It was only yesterday that I came across a commercial for a popular face wash brand on the television where a 14 year-old girl was seen to be shifting her seat from the back to the front in her class at school as she was not embarrassed because of her pimples anymore. It was through the regular usage of this face wash that her pimples were disappearing. What struck me was that it didn’t occur to the so-called creative minds behind this advertisement that 14 year-old children are at the beginning of their puberty. Adolescents, as they are called, experience a host of changes emotionally, physically, intellectually and sexually at this stage.
This is something that continues till our adulthood and later on as well. I don’t mean the changes the teenager experiences but our mentality gets shaped up in such a way that we tend to judge people based on how they look or what they wear. It has become a spontaneous affair in adults to notice the externalities of a person first and form perceptions according to their judgement. We overlook the behavioural tendencies of a person and deliberately alienate people who do not match up to our criteria of being beautiful. The softness in a person, the inner qualities like goodness, persistence, perseverance, congeniality etc. do not get noticed in the first place.
Our words are mostly judgmental. What truly define the concept of beauty is the words that we use. The way we talk, the range of our tone and usage of words exhibits the person in us. Just as King Solomon, the wisest man who ever walked on Earth says, “Our words should be like Apples of Gold in Setting of Silver,” our concept of beauty should also exceed the likes of materialism.
Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, was renowned throughout history for her radiant skin and her stunning beauty. It is said that she used to bathe in donkeys’ milk to keep her skin soft and beautiful. Legend has it that she required 700 lactating donkeys in order to supply the milk for her daily baths. Even today, beauticians recommend milk along with other herbs to help keep the skin supple and glowing. (This, at a time when we have high rates of malnutrition and under-five deaths in our country!) The markets are flooded with fairness creams, gels, scrubs, weight-loss supplements, and what not. And mind you, these are not meant only for the face to look good…the prescriptions are for uplifting the entire body image! Well, there’s no harm in looking good. It’s the mindless obsession after physical beauty that’s worrisome. Many young girls lose their lives every day (yes everyday!!) due to a condition called Anorexia Nervosa, which is an eating disorder that arises from an obsession to be slim and beautiful. The words ‘beauty’ and ‘beautiful’ are so obsessively used to refer to physical appearance that their precious meaning is lost in oblivion. We as a people sure need to rise above the beauty of the skin and the body.
Sir Thomas Overbury once remarked, “Beauty is only skin deep.” There is more to life than merely the beauty of the skin!
It was the night of 30th November’ 2000, it was me – 16 year old crazy teenager, glued to the television almost biting my nails in nervousness and praying to God for a victory. No, it was not India vs. Pakistan world cup match. It was the Miss World Pageant where India was represented by none other than Priyanka Chopra. My mom was sleeping next to me and woke up scared when I literally jumped with joy and screamed when the host said “And Miss World 2000 is …. Miss India”! I remember very clearly that I had jumped with joy, I had tears in my eyes, I was super excited, I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. Oh, what an excitement that was.
The excitement did not last just one night, it lasted I don’t know – a few years. Next day when I went to my all-girls convent school, I realized it wasn’t just me jumping with excitement. We discussed every damn detail of the event. Remember, we did not have youtube at that time to relive and re-watch the golden moment. We just remembered everything by watching it once live on television.
Excitement and attraction towards beauty pageants just kept going up-hill with Diya Mirza winning Miss Asia Pacific and Lara Dutta being crowned Miss Universe, all in the same year. It was an intense excitement and I made up my mind to at least give it a try for Miss India. Without any Google, I managed to figure out the minimum requirements needed to enter the contest. And I was disappointed even depressed – my height wasn’t enough to go for it. Still I could give Bollywood a try, if not modelling – that was 16 year old me talking to myself. If Rani Mukherjee with that height can be as successful, who can stop me?
Needless to mention that my interest in studies declined. Though I had been a great student, I stopped taking interest in studies. All I did was to practice wearing long heels and doing model walk with bunch of my physics and chemistry books on my head. And instead of eating eggs, curd, tomato etc, I started applying those on my hair and skin. Skirts became shorter; visits to beauty parlors became a regular ritual at the cost of studies. My parents were definitely concerned about their teenaged daughter losing focus in life.
My parents convinced me to at least get a professional degree before I decide to jump into a career of that kind. So, I bagged a seat in a Government Engineering college. And things changed a bit from there on, my interest in studies came back and I topped the college. While I was in third year, a movie named “Page 3” influenced my thinking. It was a “Madhur Bhandarkar” movie and showed a reality of glam world. It was shown in such a way that it sounded quite believable. Young girls getting married to old men for money, deceit and infidelity in marriages, girls sleeping their way to the top of their careers – all that was shown as a part and parcel of that world. And I am the kind of person who had always wanted success and fame but more than that, I value the quality of my relationships and my peace of mind. I have heard that you can either have success or peace of mind – you cannot have both. Well, I believe it is possible. It just depends how one defines success.
As I have grown wiser and older over the years, I now believe that looks are only a small part of our personality which is given a huge undue importance by media. I feel sad when I see young girls posing in front of the mirror the whole day and mothers in law still giving more weightage to fair skin of their daughter in law than her intellectual capabilities. Beauty is not skin deep, it goes way beyond just your personality. Beauty is all about how much love you have for the world and how much you care. Beauty is not fair skin or good height or perfect features; it is the depth of your heart and your ability to touch people.
In one of the body image workshops, the instructor asked a group of young boys and girls – “How many of you disliked your body or your looks when you were 5 years old?” No hand went up. “At 7 years old”. Still no hands went up. “At 10 years old”, a couple of hands went up. “At 13 years old”, a few more hands went up. “At 16 years old”, almost all hands went up. It makes me wonder, what is it that we are doing with our kids today? What sort of a message is being passed onto them that make them hate their bodies?
Who creates these unrealistic standards of beauty? Media does. And that damages the confidence of our young teenagers. It makes them feel low of themselves. It leads to depression and low self-esteem. As adults, it is our responsibility to help these little adults feel good about them. We want them to value their IQ and EQ more than their looks (if not equal).
Remember – Looks are only part of your personality. It is as significant as your intellectual capabilities and your emotional balance. And beauty is not just about your looks – it is about your holistic personality.
So, be beautiful physically, emotionally and intellectually!
Author’s Bio: Prabhjot Kaur Saini, is a Software Engineer and is currently working in Bangalore. She is an engineer by profession and also a thinker and writer with a philosophical heart. She can be contacted at: ‘firstname.lastname@example.org.’ Read her Other Articles on this site.