready to follow their stars till doomsday. Looking forward to your comment on that one 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Let me read the post! Soon 🙂


  2. You know Zephyr – somehow this reminded me of a very sweet ad that used to appear on tv. Now I forget what the ad was for – but here’s how it went. The bubbly young girl comes home with a tattered pair of jeans and lays it out on her bed, eagerly anticipating wearing it after a shower. After smoothing it out on her bed, looking at it fondly she rushes into her bathroom. No sooner does she shut the door, than her tired-looking Mom walks into the room and seeing the jeans on the bed, quickly pulls out the sewing machine and begins to mend the torn parts.

    Perfection is a matter of perception. And keeping up with the Joneses or some silly concept someone made doesn’t quite cut it.

    When I was in 6th grade, I had a hostel-mate who wore a frock that had interesting sleeves. At the point where it started, there was a crescent-shaped cutout, showing the curve of her upper arm. When asked what it was, the 9 year old said “Fashion”

    I am not a fan of Barbie. I am the ragdoll type 😀

    Just realized my comment is so disjointed! 😀 Thank you for the mention! ♥


    1. Even I remember that ad. But I have seen a boy protesting with his mother in the ad 🙂 And there were no rag dolls when I was a kid, there first was a celluloid doll and then a rubber one. Both stayed with me for many years. The little girl perfectly summed up what fashion is all about — something that everyone apes regardless of suitability or logic 😀


  3. Hmmm..enjoyed reading your beautiful post, Zephyr! Yes, I liked the Sridevi of Tamil films like Moonram pirai, Varumaiyin niram sigappu, etc. Then she changed her nose and started speaing Hindi in artificial voice. Her charm was gone. I don’t like Priyanka’s lips. Loved the movie, Mary com, except her lips! Same thing with Hema malini…her face is like marble, flawless now! It is the needles’ effect. Expressionless face is hers now!

    Our inner confidence helps us look good than these needle treatments. Amitabh looks great with his gray beard than Jeetendra with his puffed up face. Amitabh is full of confidence but Jeetendra?!

    Julia Roberts is manly but she has got her own type of charm. Once we start being conscious about our looks, our natural beauty is gone. Business people mint money out of these insecure people, that is all.

    Keep writing long posts, it makes me feel happy because though my posts are not to the point, but long to make me feel uncomfortable!


    1. So great to see that someone else agree with me about Sridevi’s nose and PC’s lips. LOL about liking the movie sans the lips 🙂 Hema Malini also looks plastic, as you have mentioned. But as it is pointed out, it is their body and they are free to do what they want to do! Even I love Julia Roberts. We are fools to play into the hands of cosmetic manufacturers, but we are so educated and aware and after all it is our body 😛 Write as long comments as you like. I love them as it is like talking to you 🙂


  4. You’ve said it all so perfectly that to add anything here will be to repeat you. My ‘beauty’ efforts go into ensuring that I am reasonably neat and presentable. I detest beauty treatments of any kind- specially getting my eyebrows done- and avoid them like the plague.

    It really is so besides the point…


    1. I belong to the school that believes natural beauty is the best. Who said bushy eyebrows don’t look good? I remember doing a post long ago titled Beauty with Cruelty, which talks about the steaming and pinching and what-have-you to make you look good 🙂 And yes, it is indeed so besides the point 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was wondering what the effect would be if the beauty contests ​held ​under several ​aegis ​we​re taken away from the vicious grip of male judges and made exclusively a female bastion. The concept and contours of beauty would then undergo a peremptory and total change.No longer would pencil like figures with scrawny ​collar ​bones jutting along the neck walking the ramp would pass muster.
    Beauty is relative and depends on who the beholder is and his or her age.There are no set rules to define beauty.I may like my woman to be rotund instead of a scare​-​crow like lean figure,prefer short hair to long and in lose flowing sari instead of skin tight jeans.But she may not see eye to eye with me.What one does with one’s figure is one’s choice and out of bounds for others to prescribe the Dos and Donts. .Your preference for ​the​ bigger nose for an actor of yesterday years may be counteravailed by the craze for smaller one by many of her fans.Finally what she does with her nose is her own concern and not for others to poke their noses in!!!
    ​Having said that,​I have seen these days many children take advantage of advances in orthodontic​ science to set right the aberrations in the teeth alignment early in age which in the past were neglected to disconcerting results.I see no wrong in seeking cosmetic or medical help where warranted ​ like cleft lips,or astigmatism ​to ​rectify/​enhance the appearance​.There is however the caveat that one should not fall a prey to fake potions/lotions ​ or instant remedies to weight related problems ​​that abound in the market.Caveat emptor is still the guiding principle.


    1. Thanks for sharing your views so lucidly, KP. The thing is, even women judge other women on the basis of some unrealistic standards of beauty. So having an all woman panel of judges won’t solve the issue. If we can’t be confident about ourselves as compared to some beauty ideal, how can we tackle bigger issues of equality, economic independence and such? When we advance the argument of ‘it is my body and I will do what I want to, with it,’ why not do the same about it as it is? That is my point in this post 🙂


  6. You have encompassed all that could be said about this subject Zephyr,and so lucidly too.Today most are obsessed with the externals ,always running an unending race 😦


    1. I think you should do a post on insecurity about looks and beauty, Indu. Who better than you to unravel the mystery?


  7. What a great post ! Agree with every word . Regardless of how one looks, there is always some entity that succeeds in making todays girls feel insecure about something.

    5 years ago a certain fashion site posted something about how there were things a young girl MUST have . And i wrote a post on it, which still holds good today. Have a look :


    On second thoughts , maybe it is time that I reposted it on my blog again, in support of this wonderful post….


    1. Your post was a gem, Suranga. Was ROFL while reading it 😀 And regardless of looks, I feel that insecurity dogs the young and even old people today, which is what drives them to the scalpel and hypodermic needles. Thanks for linking me to your re-post 🙂


  8. Ah! But then this craze about the superficial is all encompassing these days. People seem to have given up on being beautiful is any manner other than physical – and are running a Red Queen’s race in keeping up with ‘standards’ of physical beauty too 🙂


    1. And the standards of beauty are set by the manufacturers of personal care products and cosmetic manufacturers!


  9. I agree with every thought in here. I wonder though if it is in our hands to actually shift the beauty paradigm. With age and confidence, I now dress the way I want. I am not too influenced by the craze of my peers. But then I’ve always been slim. I can’t know the angst of those who are fat and cannot dress up in certain fashionable attire. Fashion to me is being comfortable and in wearing what suits me. Luckily I don’t belong to the party-going circuit where the pressures are higher.


    1. That is exactly the point. Who sets the parameters for beauty? And when one goes for corrective surgery of physical features, it speaks of insecurity no matter what you call it. Of course it is your body, but why undertake harmful treatments to conform to some ethereal ideal? My question is, if one is so confident as to proclaim that one can do what one wants with one’s body, why the clamour to conform at all? I can understand the angst of heavy-set people who might be battling health issues, but this is about those who are healthy and fit and yet want larger breasts, fuller lips, tiny nose….

      Liked by 1 person

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