Praise for My Books


"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Is a Cool Chick Hot or a Hot Chick Cool? The Beauty Debate


Beauty comes in many avatars – the smell of first rain, a bellyful of laugh, the patter of toddler feet, Michelangelo’s Pieta, Taj Mahal, mother’s face, the written word, a melodious ghazal – and yet, when the word is mentioned what springs to the minds of most people is female physical beauty. Since that aspect of beauty hogs the mind share, let’s address it first.

A young woman has a great time partying with her friends. Once back in her apartment, she heads straight to the bathroom where she puts a finger down her throat. Scraping it right in, she hits the gag spot. This wrenches her stomach and she throws up. So, she got to eat and drink copiously but she purged her body, and there’s no weight gain. Problem solved!

Or is it?

She is heading to bulimia nervosa, and while she’ll not gain weight she’ll gain myriad other ailments: eroded teeth, sore throat, ruptured esophagus, weakened heart muscle- what, you want me to stop! Okay, but know that bulimia is classified as a disorder.

Question is: how did she get into it?

Because she wants to be beautiful, and thin is in. Besides, if she didn’t starve herself, how would she fit into that ubiquitous bandage dress?

She is drowning in a sea of images, of long-legged high-heeled divas who have poured themselves into these skin-tight sheaths while she, in her flowing salwar kameez, has abruptly acquired the proportions of a tent.

Kareena Kapoor’s size 0. Bipasha’s yoga-sculpted body. Shilpa’s sexy figure. Katrina Kaif as the face of Indian Barbie. Ahem!

Our Prime Minister, when he was the Finance Minister in 1991, launched India into the age of economic liberalization. Since then we have opened our borders, become a tiger economy, and since any economy that grows at an 8% clip needs domestic consumption, we are consuming voraciously. As we joined a globalizing world what came in its wake was a relentless assault of images – images transplanted from the developed world to the developing as a marker of what we can aspire to.

And when Kate Moss is the iconic model to have graced the cover of Vogue a record 30 times you know what I mean. When rail-thin models whose spine could be felt through their stomachs define beauty, a herd of anxious women follow. Barbie, the cherished toy for all little girls in the new India, is so ridiculously proportioned that if scaled up to human size she would be unbalanced enough to topple over! Apparently the likelihood of a woman having Barbie’s shape is one in 100,000. For the rest, well, there is anorexia, bulimia, dieting, as they worship at the shrine of unachievable beauty.

How did we reach this point of killing ourselves to attain some beauty badge?

First, lets acknowledge to ourselves that the images we see are of models that are used to sell products. It is purely commercial. And over the years, the models have changed because of a changing fashion aesthetic that in turn is controlled by marketers, advertisers, stylists – people who run the beauty business. Consequently, images that sell everything from cars to cigarettes come to define beauty in that day and age.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

In the ‘60s Twiggy, with her androgynous looks, became the ideal mannequin for the mod looks of that decade. While the Russian Veruschka – once considered too tall, at more than six feet – played up her Valkyrie proportions by occasionally appearing in nothing but body paint. Modern times, eh!
In the ‘70s Iman, the stunning Somalian, became the exotic appeal. The ‘80s were all about glamour and Australian Elle Macpherson “The Body” defined it. Cindy Crawford, fresh-faced American, was symbolic of the pared-down minimalism of the ‘90s.

Then arrived Kate Moss – at five foot eight she was the antisupermodel whose arrival heralded the waif look. Which, in turn, spawned a legion of healthy women starving themselves to attain the Fellowship of Moss.

What does it tell us? In this obsessive pursuit of beauty are we missing something staring us in the face? That the idea of commercial beauty is constantly changing, at best, and shifty, at worst, as marketers have crossed continent/ethnicity/race in their search for the ‘look’ that’ll define the zeitgesit of the era and convey an impossible beauty.

No woman can live up to the ideal beauty, though many have died trying to do so. (Ironically, the universally admired beauty, Marilyn Monroe, is one.) That’s because supermodels, fashion models, catwalk models are not meant to be ‘pretty’ or beautiful. The requirement is for edgy, distinctive, non-traditional looks. Which can then be broadcast as some unattainable ideal of beauty. Which, statistically, is what it is!

And yet, as science will tell you, it is all so wrong. Because Beauty boils down to a simple average. Yes, average!

Research has illustrated a phenomenon called beauty-in-averageness in which a composite of faces – essentially an average of those faces – was more attractive than any of the faces individually. Which shows that we humans are attracted to average beauty more than individual beauty. An explanation for this is that averageness is a sign of health and fitness – a quality that attracts the opposite sex for successful breeding. Unusually protuberant eyes might clue a disease – and so signal the (low) value of a potential mate. And yet, a Smeagol-like face with bulging eyes is popular on current catwalks.
                       
The world is a confusing place when white people prize mocha skin and the brown folks want fairness creams; when you are a curvy woman whose body is ideal for a sari but you want to pour yourself into a bandage dress; when you are a Chinese woman with radish legs and you’ll undergo torturous surgery to get European legs …

So, next time you doubt your beauty, stop and think. If you think you are average know that you are beautiful – you have science on your side. Not sufficient? A tad too dry for conviction?

Look at nature for inspiration. Does a rose desire to be more like a narcissus? Is a palm more attractive than a peepul? Is dusk more alluring than dawn? A full moon or a crescent? Each element is there and content in its beauty – no one’s faking it. If there’s one thing we can learn from nature, it is this: there is no beauty standard.

The moment we stop benchmarking ourselves against some given beauty-industry/fashion-magazine/Holly-Bollywood standard is the moment we can look at ourselves in the mirror and realize our own beauty. Confucius said: Everything has beauty; not everyone sees it. So how about sending some positive vibes to our self? Healthy skin, clean teeth, clear eyes, a wide smile, erect posture, wearing clothes that suit our body – 90% of beauty is covered there. And all of us can have it. Exercise, eating well and in moderation will keep us healthy and fit. Top it off with a quiet self-confidence.

Real beauty is within each of us and the moment we start believing that, it lights up our soul and our eyes and our face and becomes visible to all. And then it will extend to our work, our interactions with others, the way we live. Beauty is never skin deep  – it is an extension of our very self. As Professor Denis Dutton says, prehistoric man was creating objects of beauty before we could even talk.

The first step to real beauty is choosing to be You – you with all your foibles and strengths. And then you’ll be surprised by what your self will reveal to you.

So, who will you be: Kat/Kate/Kareena-counterfeit. Or the authentic you? The choice is yours. Is a cool chick hot or a hot chick cool – for once, the chick shall decide!


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I wrote this blog post because I believe in the need for a passionate debate on the idea of beauty and how we use it to constrain ourselves. This also forms part of the ongoing debate on Beauty that Dove is running via its Yahoo! Dove Real Beauty Contest


If you like this post sign into Indiblogger and vote for it here :)
Alternatively, if you are not an Indiblogger, you can click on the Facebook "Like" button and encourage readership.


Cheers! 







24 comments:

  1. "its jus a question of a question.....ek sawaal ka sawaal hai"
    wanted to write this as soon as i read the topic
    :) hey nice post btw.barbie part was good.i hate skinny females who think they look good

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  2. @ maniac.hunter: Glad you liked the post.

    As for 'skinny females', there is enough pressure on them without you hating them. And, as I said, the chick shall decide what works for her.

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  3. A cool chick is hot for me :)

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  4. Your writing is stellar! It has the beauty to charm readers... The way you introduced your post was in in itself amazing! I am glad I came across your blog through Indiblogger... I really want to buy and read your book too... looking forward to it!
    N yes all the best for the contest! :)

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  5. Loved your post. I came here from indiblogger .Have bookmarked your blog and will be following it. Do visit mine and read my entry too. Best to you. http://tikulicious.wordpress.com/

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  6. Cool and hot, both are great. Beauty is eternal. Beauty is perspective. It's individual's call, I guess, what to call a beauty. What do you say? :)

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  7. I have been checking out a lot of posts which have been put up for the contest. I loved your blog the best. It is very intellectually made blog. I would be happy if your talent is recognized.

    http://www.indiblogger.in/indipost.php?post=59486

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  8. Hi. Came over from Indiblogger - and have also voted for your post. Beauty is such a subjective thing. And I think our ideas about it are also culture specific-although in the current globalised and digital world, I don't know that it holds true any more.

