‘It’s only shallow people who do not judge by appearances’
Just read a very thought provoking article in Dhaka Tribune by Qazi Mustabeen Noor, where the writer lucidly points out the advantages of having extraordinary physical attributes. In short, how life becomes a lot easier when one is beautiful, or in men’s case, handsome.
A quote by Oscar Wilde comes to mind: “Beauty is a form of genius -- is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation.” He went on to say, “it has a divine right of sovereignty.”
Chanakya, the ancient Indian statesman of the Maurya Empire said it 2500 years ago: The most powerful thing in the world is the beauty and youth of a woman.
Be that as it may, the rule applies to both sexes. However, it may be right to broaden our outlook when we try to define the term beauty or beautiful, because between beauty and ugliness has crept in another word, attractive.
The entry of this term, which in Bengali translates to “akorshonio” is arguably a recent addition to our social credo. Add to that, other new terms like “chumbokio” or magnetic, and “mayamoy” or captivating.
Now in our attempt to increase the gamut of beautiful, we tend to put all these qualities under beauty, though in reality, these are separate words, because when someone is striking in his/her facial features, the word beauty pops to mind.
However, when someone is smart, intelligent, and has a fairly pleasant physical appearance, then other words mentioned above apply.
In our society, for a long time, beauty was associated with facial features, with little or no regard to others attributes. Let’s take a dive back in time.
Beauty locked in the face
In the 70s and 80s, film actresses in Bangladesh often set the tone for what beauty should be defined as, and at that time, the focus was on the face, and not on any other qualities. The camera mainly took facial shots: Shy laughter mixed with mischief, biting of the lips in an act of seduction, the dimple on the cheek, or the suggestive movements of the kohl-drawn eyes.
Everything revolved around the face, and that culture seeped into the real world where beautiful inevitably meant someone with a symmetrical face and sharp features.
Interestingly, often, the women playing the role of the vamp in movies had far more attractive physical features. I recall a Dhallywood actress called Julia, who, in the current day definition of an attractive woman, would easily eclipse the top celluloid beauty queens of her time. But then, 30 years ago, society had a very rigid outlook on what could and could not be called beautiful.
Like I said earlier, unless someone possessed striking facial beauty, she/he was termed ordinary. But over the time, the word “attractive” has slowly made way into our social narrative, and much credit goes to the satellite culture because it has taught us how to transform an ordinary looking person into an attractive one.
To elaborate, any person, fair or dark, short or tall, will instantly become attractive when that person is smartly dressed, and has an air of elegance or dignity about him or her.
These two words, dignity and elegance are learnt through diligent effort -- they do not come by birth. Once, a wealthy person at a designer shop lamented as to why he did not look dapper in a jacket: Why was the same piece of clothing so perfect on a model? The store owner quipped: Sir, models will look gorgeous even in rags because they maintain their body.
Therein lies the most important lesson of all: If someone exercises and follows a healthy routine, s/he is more than half way there to becoming eye catching.
Why should you be attractive?
About a year ago, BBC did a news item on “booth babes”, or slim women, dressed to perfection, standing at motor shows to promote the latest car. The BBC presenter was asking why it’s still essential to have such blatant commodification of women, in an era when objectifying women is widely reviled. Not surprisingly, the presenter was in a slinky dress herself, looking spiffy and proving that attractive physical posture matters even when one is working in a newsroom.
The presenter was not beautiful, but certainly very chic and elegant. So, being attractive is just as powerful as being beautiful. One cannot be beautiful by choice but can certainly be attractive.
In fact, not a single news channel, local or foreign, has overweight people, and neither do they have people who are not properly presented.
There is no reason to look with contempt at society’s preference for attractive people because, inherently, we all admire and like something which is neat, clean, and spruced up.
An opulent home draws attention for being astoundingly beautiful, which, in Bengali, we enthusiastically call “rajokio,” but without the trappings of wealth, a home can also be neat, which in Bengali is chimcham. Both are positive terms.
At school in the late 70s, we were taught the story of Sheikh Sadi, a 13th century Persian poet, who went to a feast dressed in rags, and looking bedraggled.
Sadi was thrown out but when he came back again to the party, looking resplendent in clean clothes, he was welcomed with honour.
To teach a lesson, Sadi put all the food in the pocket of his robe, and told his perplexed host that since the clothes have given him the honour, food should be fed to it.
A profound lesson, but in the real world, none of us, no matter how benevolent we are, will ever allow a slovenly dressed person into our homes. Nor will we feel comfortable in the presence of one for too long.
So, in a world where appearances matter everywhere, perhaps we should keep in mind: Being attractive and charming is just as powerful as being beautiful.
To end with Oscar Wilde: It’s only shallow people, who do not judge by appearances.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka