empathy

This Is The New Beauty Standard

Painting by James Bullough

Painting by James Bullough

When I was little, my mom used to often tell me: “You look very pretty! But remember, no matter how cute your dress is or how pretty you look, it won’t matter unless you’re honest, compassionate, and kind! That’s what is the most beautiful and what really matters!” Today, my sister is five years old, and she says the same thing to her. I feel like crying every time I think about my sister growing up. And I want you all to know why. When I was eleven years old, I realised that I was part of a contest that I never signed up for.
No one really knew who the judge was either. And it turns out that no one receives a golden crown at the end of it. No one wins. Because you’re either too skinny or too fat, or your lips are too small or they’re too big, or you’re too tall or you’re too short. The boys ranked girls according to how pretty they were. You became a number. You were either number one or two or three, and if you weren’t those, well let’s be honest, you didn’t really matter.
We live in a society in which we worship beauty. It doesn’t matter if you are intelligent or loving – if you are beautiful. You are worth what you look like. Young girls are daily bombarded with media portraying women as sexual objects characterised by, simply perfection, because only a beautiful woman is deserving of love and happiness.
Girls look up to personalities like Kylie Jenner, an extremely famous television personality with artificially enlarged lips, who had over one billion likes on her photos on Instagram in 2015. They watch fairy tales about glamorous princesses and romantic movies only starring gorgeous actresses with flawless makeup. And guess what? The handsome prince always arrives because the girl allured him with her cute face and pretty hair.

Why hasn’t society considered that maybe presenting girls with female characters that are disproportional, unrealistic and “ideal” according to society’s standards might not be the best image for them to see?

And no, this is not an argument against wanting to look beautiful. This is an argument against the restrictions society has constructed. In this age, beauty is perfection. As a result, beauty is an unattainable aspiration. Girls are brought up to strive towards this intangible and entirely unrealistic standard and they quickly lose confidence in everything they could ever be because society is always whispering that they’re not good enough. And I’ve seen it happen way too many times: eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, suicide.

I believe that we need to redefine what beauty means. We need to teach girls and boys about their true worth and potential. Because being attractive to others is not all that matters. Making a difference in the world is.

Humans are naturally attracted to beauty because beauty brings joy. Seeing a beautiful sunset, a beautiful painting or person gives one the desire to live in this gorgeous world. But why have we decided that beauty is being skinny or having blue eyes or fair skin? Why have we decided that some characteristics are just ugly? The sunset is beautiful every time. The psychologist Carl Ransom Rogers said: “One of the most satisfying experiences I know- is just fully to appreciate an individual in the same way I appreciate a sunset. When I look at a sunset… I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple in the cloud color.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch it with awe as it unfolds. It is this receptive, open attitude which is necessary to truly perceive something as it is.”

It is a conscious decision to find the beauty in life, because there is something beautifully unique about everyone. I grew up with a philosophy that says: “To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.” Next time you’re walking on the street, try noticing something beautiful about everyone that passes by, whether it’s the way their hair sways in the air, or the way their wrinkles show when they smile at you. It is one of the most enlightening, wonderful experiences.

But why do we consider beauty to be only external? Why don’t we glorify kindness? Sacrifice? Oshin Ahlawat, an Indian author wrote: “You’re NOT beautiful for what you look like. Being pretty doesn’t make you beautiful, being ordinary-looking doesn’t make you beautiful either. You know what things are beautiful? Kindness is beautiful. It really is. Chivalry is beautiful. Respect is beautiful. Love is beautiful. Empathy is beautiful. They run deeper than the skin. They really do. They appeal to people’s souls, not to their lust. Remember that.”

In addition, according to a Scientific American article, “If you want to improve your physical attractiveness, strengthening the content of your character may be the most effective thing you can do.” One of the greatest fashion designers of all time, Christian Dior, said: “Happiness is the secret to all beauty. There is no beauty without happiness.” You can’t deny that seeing someone smile is one of the most beautiful things ever seen.

Our obsession with the way we look creates barriers in our lives. It’s where sexism and prejudice and racism come from. Humans have created these divisions, which separate the human race into the fairer and the stronger sex, the white and the black, the fat and the skinny. But it is also in our power to break down these barriers and consider humanity to be one.

One of my favorite quotes says: “Behold a beautiful garden full of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Each flower has a different charm, a peculiar beauty, its own delicious perfume and beautiful color. Yet, all these flowers, shrubs and trees spring from the same self-earth, the same sun shines upon them and the same clouds give them rain. So it is with humanity.”

My sister is one of the most beautiful little girls I have ever seen. Yes, she’s adorable. But she’s beautiful because of the grace with which she paints, because of how her eyes light up when she’s excited, because of how ridiculously smart she is. And I don’t want her to grow up into a world in which how flawless she looks will be valued more than how much she has to offer to the world.

Let’s make a beautiful difference. Let’s tell children that their mind is stunning, that we love them for their crazy dancing, and messy hair, for how gentle they are with others, and how much they love. Let’s teach them that beauty is not perfection, but imperfection, because everyone is beautifully unique. Including you. Don’t even for a second think you’re not. You are beautiful. And together we can make this world even more beautiful than it already is.

Written by Fleur M. D.