Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Beauty Is Confusing

So, I guess the whole Internet world has seen the Dove's Real Beauty ads. And everyone's like 'Yay, you're more beautiful than you think!" Except for some people who said, "Why are the majority of the women white, young, and skinny?" And then some of the people were like, "Perfect parody material!"

But the one thing the Dove ads did do for me is to think more about beauty. And the more I thought about beauty, the more questions there were.

Like, is beauty objective or subjective? People say "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." and "Everyone is beautiful". But then, how can one possibly become 'more beautiful', by accentuating one's features with make up, or losing weight, or straightening one's teeth with braces? And yet, that is often our experience, as seen by the MANY makeover movies girls love to watch- Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality, Sabrina, She's All That, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, etc. Not to mention, our personal experience- get a good (what is 'good' if it's all subjective?) haircut, wear some eye liner, and suddenly guys are checking us out. Why would we call anyone 'gorgeous' if everyone is? You can SAY everyone is beautiful, but your eye is still drawn to a particular face over another.

Beauty: A combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, esp. the sight.

But who defines beauty? Haven't we all bought into beauty-as-defined-by-society? Maybe people are checking us out, because they have been trained by the culture to define beauty in a particular way. Ads, movies, beauty magazines and the people around us all re-affirm this particular perspective of beauty (all. the. time.) The extremely infamous Fair and Lovely cream ads in India make me furious with their equation of beauty with fairness of skin. And I KNOW people have blindly accepted this equation, which is why women bleach their skin or wear thick layers of powder for their weddings (and matrimonial pictures), and matrimonial ads regularly feature the description 'fair, slim, tall'.

But but but.

How does the experience of beauty cross cultures? Haircuts, fashion and body shapes change, but we still talk about 'classic beauty'. Faces that give us pleasure. Faces from different cultures and countries and races and ages, which all seem to have even, symmetrical features. I read about an experiment done with babies, how they spent more time looking at more typically beautiful, symmetrical faces.

But but but.

Is beauty the same as 'physical attractiveness'? Is inner beauty a whole different category? (Funny aside: Years ago I met a girl who had heard from a common friend that I was a 'good sort of person' or 'had a good heart', and she did a double take because she was so sure that had meant I was extremely unattractive.) Is the world divided into 'beautiful' and 'ugly' people? How much does beauty matter? Does being beautiful make us lovable? When women long for beauty, are they really longing to know they are lovable and loved? Has beauty been equated with lovableness for so long that we can't tell the difference? Or is there an innate desire to be beautiful?

And if everyone really is beautiful, why do we prefer to look at certain type of faces? Does it mean WE need to widen our perception of beauty? What about say, (graphic example warning) a girl whose face has been splashed with acid? If we find that unattractive, does that mean we just can't see the beauty of an acid-splashed face? Or acne? Have we bought into society's lies when we try to get rid of it?

Okay, enough questions. Here's what I do believe, even if they're not completely coherent or unified thoughts:

1. Beauty is more than physical. I think it shines from the inside out. A woman who has allowed goodness to transform her soul, who walks with confidence and joy, who knows she is loved... that's beauty, and if we don't see it, that is OUR problem. That is why almost every happy bride is beautiful.

But that also means not everyone is beautiful (though everyone has the potential to be beautiful). You often see people's character shining out of their eyes... for good or for bad. It's hard to see beauty in a cold, hard, proud, spiteful, fearful, or ill-tempered face.

2. We DO need to widen our perceptions of physical beauty, and challenge the perceptions that society forces on us. Dark is beautiful. It's not just okay to be a different body shapes, it's your brand of beauty. The movie industry rarely portrays 'normal' faces. That struck me when I visited the US- I wasn't used to seeing 'normal' American faces after all the Hollywood movies. The ad industry in India also supports a narrow definition of beauty by only using fair actresses. The very few non-fair actresses in Bollywood are so unusual that they are always referred to as 'dusky'. And I've never seen a REALLY dark leading lady in a Bollywood movie. (Fine, I don't watch a lot of Bollywood movies, but still.) We have a variety of different shades of skin in India... why don't we see them on screen?

3. Neglecting our health for the original design of our body often detracts from our beauty. I think everyone has the potential for physical beauty, but they do have to take care of their bodies. That's why we encourage friends to exercise, not because they need to be skinnier, but because they need to be healthier... which is usually more attractive. If someone is born with some deformity, there is nothing wrong with getting it fixed... because it's a DE-formed. It is a problem with the original design. As our souls can be distorted by our bad choices, so can our body change for the worse if we develop unhealthy eating habits, smoke like a chimney pot, or become anorexic.

4. If you really LOOK at people, you will see their beauty. If we see them as more than status symbols, or something to be used, or lusted after, you will begin to see their intrinsic worth, their dignity, their person-hood, their uniqueness, their attractiveness. Look at an old woman. At a beggar. At a mother. At a baby. If you see the WHOLE person, you see beauty. Sometimes all you see is potential beauty. But it is there.

5. Some women are not physically attractive, but that's okay. If we're weighing physical beauty against inner beauty, guess what, inner beauty wins. If you don't think so, you don't count. That's what was wrong with the Dove ad- the women's self worth was defined by some random guy's perception of their beauty. What if the guy or the world DIDN'T thinks she was beautiful? That was definitely within the realm of possibility. What if they HAD looked like the pictures they painted of themselves? Did that make them less valuable? Did that justify a lower self-esteem?

A commenter on one of the blogs I posted below said, "I know that because of certain defects that can happen, either genetic or through health problems, a person might not manifest the physical beauty they were created to manifest, but I do think that each person was created by God to manifest even physical beauty, and we will see the completion/fullness of that in heaven."

6. Women ARE more beautiful than they think they are. That's the only thing I do agree with Dove on. But the deeper answer they need to know is that they are also more valuable than they think they are- and their face and body may reflect that, or they may not, but that does not change that it is true. Neither pregnancy, wrinkles, accidents or sickness can change their priceless worth... to a God that loves them.

Here are some other takes on the topic:

Beauty is Objective
Not Fair
Stop Saying All Women Are Beautiful


  1. I found your blog via 7 Quick Takes & I have enjoyed what I've read! Your profound questions & writing style are refreshing. I've been to India once to visit friends & I am intrigued by the food, culture, dress, languages, etc., so I feel like I'm getting an inside look through you!

    1. Thanks for your kind words :-) The India I know is probably very different from the India that most Indians do... but it's still India! Maybe you can come visit one day.

  2. Thank you fr bringing forth an important idea on beauty n th desire to become lovable be loved. People have spoken of beauty n th desire to seek attention from others. your idea dwells deeper into it.

    1. I guess it is a desire for attention... but maybe even that desire is indirectly a desire for love, for being valuable... to Someone.

  3. Everyone is beautiful if you look at them well. Every being is god's creation and god doesn't create ugly. Now that you go me thinking, it would be stupid to marry someone with a good outward persona. What matters most is the beauty that person radiates. The thoughts that spill though the eyes. Its difficult to find people who reflect what their heart states and not put a mask. I would never date a girl who destroys her face with cosmetics. I would agree that she is trying to get my attention, but then i'm not the sort of a guy who would want to date a fake face and someone who is not comfortable with herself.