• The Feminist Times

REDEFINING FEMINISM: THE PATRIARCHAL NOTION OF BEAUTY

Updated: Apr 23, 2021


No matter how shallow we may think looks to be, when it comes to the ground reality, looks and beauty are known to have a strong threshold in our lives, the variations of it vary geographically.

Don’t confuse these unrealistic beauty standards that the society places on us with the norm of taking care of oneself or looking after oneself. Looking after oneself is something I’ve realized that needs to be emphasized more, it should actually be taught to everyone, especially girls since childhood, because you must have noticed that most of our mothers and the women in our family feel a sense of guilt whenever doing or even asked to do something for themselves. It’s the years of conditioning by the society which puts such a huge emphasis on women being sacrificial and dutiful that a woman making herself a priority and doing things for herself is seen as unnatural. However it

is the same society that’ll be on its toes when it comes to beauty, making or rather pressurizing you to follow them for ‘your own good’! They won’t show the same amount of zest when it comes to other things like your education, financial independence, your brains, thoughts, because well that ain’t getting you a man, the only thing getting you a man (considering that’s what we want) are your looks! The society enrols us young in this system to compete, for the best groom.

Take matrimony sites for example, if families can actually mention traits like ‘Fair’, ‘Not talkative’ ‘Flexible’ ‘Educated but not working’ ‘Height 5.2’ ‘Obedient’ you can only imagine how hard it might be to imbibe all these virtuous qualities in one self to get a prince charming. We then are made to use products to lighten our skin, straighten our hair, lose weight or at times gain it, wear heels or flats in accordance with the wanted height, and allow the people around us to blindly paint us all in the same colour of beauty, in accordance to the conventional heterogeneous standard of beauty.

Let’s take Fair & Lovely for example, which is pronounced as Glow & Lovely in which the letter patriarchy is silent. The entire manifestation of the product is flawed. You must have seen in its Ads that apart from promising you a lighter shade of skin the narrative shows that the girl after using the product suddenly gets a job, so are we as a society trying to say that a certain shade of skin plays a role in getting a job? If now you tell me that no, the Ad just shows that the girl feels confident in herself after using the product and hence gets a job, trust me it gets more problematic. Are we as a society teaching girls to keep striving for a certain colour of skin considered beautiful and feel

confident in their own skins only after that shade is achieved? You can’t simply rename the product without mending the damage it continues to cause and expect it all to be okay. These behavioural patterns point towards a prevalent ‘pick me’ culture, which we all fall a victim to. A culture in which women are often made to feel they have to compete for partners by adhering to the most patriarchal of standards- to take care of all household duties and excel at it, to be submissive and to always look graceful, encouraging the entire idea of a trophy wife. And you aren’t just made to follow these ridiculous standards of beauty but also made sure you don’t resist them by proper moral policing. The torchbearers of patriarchy both men and women call out anyone who goes against the norm and embraces themselves and gets comfortable in their own skins, cause no that’s

not how we do it in a patriarchal society. We are made to, rather taught to feel bad about our appearance, always finding something problematic with ourselves, making our appearance the utmost priority; we are made to fear the consequences that might follow if we don’t adhere to the conventional idea of how a girl should be. And how do we do that? By drawing an equation between beauty and respect, a very complicated one, you’ve to be very sure about the quality of beauty and the kind of looks added to the prescribed amount of behavioural norm of how a girl behaves, to be able to earn yourself that respect. You don’t just get that respect by being yourself, you’ve to strive

to be the society’s version of you, you’ve to be exactly how ‘a girl should be’.

Respectability politics have always been about controlling group behaviour with designations of appropriate or inappropriate behaviour rooted in structural inequality. A girl sitting with her legs crossed is respectable but one sitting with legs wide open doesn’t deserve respect. A minimal make- up looks good but too much make-up makes you look like a slut, no one will respect you. Don’t wear a wide deep neck top, you’ll look desperate, people won’t respect you. Such respectability is financially and emotionally expensive. Because there isn’t just specific speech patterns that are changed to fit the norm of ‘like a girl should be’, but everything from body language, body size, wardrobe to hairstyles need to be remodelled. Gatekeepers of respectability push dominant

narratives but don’t necessarily understand where their ideas of what respectable is come from, or who dictates the parameters for one to be respected. This structure of respectability requires adherence, not autonomy, and relies on dominant norms to create a hierarchy of privilege in a patriarchal institution. Beauty thus, is intrinsically rooted in patriarchy. It is time we redefine what beauty is, or actually allow people to define it for themselves without policing and shaming them for doing the same. Let’s do away with this idea of how a ‘girl should be’. Ask yourself who is this girl we’re referring to? Who made her? Who dictates her qualities that are set as a bench mark for the rest? Why should everyone be like this girl who is just a mere idea of the whims of the patriarchs in

our society. Another extremely ridiculous thing we need to do away with is sexist compliments.

Heard of ‘Beauty with Brains’, what the fuck does it even mean, complimenting someone with this phrase directly reflects the belief of the patriarchal society that a girl with brains is a rare sight. And not just any girl, a beautiful girl, beautiful in accordance with the conventional standard, with brains is a rare sight. Ever heard of such a stupid compliment for boys? What we need today is to be conscious enough of every word, phrase, compliment that we use for a person in a rewarding way for their beauty, ‘You’re pretty for a brown girl’ Who decides how pretty can a brown girl be, what’s the bench mark to know you’re too pretty for a brown girl or a little less for a white one. Do away with the ridiculous discriminative beauty standards the society places upon you. We need to redefine beauty for ourselves, in a way that it doesn’t rely on perfectly packaged responses and ways to change ourselves to be accepted. We need to come to a place where we learn to embrace differences instead of pretending that freedom comes from erasing them.


-Kuhu Srivastava



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