The Pressure to Look Good

This post is motivated mainly by Wisetongue’s latest one, where he bemoans the fact that he was born with the congenital disease of negrodermitis, whose chief symptom is a terrible darkening of the skin. The good news is that a cure has been recently developed –  the ‘darkness removal agent’ commonly referred to as Emami Fair and Handsome cream, so RUSH TO YOUR NEAREST RETAILER TO BUY IT NOW. (Spoiler alert: he was sarcastic.)

Do I agree with him? Yes and no. I think fairness cream ads merely form a part of what should be a wider debate. Wisetongue was certainly justified in attacking Emami and Garnier and all the other companies guilty of portraying dark skin as a potentially crippling liability. But the question is, can’t this argument be taken to its logical extreme?

Before I go any further, I’ll take a moment to thank God that I’m a boy.

Seriously. A girl could give me one million reasons why her life is better than a boy’s and offer to switch bodies with me; I’d still say, “No, thank you.” For one, and only one reason – the pressure to look good.

I’m a slob. I freely admit it. I don’t take much care of my appearance, and even if I did I wouldn’t exactly be dripping with handsome sauce. Of course, being a boy doesn’t mean I’m totally exempt from any expectations about my looks, but I think it’s smaller by several orders of magnitude.

Why is it so much more for girls? At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I think it’s horrible. If someone had the cheek to write and wave in my face an article like the one on this blog titled “Attention Women from the South and Especially Chennai“, laying down the law on how I should look and dress, I’d give them the finger and tell them to fuck off without a qualm. And yet not a single girl did the figurative version of that in the comments on that article.

Girls – do you really not mind this kind of shallowness being perpetuated, or are you just too touchy about your appearance to speak out? Because, let’s face it, the ones who are going to do it (if at all) will probably be Plain Janes, or worse. And when they speak out, they effectively admit where they lie on the beauty spectrum.

I think that’s where the problem comes in. From an early age, girls are probably commented on about their appearance much, much more than boys. And all the comments are positive, of course – nobody wants to make a child feel bad. It takes extraordinary maturity to evaluate oneself critically, so naturally every girl goes into her teens thinking she’s going to be a beauty queen or something.

You see what I’m getting at? For every girl, the fact that she looks good is almost a given, or so she thinks. Until boys begin to notice them, I doubt that they even consider the possibility of their not being attractive.

Then, slowly and subtly, the reality must permeate. It cannot be a pleasant process. And nobody’s going to tell you bluntly, obviously, so you’re uncertain – very uncertain. There are few things as terribly gut-wrenching as uncertainty. If you’ve ever done badly in an exam and have a dreadful feeling that you’re going to fail, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I haven’t been inside a girl’s head. I’m merely making the conjecture of such a mentality because girls, for the most part, seem to be allowing guys to get away with being so superficial by preferring to cling to the notion that they’re pretty anyway. I mean, no girl wants to reconcile herself to the fact that she’s not. That has to be the first step towards challenging the existing mindset – if you want to.

Coming back to Wisetongue’s post, replace ‘dark skin’ with ‘symmetrical features’ and you have a whole new debate on your hands. Should we have a concept of external beauty at all? Why should considering overweight people unattractive be any different from thinking the same about dark-skinned people? Both are forms of discrimination. Is one any more logical than the other?

The problem is that we’re all biologically programmed to appreciate certain characteristics – symmetrical features and slender bodies are examples. What about fair skin? Maybe. But do you realise now how irrelevant the whole “dark-skin-is-not-ugly” tirade is? Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Whether people think you’re easy on the eye is not up to you to decide. Wisetongue, if you’re going to argue that a person shouldn’t be considered ugly because he’s dark, you might as well delete that list of hottest celebrity women you made. If they dig fair skin, that’s how it is. I think I can safely say that there’s a small inbuilt bias we have towards the lighter colour; the cream companies are just taking advantage and trying to enlarge that.

There’s no need to be ashamed. We are each entitled to our preferences. Saying you want a fair-skinned girl in your matrimonial ad doesn’t make you a racist. (As Wisetongue pointed out though, it’s a bit sad if it appears in a Goldman Sachs ad.)

The reason I’m going this far, acting like the Devil’s Advocate, is because variety is the spice of life. The not-so-beautiful ones are what make beautiful people good to look at. And as far as the ugly ducklings are concerned, come on, turn into swans! I think the lesson to take from the fairy tale is not that the Ugly Duckling became a bird more beautiful than all the ducks. Instead, the duckling refuses to stay grounded by its ugliness and overachieves in an entirely different field – which is metaphorically represented as the transformation into a swan. (I can’t cover for you every time, Hans Christian Andersen!)

For girls especially: I know that it’s really hard to come to terms with not being beautiful, when the message from all sides and media seems to be that it’s your fundamental requirement as a woman. But before you become a swan, you need to first accept that you’re an ugly duckling, ugly being the operative word. That’s ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to be ashamed of. Acceptance is good. Insecurity is not. There is a lot between the extremes of drool-worthy and plug-ugly; but anyway it’s like the initial hand you’re dealt in a game of cards. Depending on how good it is, you either continue playing, or fold and leave the game and play something else altogether. Either way, try to WIN.

Posted on January 2, 2012, in Everything Else. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. well i won’t comment upon the content of your post!! different people, different opinions!
    but i believe one should dress up as they like than be it they like looking cute or chic or plain simple watever!!!!!

    • Exactly, I’m only saying those who don’t really stand a chance in the looks department shouldn’t be insecure about it and keep trying to make themselves look better, just because the message from all sides appears to be that (especially for women) people will pay attention to you only if you look good. There are many other avenues they can excel in.

    • Raji_mythili.K

      I so second this statement! d whole idea of cuteness to one person mat not necessarily seem cute to another one… so my opinion is dat u really cant say one looks ugly wit comparing to some fixed primitive standards of who is cute and who is not.. so why waste time n energy on moping over such a biased standard?

      • The fact that the concept of beauty varies from person to person is a dangerous lifeline to cling on to. I assure you there aren’t that many people who think that Mayawati looks better than Aishwarya Rai.
        Almost all people (especially women) want to be thought of as beautiful or good-looking, which is statistically impossible. This is partly due to the huge pressure in pretty much all forms of mass media. That’s what the whole post was about – don’t have unrealistic expectations as regards your looks. Get out of your default assumption that you look good.
        And exactly, don’t waste time and energy. Believe it or not, a lot of people waste inordinate amounts of time wondering whether they look attractive and energy trying to set it right.

  2. very well penned, done full justice to hair,.


    • AND FOR HEAVEN”S SAKE STOP CALLING ME SHALLOW….i have to include a footnote in massive font:
      I INSIST on carrying yourself well an confidently ..that’s what makes most of the looks..

      • I didn’t call you shallow.
        I prefer wearing clothes that are comfortable and don’t really care about style. So do a lot of girls, I’m quite sure. At least without the peer pressure. Yet none of them made that point over there. Why? Because they’re terrified of saying anything that’ll imply they don’t look good. Which is not healthy, because we as boys have pretty clear ideas of who’s attractive and who’s not. There’s only so much a girl can do to make herself look better. Beyond that, it’s not worth it. Marie Curie wouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize if she had obsessed over her looks.
        That’s not your article’s fault, I’m just trying to analyse.
        And you INSIST on that? You mean, even when you’re on the road, you care about how the people around you are dressed? Not everyone has the time to impress you, I’m afraid.

  4. I don’t have d wits to write one… 🙂

  5. you’ve just dealt with every aspect… good one…

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