The concept of beauty is introduced early in a woman’s life by statements heard in childhood. If she has a good-looking mother, she will hear it exclaimed, “She is as beautiful as her mother!” or whispered with some head-shaking as if it were the end of the world, “Oh, she did not get her mother’s looks.” If she has at least one other sister, she will no doubt get remarks like “That’s a future heartbreaker” or the kindly-intentioned comment “This is the smart one” which translates to not pretty like her sister.
She hears such remarks often from family, neighbors, teachers and plain strangers, and she then begins to rank herself against this apparently desirable standard called beauty.
This self-ranking constantly changes as she grows up and the most dramatic impact comes during the turbulent teenage years when her peer group’s opinion is law and the tide-turning rating comes from that interesting and infuriating specie–boys.
If she happens to have been well-endowed by the beauty gods, she would be popular but secretly or openly disliked by all genders and could experience the don’t-hate-me-cause-I’m-beautiful syndrome. At the other end of the beauty spectrum, she could be top of the class or a winning athlete but still be invisible elsewhere in school.
Life turns into a Ms. Universe competition where most people are either judge or contender, sometimes both; and the few who are neither, are aggressively pushing ideas on how to win the crown.
Or she could join a growing minority of bold rebels who boycott the competition and go to great lengths to look defiantly un-beautiful. Things die down a bit at college and by the time she starts working, she more or less understands and recognizes her beauty assets and flaws … and then comes the explosive discovery of something that could actually create assets and cover flaws. Welcome the world of fashion!
Suddenly, there’s more “titles” to shoot for in the Ms. Universe-of-Life other than beautiful. Now there’s chic, stylish, über cool, and the coveted fashionista.
With the right mix of outfit, make-up, bags, shoes, and accessories, one can achieve and even outrank beauty. Hurray! With fashion, everyone is a beauty contest winner. End of competition and start of world peace, right?
Not quite! Fashion has seemingly evened-out the playing field but in broadening the criteria for beauty, it caused a frantic dependence (addiction seems the better word) for more stuff to buy. Soon after she gets her hands on them, their lifespan expires as they move out of style and become soooo-last season.
Beauty and fashion do have their rightful place as attributes to aspire for. I get as excited as the next female over shoes and bags and will openly do an appreciative double-take when a good-looking, well-dressed woman enters a restaurant especially when she is with the ultimate fashion accessory, a handsome man.
What I do question is why we women have bought into the “Ms. Universe-of-Life-franchise” and why we have accepted everyone else as judge.
I do understand the desire to look good but now I have learned to value feeling good about how I look. That is a lesson on neither beauty nor fashion but on acceptance. That too can be learned early by our daughters and nieces. Hopefully they will skip the elimination rounds in any Ms.-Universe-of-Life contest and shoot straight through to the Hall of Fame where beauty and fashion is a relaxed, personal choice … or an un-choice.
(submitted to A.Ullah)