What is True Beauty?

By Shyama Parui

“Wanted: Fair, tall, slim, and exceptionally beautiful bride for a handsome, healthy, and well-to-do groom." Yup, this is from seemingly ancient matrimonial columns that used to be printed in newspapers decades ago. Not sure how many successful marriages these ads resulted in, but they always managed to be amusing as most of the descriptions had unrealistic expectations of the partner they were seeking. Did anyone notice the highly inflated self-image of the advertiser, particularly in the looks department?

In my November column, I had written about the “what is beautiful is good" stereotype. It is our flaw as human beings to attribute positive characteristics to someone or something that is physically attractive. We are likely to judge a professional person's competence, the innocence of a child, or the compatibility of a couple based on how stunning they are. Can you blame us? The fairy tales we listen to since childhood reinforce it by making the “evil" characters ugly, whereas the prince and princesses are pleasing to the eyes. This continues to be perpetuated by movies and books.

If Cinderella didn't have picture perfect looks, the Prince would have barely noticed her and there would be no story. It is not a modern phenomenon, but as ancient as our epics. In the absence of a gorgeous Padmavati and a handsome Arjun, readers may perhaps be less interested. Like it or not, we accept this stereotype to be true. Consciously or unconsciously we want to be attractive or to use a more contemporary expression, “look hot" regardless of age or gender. It is what has made the beauty industry exceedingly successful in making you and I shell out unreasonable amounts of money for useless products. Beauty is not solely for young women. But it is a problem if beauty is the only yardstick by which a person, particularly a young woman is measured. Often the use of such a shallow and limited measure of self-worth leads to deeply disturbing consequences.

According to franchisehelp.com, in 2015 the beauty industry generated $56.2 billion in the US. Hair care was largest followed by skin care for both men and women. Youngsters seem to start using beauty products way sooner than our generation did. Of course, our generation had the unfortunate experience of sack like school uniforms and the norm of braided or pig tailed hair tamed with oil. It was a life saver for our parents. If they had to manage their grandkids' wardrobe to match the weather, trends, athletic pursuits, and weekend laziness, they would throw up their hands in despair. The explosion of hair care products does not surprise me in the least bit. I bet there are at least ten, if not more salons within a five-mile radius of my house offering a range of services. Then there are the med-spas offering scientifically based treatments for all kinds of things if you are too afraid of the hardcore plastic surgery options.

If you are brave enough a surgeon could skillfully augment everything from lips to gluteus. A digital version can however, come to the rescue virtually free of cost. Apps to chisel and sculpt your image are available. Options include reducing wrinkles, face lifts, enhancing the shape of your eyes, etc. We can now do what glamourous models have been doing for years. Create an avatar that you consider your worthy alter ego. For a low maintenance girl like me, the urge to apply chemicals 24/7 in the form of “make-up" to conceal blemishes or spending hours editing portraits to undo facial flaws seems like a colossal waste of time.

In a world where one is inundated by options and opinions on the topic, I have wrestled with the dilemma regarding beauty. Should we follow every possible regimen and every product or procedure our wallets can spare? It's not the route I want to take. Or should we defiantly embrace the way we are? After all, it is inner beauty that matters, right? I would sincerely like to believe that, but I know that the importance placed on outward appearance is highly valued. I could choose the road less traveled and accept the consequences of the bias that won't disappear tomorrow. The result might be a lonely social media profile with a shrunken “Friends" list and zero “Likes" on pictures. There might be an occasional “Wow" but that would be to indicate disbelief rather than admiration. I would not get a ticket to the Mutual Admiration Society that everyone seems to be a member of. Depressing! It's not like beauty and niceness are mutually exclusive. I know of a lot of fine-looking individuals with kind hearts to match.

Good, bad, or ugly, the Mom in me is constantly seeking ways to coach my kids on how to focus on the values that really matter. Over the years, I have come to recognize that the definition of beauty varies from person to person and what ultimately matters is valuing your own true beauty aspects that keep you true to yourself and retain that loveliness for a lifetime.

True beauty to us is:

  • Being healthy by eating the right foods that nourish the body and bring a genuine glow to your face. Applying toxic ingredients from so called skin care products may have the opposite effect.
  • Selecting activities that are inherently satisfying, because a sense of gratification helps you keep your head up high and exude confidence that is more alluring than overpriced perfumes.
  • Building strength and not obsessing about being under a certain weight at the cost of mental peace.
  • Choosing to rest and getting adequate sleep instead of eye creams and retinol. It is called beauty sleep for a reason.
  • Adapting to the changes in you and the environment around you. Embrace the best features of your current phase in life rather than longing for the past or worrying about the future. It may sound cliched, but wouldn't we get into a wreck if our cars had a large rear-view mirror and a tiny windshield?

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Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com