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?
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?
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.
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.
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/