Physical beauty has always been used as a kind of backstage pass
It was Thursday night, and we needed groceries.
Battered and exhausted from my daily run, dressed in my mundane track suit, I made my way to our local superstore for a quick restocking. The staff member near the weighing machine was stationed there to measure the vegetables we got, who put them in clear bags and attached barcode labels to them.
While I was getting some papayas measured, in came a beautiful woman through the store doors. Pretty much every head turned at the sight of her once-in-a-lifetime ethereal beauty. She made her way straight towards the vegetables.
The moment she got there, Mr Staff-Member-Near-Weighing-Machine rushed to help her. He began tearing every green banana she wanted and hand-picked every single reed of “loti” she needed. I seldom have a problem with chivalry, but I do when it is displayed in the middle of measuring my packets, halfway through.
Long story short, I demanded that the chivalrous knight leave the damsel in distress and return to his station. Society, of course, had a problem with an unimpressive looking girl raising her voice. After all, a bad temper is more appealing when the rich father’s princess (usually a stunning siren) exhibits it. The average-looking girl is the extra on the film set.
Women like us, the ones whose self-esteem has been ground to dust by whatever force you want to blame, are all about the shout. The average girl has always been sidelined in more ways than one, hence the shout, just to get noticed.
Let us go back to our school days. Our male project partner spoke to the prettier friend we had with us, completely ignoring the important thing we wanted to say. The rickshaw-wallah mama stopped our much needed ride, picking up the prettier girl across the street when clearly, we were the ones standing closer, the ones to call dibs first.
Growing up, our relatives favoured our prettier cousins or sisters, pointing out how all our talents fall short before their beauty. Our boyfriends agreed to marry the girl of their mothers’ choice, clearly picking the prettier option between the two. At this point, many of you are nodding. Yes, me too.
The steamroller of society-mandated beauty is an unstoppable force. Add a pinch of consumerism to the recipe. Lo and behold! You now have fairness cream commercials that promise lucrative careers, but one needs to get pretty first, using said cream.
Beauty pageants were born to ingrain that idea further into our heads -- that beauty is impossible to defeat. The world, apparently, kneels helplessly before beauty. Among these divine supplicants, there is intelligence, or the lack thereof. Being dumb is not a problem as long as one looks good and smiles pretty.
A few days ago, the wishing well was out of water. Hence, when the judges threw their question-laced coins inside, it made a kind of hollow sound that resonated across the internet. What happened was one of those “beauty pageant bloopers” compilations that we watch on Youtube often, to kill some time, to get some respite from the cat videos.
However, what happened the other day was a homegrown production. The by-products of these beauty bloopers were a free restaurant promotion, a replenished supply of meme templates, and some keyboard activism from the veteran keyboard warriors of society.
Some raised a hue and cry over our education system, some, being social justice knights in shining armour, defended the contestants out of sheer chivalry. Some spewed hatred on the judges, animatedly recounting how they had met at least one out of three, and how they had severe attitude problems (“ … in spite of being so good looking! Ha! Can you imagine?”)
This freshly disturbed surface of social media will be back to normal, given a few days and a new issue. Some people are going to have a good night’s sleep thinking themselves unconventional, believing that when the situation demands, they can ignore the ignorant in spite of their looks.
This is where I would like to disagree with those who think themselves to be above beauty. No matter what people say, there is no defeating this unbeatable force, at least, not in a foreseeable future. Every one out of ten American women has gone under the surgical knife; the ratio is one to five in the case of South Korean women. The Indian sub-continent perpetuates its abuse through skin whitening treatments. A reputed beauty salon offers intravenous glutathione drips, allegedly without any medical license, just to make your skin fair.
Whether IV drips, bleaching, or fair polishing is fair or not is a discussion for another day. I won’t be complicating matters by bringing in conditioning versus free will. It is, however, evident that if one is “equipped” with beauty, one has the license to get away with anything.
The attitude problem, the inability to understand English after over 20 years of learning the language, the lack of knowledge of basic chemistry, decency, or humanity -- all is forgiven if the person on the receiving end thinks you are beautiful.
Hence, when online forums catch fire from the heat of the ramp, when intellectuals fret that our fragile education system has gone out of order, I simply keep scrolling down. Those who pretend to be shocked at the rampant use of physical beauty as a backstage pass are the ones who need to worry about their ignorance. The moment our vegetable lady entered, all sense of morality, justice and public decency was lost.
Beauty trumped duty -- it came, saw, conquered, and distracted everyone at the store. Let’s not be horrified, fellow average girls, let’s get used to it. “It” being many things, including shouting, getting furious, complaining to the store manager, whipping up a status updates, and making the man’s face go viral.
The only antithesis of beauty, after all, is ugliness. To get noticed, to get our due rights, to make our opinions matter and our voices heard, we have to shout the ugly way. Beauty is a reality. Though it is a superficial, fleeting quality, it exists and makes its existence known. It has, and it always will be there in society.
The fact that beauty has always won has never been a surprise. It’s up to us, however, to choose how we can work around it.
Qazi Mustabeen Noor is studying English literature at North South University.