Saturday, April 9, 2016

What's Wrong With Beauty Today

Recently I came across TCCandler's annual Most Beautiful Faces list, which ranks 100 women in order of beauty. A lot of such lists are published every year, but this particular list is different because it's produced by an independent critic who is not the editor of some magazine or lifestyle dictator, but just a blogger, and it has been followed by over 30 million people worldwide till date. That's the kind of popularity a list of beautiful women can have.

One must watch the list unfold in the following video in order to understand what follows:

I became acquainted with the list a few years ago, when Indian faces appeared on it for the first time and the news was reported in a local tabloid. Upon checking previous years' lists, it became clear that the list has come a long way since it's inception.

I'll start with some of it's merits:

1. Women of different ethnicities are featured on the list.
2. We get acquainted with a lot of lesser known names.

 Good for you, TCCandler.

But now let me come to the negatives, and frankly there are quite a lot of them.

I read this year's list and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Why the hell isn't Amal Clooney on the list?' She's gorgeous! Doesn't anyone notice?

Well, of course they notice. I mean, look at her!
Amal Alamuddin Clooney
But she wasn't on the list. In fact, I think it's safe to say that more than 90% of the women on the list are related to the entertainment industry. So are you trying to say that only actresses and models and pop stars can be conventionally good looking?

Unfortunately, that's what a lot of these 'Most Beautiful' lists say, albeit they probably don't say it because they're intentions are bad. It's because the world has always associated beauty with popularity, both visual and social, and a powerful human rights lawyer like Mrs. Clooney, in spite of a successful career and a trophy husband, doesn't have the same popularity as Emma Watson, who is merely the face of the HeForShe Feminism campaign. In our world, beauty is associated with expression, softness, smiles, romanticism, dreams, feminity- all admirable things, of course. But in spite of us constantly trying to change the way we look at women and beauty, the general public hasn't so far been able to truly associate the words 'successful career' and 'independent' and 'strong' and 'intelligent' with conventional beauty. Not that their beauty isn't appreciated. It doesn't take long for someone to use the phrase 'beauty with brains'  But a woman like Chigmamanda Ngozi Adichi, who in my humble opinion is one of the best writers in the world today and responsible for giving the world a the literary world some of the most internationally-appreciated yet honest accounts of African as well as African-American life, doesn't get featured on any lists, while an actress like Lupita Nyong'o is a list and fashion house darling.

Chigmamanda Ngozi Adichi
Lupita Nyong'o
The only way I can explain this is by stating that these lists aren't exactly lists of women with beautiful faces, they're glamour lists. Sure, I don't think beauty can be rated and the whole point of a list is beyond my understanding. But human beings tend to classify things as good, better, best and this is just one manifestation of that tendency. However, these lists tend to confuse glamour with beauty, and that simply isn't fair.

Now, I have heard a lot of guys my age complaining about how the girls at our college aren't good-looking enough. I've heard them fantasize about actresses and models as if they're angels beyond the league of common young women seeking an education. That is simply not true.

I am going to use my own pictures, as I don't want to make any comments on anybody else's looks. Here's what I look like:

The pictures above aren't edited and I am wearing no makeup in them, although I admit I chose the most flattering pictures. Now, I get that I am not a very beautiful woman on any standards, but I'm not going to be fake-modest and say that I don't consider myself good-looking at all, because I look in the mirror and most of the time see something I'm okay with. So pardon me if I'm a little offended when boys my age who are honestly not very good-looking complain how we can never be as beautiful as Deepika Padukone. I don't deserve to constantly pale out as compared to someone who has devoted their life to glamour, which is what a lot of men do. I don't deserve to be rated as run-of-the-mill when people talk about models like they're God's gift to humanity. I believe that the male perception of beauty has become so caught up with glamour over the past few decades that they can't process information. They can't see a student who is beautiful for a student, a lawyer who is beautiful for a lawyer, a doctor who is beautiful for a doctor. They don't see any beauty at all except for that presented by women in the glamour industry. That needs to change.

I hope in future years, the list will include women from all lines of work, as beauty has nothing to do with profession. It's an accidental gift from God and it can be given to anybody.

The second thing I did not like about the list is that all the women are thin. Let's not call them slender or fit or any other word because those are all variations of thin. In real life, women of many different sizes and shapes are considered beautiful. the prettiest girl in the neighbourhood may not be the thinnest or have the longest legs. The hottest senior at school may not have curves to die for. It happens all the time in real life.

The media's portrayal of beauty is different. It's not normal, it's aspirational. I am not saying that all women in entertainment seeks assistance of extreme measures to look the way they do, but most of the time it is easy for a woman like me (who believes in working out and maintaining a healthy lifestyle) to spot that most of these women have strict lifestyles and a whole lot of makeup to make them look the way they do. I mean, have you ever seen a birth mark on a celebrity? Or even stretch marks, which aren't always related to being overweight but also to growing too fast in height during puberty. Since this was clearly not just a list of women with beautiful faces, let's include a few different body types next time. I'm not asking you to go way beyond the established conventions of beauty. As an architect I do believe in standards. But I think most people would agree that the women on the list all have very, very similar body types, and that's a misrepresentation of what's found beautiful in the real world.

TCCAndler's list has come a long way when it comes to showing diversity because it doesn't just focus on white, Hollywood female celebrities, which is a lot to say for a list on something as superficial as physical beauty. But there still quite a long way to go. I hope all these list-makers and magazines understand that.