1/11/2008

On beauty (and related ideas and ideals)

So, I wanna know: what does beauty mean to you? Whom do you consider beautiful, and what do you find beautiful about them?

There's that often-heard saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. True enough. Let's set yourself up as the beholder, for the moment. Do you consider yourself beautiful? Why, or why not?


In many ways, I begrudge mainstream society for instilling a narrow view of beauty on everyone, but especially on the young and vulnerable, pushing a standard of beauty that very few can attain, but that many have learnt to lust after. Although the specifics are hard to pin down, I'd still say that looking at pictures of models, mainstream musicians, and Hollywood stars would still provide a fair idea of what I'm talking about.

Perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree, though. It's easy to argue that in those fields, such standards of beauty are indeed maintained because they have mass appeal, and thus allow for mass promotion. Who am I to argue with products that are designed for mass marketing?

However, we, as individual persons, are not (I hope) supposed to be mass marketed. When we deal with individuals, and especially ourselves, we should carefully maintain a wider view of what constitutes beauty, beyond what we've been taught via mass media. History has been full of examples of society trying to mould everyone into the fashions of the day; ultimately we end up with lots of square pegs being rammed forcefully into lots of round holes, complete with lots of collateral damage in between.


I've had to learn this the hard way. For most of my teenage years, I had not considered myself beautiful; after all, I came into contact with people my own age everyday who were more (conventionally) beautiful and popular. I mention popularity for a reason, too; I feel that popular people, to some extent, mould the notion of beauty being applied by the community in question.

Now, I was completely opposite to that. I was (and still am) a hardcore introvert, and thus not only was I not popular, I also did not have relationships with popular people (from a teenage perspective, this is obvious: being associated with a less-popular person risks diminishing the status of the more-popular one). Really, then, I had no way to be around beautiful people, as far as beauty is meant in the mainstream sense.

At the end of my teenage years, I looked in the mirror one day, studied my face in detail, and saw a glimpse of what I would today consider beautiful. And I said to myself, if I couldn't find anyone beautiful to be with, I'd better make myself beautiful. It was the only kind of beauty I could be sure of.


Making myself beautiful was hard work. I would look in the mirror everyday, seeing how far from the (mainstream) ideal of beauty I was, and feel despondent. I went through a stage where I tried out all kinds of clothes, hair, makeup, and whatever else I could think of, to see how I would come out; I needed to know what worked best for me. In that process, I stopped worrying about how the ever-mystical others had to say or think. I had to, or else I wouldn't have had the courage to discover what I needed to.

At the end of it, five years later in my mid-twenties, I became a different person, and that was something other people noticed too. I was surer of myself, of what I believed in, and in particular what I believed of myself and my notion of beauty. I'd realised that all along I was a beautiful person, but that until that moment, the understanding of beauty was lost to me, awaiting discovery.

That was a major revelation to me, and it helped me feel a lot better about my self-image. But even more importantly, I'd learnt to see beauty in others that I had never in the past been aware enough to see. This is the sort of beauty you seldom see in mass media, but is the sort that enriches your life for good. It helps us see each other as individual persons, each beautiful in his/her/hir own way, and not as just another mass-produced item.


So, at the end of this rather long post, what I've been trying to say is this: I think it's important to understand a notion of beauty beyond what mass media and popular people portray; not only does it provide a stronger sense of self-worth (as far as seeing oneself as beautiful is concerned), but it helps us see people around us as whole individuals, not as just another face to be compared to the latest weekly.

Your mileage may vary, but I hope this post resonates with you more rather than less.

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