To each, her own

Anjali Jhangiani
Saturday, 10 March 2018

From curvy and fair, to ambitious and free-willed, the definition of beauty has undergone immense transformation. Today’s woman needn’t live up to society’s expectations, but instead walk tall and assert herself as an individual who doesn’t believe in conventions, says ANJALI JHANGIANI

Have you heard the term beauty with brains? You probably have, and an image of someone definitely pops up in your head when you think of the phrase. If so, you’re suffering from sexism, a disease which might go undiagnosed and infect all your thoughts and actions unless you are confronted with the concept of feminism. 

And don’t be under the impression that only men are susceptible to this, women have it too, which is why they often underestimate themselves in various ways. Let me tell you that there’s no such thing as beauty with brains — everyone’s beautiful and everyone obviously has brains. To think otherwise is just a way of showing the world that you’re still stuck in the Middle Ages when everyone thought the world is flat and that the sun revolves around the Earth. 

The world is changing, and so are perceptions. The concept of ‘conventional beauty’ is undergoing transformation. It is no longer someone who is curvy, fair, smooth-skinned, bouncy-haired with a pretty face, but one who is ambitious, passionate, powerful, free-willed, strong and confident. You see the difference? Superficial traits are outdated and replaced with those that define character. Traits that can be seen with plain sight are replaced with those adjectives that need more analysis and validity. 

That said, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘regressive’ with women doing everything they can to look the way they want, but only if that’s what she wants to do, and that’s how she really wants to look — and not because she has to succumb to pressure from family, peers or society. 

That’s probably why the world listened to every word that 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez — who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year — spoke when she got up on the podium and called out her country’s President on the issue of gun control. The girl with the shaved head, and a heart that aches for the school mates she lost, became a voice for all those who were left numb with the pain of losing someone in the unfortunate school shootings happening in the US. She became a national hero.

Speaking of heroes, though Chadwick Boseman became the latest poster boy for Marvel geeks, Zimbabwean-American actress Danai Gurira stole the show in the recently released Black Panther as the head of Wakanda’s armed forces and intel. Though she makes heads turn when she enters a casino on a mission disguised as a patron, but wins a million hearts when she expresses how she hates having a head full of hair and slipping into a tight dress.

The point is not that these women, real and fictional, don’t care about how they look, but what makes them attractive is the way they are not bothered about how other’s judge them. They own who they are, and that’s beautiful.

Shibani Dandekar, who is a mentor on the reality show Top Model India on Colours Infinity, says, “The idea of beauty has changed over the years and for the better. Uniqueness and owning flaws and using them to your advantage as something that makes you different is something that works these days and I love that,” adding that show business isn’t the cookie cutter driven business anymore.

“People are looking for traits that make you stand out from a crowd and conventional beauty just isn’t the big seller it used to be, which I think is amazing. We are learning to love all types of looks and that’s something worth embracing,” she says. 

Shamita Singha, a model and television anchor, who is a panelist at various beauty pageants, agrees. “Dusky girls have taken over the ramps at fashion shows. The prejudice against skin colour is going away,” she says, adding that the most important thing she looks for while selecting contestants is the kind of attitude they have. “I don’t mean a cocky or high-handed attitude. I’m talking about an attitude that says I’m here to work, and I mean business. Hardworking people with a high level of  professionalism. We look for people who have a certain spirit, who can translate their energy onto the ramp or stage or camera,” says Singha. 

Nivedita Saboo, Pune-based celebrity fashion designer, believes that it is all about confidence these days. Also a member of the judges panel for various pageants and contests, she says, “As a judge, I look for the willingness to learn in participants. They must make sure that with every bit of learning and knowledge gained during the course of the pageant, they are willing to evolve into better versions of themselves, not just enhance their looks. They must be ready to be moulded,” says Saboo. 

Obviously you need to be drop dead gorgeous to be a part of the fashion or entertainment industry. But how true does this hold today? Dandekar says, “Personality is the key. What makes you different, how do you stand out from the crowd without being too dramatic, what can you bring to the table that is unique — it isn’t about being famous, it is about having that likability factor that draws the audience to you.” She talks about how grooming is important and even more vital is looking after yourself, and being fit and healthy. “Work with what you were given and be the best you can by taking care of it. That said, you could be stunning to look at but with a boring personality, you have less chances of making it. Let your beauty (and we all are beautiful) shine through your character and your personality,” says she. 

Actress-turned-politician Smita Thackeray talks about how women should live fulfilling lives and do what makes them happy instead of always worrying about what others think. “I feel women can achieve what they want if they don’t have to wait for anyone’s help, and rather go with their gut feeling and face challenges bravely,” she says, adding, “Being confident in all aspects is necessary and every woman should follow the same. I personally think your outer appearance is your first impression but your intelligence is what leaves a lasting one. One should follow what one believes in.”

Saboo believes that women should not look for inspiration outside, but look within. “An important trait that one must hone to be successful in the fashion industry is to refrain from copying anything from anyone under the pretext of being inspired — whether it is their designs, or their gait. Anything that doesn’t come from within, isn’t ‘you’, ” she says. 

Dandekar says that the best advice she can give someone is to embrace their flaws, no matter what others think. “I had a face full of acne in high school and I used to hide it with my hair or attempt to do so at least. One day, I realised that if I’m open about it and laugh it off, no one else is going to really take the time to make fun of it. So I did, and ever since I have learnt to laugh at my flaws and own them so much so that I have become comfortable with them. For someone who works in the TV industry, I have skin that isn’t so great but I manage and it is okay. I do what I can to improve it but I’m not flawless except when it comes to how bravely I own what is inherently me. So just learn to do that and that’s how the major part of the battle is won,” she says. 

Singha points out how most of the time, the flaws you believe you have are all in your head. “Sometimes, when you compare yourself to others, you find a flaw in yourself that is not really visible to anyone else. It’s in your head,” she says adding that you should learn to be happy with what you have. There’s no one definition of beauty, it means different things to different people. And everyone is beautiful, you have to believe it to be true. 

Ever since the beginning of time, women have been conditioned to look a certain way and behave in a certain way. Patriarchy has never let the female kind grow into their own and instead restrained them from making their own choices about their lives, bodies and future. So women have insecurities about themselves, whether they show it or not, talk about it or not, admit it or not. But these insecurities do not make you who you are, the way you deal with these insecurities shows your character. 

“Be confident and comfortable and truly love yourself for who you are. Improve on yourself to the best of your ability, without comparing yourself to anyone else. Once you do that, you will come into your own and be comfortable in your own skin. Feel accomplished and beautiful. When that love for yourself will come from within, you will have a beautiful glow, which cannot be seen in its physical form but as an aura that will envelope you,” says Saboo.  

Thackeray shares how she encourages her daughter to remember that all women, in fact, all people are beautiful. “I guide her to gain more knowledge from surroundings, people, situations, etc. She should also be a self-learner as it’s the most important thing,” she says. 

Life is an uphill climb for everyone —  men and women. But gone are the days when women had no choice but do the climbing with pencil heels. Be comfortable, chuck those heels for sneakers if you want to. Accept that it is your comfort, your desire that matters, and not what the world expects of you. 

However, this is not an easy thing to do either. Society might scorn you for not living up to its expectations, but it’s time for you to confront society for having such unrealistic, illogical and often ludicrous expectations in the first place. 

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