Happy Saturday readers!
So last weekend, I developed a small obsession with the sassy and self-assured actress Tracee Ellis-Ross, which has now resulted in a self-imposed YouTube ban and a love for mascara and lipstick combos, but that’s beside the point. What really drew me to her was hearing her speak on the standards of beauty built by society and what women put themselves through to achieve it.
This topic has actually been on my mind for a while and clearly I’m not the only one. My twitter timeline blew up recently with the hashtag #Believeinyourslay which encouraged women of all shapes and sizes to post a selfie they are proud of and own it, whatever critics may say.
But the real question is why do we need all this encouragement to embrace the face we were born with? Why is it such a big deal for a woman over size 16 to get a modelling contract, as if there aren’t women of that size who might be interested in looking fashionable? Why do we need celebrities like Ms Ross and Miley Cyrus to tell us to love our make-up-less faces and natural hair before it can really sink in? Why have the rates of cosmetic surgical procedures increased by over 100% in the last 15 years?
The answer is in the first paragraph of this article: ‘The standards of beauty’. I have heard many people quote the famous phrase ‘Beauty is in the eye of beholder’ in order to explain how beauty is different to everybody and how no one is really ugly, they just simply have not met the person who finds their features appealing. Well, no offense to these compassionate beings, but I humbly disagree.
It is true to a certain extent that we all have physical preferences when it comes to choosing a mate, but we must not downplay the power of the media and its ability to shove this ‘beauty ideal’ down our throats till it sinks into our subconscious and makes us forget where it came from. A very interesting buzzfeed video was released on how Women’s ideal body types have changed throughout history. In 2000 years, we have gone from dark skinned, symetrical faces, to curvy big-breasted women to androgynous athletes and back to the curves. Despite what our personal preferences may be, we all have in our minds what a beautiful woman/man is. This is why the majority of people have the same #1 celebrity crush; why people say things like ‘I know she’s not pretty, but I like her’ and why we have so many magazines and gossip shows that focus heavily on how women dress, what plastic surgery they’ve recently had and how quickly they’ve managed to lose ‘baby weight’, when in actual fact, women need to eat more while breastfeeding.
If beauty really was in the eyes of the beholder, there wouldn’t be a highly anticipated, annual list of ‘Time’s top 100 beautiful people’ and there wouldn’t be people declaring proudly ‘it pays to be beautiful’ after injecting fat into their rear end or their top half and Instagram filters wouldn’t be so popular. The harsh reality is beauty has been defined for us largely by the media, who crown certain facial features, a particular body shape and even a certain skin tone the ‘must-have’ item for this season as if they’re designer handbags or shoes.
Even the hype surrounding African actress Lupita Nyong’o has contributed to this. Miss Nyong’o rose to fame following a brilliant performance in ’12 years a slave’ and slowly became the latest beauty queen, gracing almost every fashion magazine cover known to man. She was hailed as ‘Hollywood’s new dark doll’ as dark skinned girls all over the world rejoiced that they could finally be seen as beautiful. But there’s a danger of a shift happening. Just like what happened when J-lo came onto the scene and made big butts popular or when Halle Berry played catwoman and made light skinned blackness popular, all we are doing is shifting the beauty ideal. Soon a wave of dark skinned actresses (Kerry Washington, Viola Davis) will form the new standard and people will start tanning their skin instead of bleaching it. And thus, the problem continues
My response? Let’s redefine beauty. Let’s not make it about how much we measure up to the standard or how well we fit the ideal, let’s redefine beauty as:
‘Self-Love’. A woman (or man) is beautiful when she/he embraces exactly who they are and struts boldly in their God-given shell.
Imagine what could happen if we all embraced this new definition of beauty. Maybe we’d use make-up to enhance our natural features, instead of to create a new face. Maybe we’d have good hair because we’d focus more on taking care of it than on making it look like someone else’s. Maybe people would work out because they want to be healthy and live longer and not because they would be body shamed otherwise. Maybe eating disorders would be eradicated because there’d be no such thing as ‘skinny enough’ because we’d all just be ‘enough’.
Maybe it’s a crazy notion and maybe only a few would take this seriously, but even if one woman accepted this new definition of beauty, maybe we could fix the next generation.