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  9. Beauty is what gives you happiness, momentary or otherwise. When commercial marketers use (fe)male physical beauty or a child to market their wares, they are simply pandering to a primitive impulse that generates happiness for a moment because your brain either wrongly believes that the (fe)male is smiling at you and he/she is attracted to you, and your evolutionary urge to procreate emphasises that, or it triggers your maternal instinct. Either way it leaves you with a positive feeling, the generation of which requires no prior learning and is innate. It is universal and it is primitive, and it will continue to be used by marketers for millennia to come.

    Appreciation/recognition of all other forms of beauty demand a higher consciousness. Appreciation of music, the arts, the written word, nature, a bottle of vintage wine, - they all require a state of mind, a certain cultural context, and some prior learning, and some free time... so are rarely universal. One has to work to discover, unearth and appreciate beauty - and to those who do so, the rewards are indeed beautiful.

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  10. @ Kumar Bibek: Congrats! You know your mind :)

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  11. @ Anukriti Sharma: Thank you very much - generous compliments are always appreciated :)

    Both my books are available online (flipkart, friends of books, etc). Would love to hear your thoughts once you've gone through them.

    And good luck to you as well for the contest - though I see you're topping the charts already! Cheers

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  12. @ Farila: What a lovely compliment! I went and checked your blog - you have some great posts, and realized you are a teacher. I owe a lot of my writing to my teachers who inculcated in me an early love for the magic of words.

    Great to have connected with you - best wishes for everything!

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  13. @ tiku: Thank you! I read your blogpost and loved it! Good luck with the contest, keep writing!

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  14. @ Blogman: Great to hear your thoughts. For me, beauty is any creature comfortable in their skin - that's when they truly shine through as the unique selves.

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  15. @ Deepa: True, Deepa. Beauty is culture-specific and yet, in an increasingly globalized world there is a pressure to conform to a prevailing standard of beauty. I live in HK and have travelled in China and it amazes me that people have taken to Western attire entirely. So its always nice when I come home to India and still see saris and dhotis and salwar-kameez - why give up something beautiful, relevant and ethnically distinct to chase a uniform? Ban the bandage dress and drape the drape :)

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  16. @ Friends of Gaia: I love your insightful comment! The primitive brain v/s the pre-frontal - isn't that what most of our struggles boil down to? My question though is: if you have a daughter/sister/friend who is troubled by the 'beauty-malaise', science may help explain the reasoning behind our beauty-fixation, how does it help her believe that she is beautiful enough as she is?

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  17. It is the duty of a writer to bring to any piece of writing some insight, besides a story. To make the reader ponder must be a good thing, eh?

    Really nice post Manreet,and all the reasons are listed above :P Now I also know that you have written a book too. Will try to get my hands to it if I can. Damn, if only I knew 'big big' authors were participating in the contest, I would have probably not been so gung-ho about submitting a piece myself ;)

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  18. @ Neeraj: Thanks Neeraj. I subscribe to Kafka's dictum: we must take an axe to the frozen sea within us.

    So, you either write something new, or write in a manner that is new - My 2-pence worth of writing rules :)

    Good luck with the contest - I read your engaging post. But whether you win the prize or not, as long as the writing is worthwhile, you are already a winner - but I guess you know that.

    By the way, last I checked there was no prefix/suffix to my name that said 'Big'!

    Cheers

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  19. Dunno about Mr Kafka, but I's rather stay back home and watch tv if the sea is going to be frozen. I know, terrible terrible joke :P

    And I googled you up. Lot of nice things people have to say about you, Manreet, that can't be a bad thing can it? :) Take care.

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  20. Hi, just discovered your blog through IndiBlogger and I'm glad I did! I love the way you write and I completely agree with what you've written. If more people would chose to be themselves and focus on that, instead of trying to ape the Katrinas and Kareenas of the world, the world would be a more beautiful place.

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  21. @ newmumontheblock: Thanks! Checked your post too and we seem to think similarly :)

    Cheers

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  22. nice information. Thank you for sharing it. Thanks Packers Movers

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