About a month ago, I read a book for a politics assignment called The Beauty Myth. In it, Naomi Wolf speaks about how the concept of beauty has been used as a form of patriarchal control, as it has made women feel insecure, and not worthy enough to stand up for their rights. She brings up eating disorders, plastic surgery, skinny, beautiful, Photoshopped models on magazine’s front covers, the sexualisation of women in e.g. pornography, and the Professional Beauty Qualification – a rule that basically said that women could be hired and fired in the work place based on their appearance.
While the book was written in the early 1990’s, I did find myself relating to a lot of the points. I feel that today’s society has become a lot more open minded about appearance and there are all sorts of campaigns going around that promote inner beauty, and the fact that outer beauty is just a social construct. While this is an incredible achievement, I know that the importance of appearance is still very much present in our world. Magazines do still contain beautiful, Photoshopped women and while models these days are a lot healthier, a large portion of them are still thin. Plastic surgery is still prevalent, advertising focuses on make-up and clothes, and I’m sure that most people have been on a diet at least once. Even though I see myself as somebody who believes in inner beauty, I find myself mindlessly looking at people in real life and on social media and judging them based on their appearance. I often get tricked into believing that pretty people must have perfect lives, and I sometimes picture scenarios where I looked like that.
This book was an eye opener for me, and I knew that I would eventually write a blog post on my thoughts on beauty. In it, though, I believed that I would focus on inner beauty. To me, inner beauty was the only beauty and no matter what somebody looked like on the outside, if they were content and grateful on the inside, they glowed. I’ve come across people who I have classified as ‘stunning’ at first glance, and yet after conversing with them for a while, I’ve discovered that their negativity and snarky comments about others has depreciated them a bit. On the other hand, I have met people who at first glance I’ve classified as ‘ugly’, yet after speaking to them, I have realised that they are beautiful souls. To me, beautiful people are those who love themselves, spread kindness, listen and inspire, accept and love others.
Inner beauty is still very important, and I completely stand by what I previously thought. However, lately I’ve suddenly acquired a fascination for the human body, particularly the parts that are seen as flawed or having flaws. My approach to beauty has been one of, ‘Ignore outer beauty because it is merely a social construct and focus on inner beauty because it’s the real deal’. Now however, I have a different attitude.
Do yourself a favour and google ‘tree trunk’ or ‘bark texture’. When you have finished looking at the images, look up leaf texture. I found myself looking at those very images the other day, and I remember being left in complete amazement. When we look at nature, we tend to focus on its perfection. We can look at the lines on a leaf and think, “Wow, these are so delicate. Isn’t it amazing how they exist.” We can also marvel at the fact that a leaf can turn from a lush green to a crunchy orange as the seasons change.
My question I have been asking lately is why do we accept the markings and lines on a rock or leaf, and yet at the same time we criticise the markings on our body?
Hold your hand up against a leaf and notice the similarities. We both have lines but we just happen to have more and many go off in different directions. Take a look at somebody’s eye. Do you agree that it looks strangely similar to a planet or constellation?
If you were to pick up a rock or crystal you may announce, “Look at this cool rock. It has all these different spots.” It is interesting then that we’ll look at our own freckles and feel embarrassed.
Society currently has an obsession with labelling parts of our body as good or bad. Freckles, stretchmarks, scars and cellulite are hideous, and we desperately try to cover it up, not wanting other people to see our flaws. When we look in the mirror, we may say things like, “I wish these marks over here would disappear. They make me look ugly.” We are insecure and unhappy because of it.
I wonder if a spotty rock is sitting there, wishing it looked like something else. Is the bark upset that it’s texture is jumbled and rustic, and it looks similar to elephant skin? I’m not a rock or tree whisperer at the moment, but my guess is that they aren’t unhappy about their markings. I don’t think the words, ‘good, bad, pretty, ugly, beautiful...’ are in their vocabulary as they don’t feel the need to compare, judge and label.
If we were to transfer all our ‘supposed flaws’ onto another object, I don’t think we would look at them negatively anymore. Instead, I think we would look at them with curiosity and awe.
Lately I’ve been looking at the markings of my own body objectively, in the same way that I would view a rock. When I ignore these social constructs, pretending that they don’t exist, I’m able to look at stretch marks and freckles with fascination rather than with embarrassment. It is really interesting how we are born with so many different textures, lines, shapes, markings and colours and I think it really makes you realise how extraordinary this world is. I also love the concept of change and the realisation that bodies don’t stay the same for ever. New markings and textures are constantly being formed, just like the Summery green leaves on the tree who turn to a crunchy brown in Autumn
Previously I just wanted to ignore outer appearance as I believed that if you focused on it, you were reinforcing social constructs of beauty. Now, however, I’ve discovered that we can still look at outer appearance but with a different mindset. Instead of saying things like: “pretty, ugly, hideous,” I’m going to say, “Isn’t it incredible how I have this freckle. How was it formed? Who designed it?” or “Isn’t it interesting how skin is smooth when we are young, and as we get older it becomes a bit rough.”
I encourage you to do the same.