Strange, isn’t it? How, these days, many of us would appear to have this tendency to catch a glimpse of the most natural of faces, to pore over them for a little while, and then to dismiss them as being not much at all. Or, if we do concede to acknowledging the outward beauty of these particular individuals, we say of it that it is a type that is… “unconventional”.
These days, most of the world seems to be mired in all these promotions of a viral monoculture when it comes to matters of beauty. The ideal, for women, is very much the ‘Instagram face’, which is otherwise known as the ‘baddie’ look. It is a face that is laden with makeup – synthetic lashes, arched eyebrows, contoured face. An engineered impression of heightened ‘femininity’ and sexual availability. And this archetype is centred upon beautiful features that can tend to be quite Eurocentric (a small button nose, fairness of skin…) but which are made sufficiently ‘exotic’ through the additions of pouty lips, and thick eyebrows, and more.
See, none of us were born thinking that there is anything at all ‘wrong’ with our faces nor with our bodies. These majestic physical expressions of ours, vehicles of our metaphysical selves, walking (albeit temporary) homes to our very souls. They do so much for us, quite often without us even asking them to.
And, yet: look how unduly harsh we can be on them. Look how we pinch our tummy rolls and wonder why they cannot be gone. How we analyse our faces in the mirror much like stern teachers putting red pen to some troublesome student’s essay. Look at all these strange manipulations of what is real and what is natural, their airbrushed impressions that, for example, stretch marks should not really be there in the first place.
Does the worth of a body grow or diminish with the sizes of certain muscles? And is it to also dip with every crater upon its skin; to rise with every individual who may express an admiration for it? Were these bodies of ours only meant to ever be valued from a sexual (and democratically-decided) perspective, and even then, against all these heavily edited paradigms?
From the very tips of your toes – from how, when you were an adorable cot-ridden little infant: you probably will not remember how you used to wriggle them around in sheer delight. The puerile joys of being alive! But I’m telling you now, somebody does remember. You brought wonder and delight into this world from the very first breath you took here. And your body has been here for you, from then, all the way up to now.
And what about the colour of your eyes? Yes, people are known to romanticise blue eyes so very much; green, too. But how can one not love dark brown eyes, jet black hair, and every single physical expression of humanity, which has all been brought about by none other than Divine paintbrush [and, yes, this is just a metaphor].
Your body was made to allow you to run. To facilitate your gripping onto life itself – the life of this world – for as long as you have been destined to do so. To taste the sweetness of ice-cream and coffee, and, indeed, of coffee-flavoured ice-cream. The chill of cold water – the shock – when you first dip your foot into it.
Our bodies break ice, and they make conversation. They ‘ugly-laugh’ in ways that are so undeniably great. When we are happy, our bodies, these rentals from God and lifelong friends of ours, they light up with us. And when we are sad, they too stoop out of loyalty; they are known to mourn with us.
And oh, to sit beneath the rustling branches of several trees, and to gaze upwards at the cosmos to which they would all appear to point. To marvel at the fact that the very same Supreme Being who had fashioned them – in perfection, I might add – created you, too. This is an undeniable and timeless fact; it does not ebb and flow in accordance with the ever-changing preferences of the masses. So how dare we be ungrateful. How dare we delude ourselves into thinking that we could know more about Beauty than He who is al-Jameel – the Most Beautiful?
One day, perhaps – if He so wills, that is – there may come a day when you find yourself cradling your own child in your arms, hearing his or her little heart thrashing around in its ribcage, and realising that it is doing so almost as enthusiastically as yours is. He or she might have your hair; your eyes; your lips, your smile.
Would you want this child to grow up thinking there are things that are inherently ‘wrong’ – or starkly inadequate – with his or her body, simply because he or she would not be able to walk through today’s model-culture cookie-cutter template, without shedding and altering a few things of his or hers? Would you want them to think that those celebrities and influencers – the ones who have tacitly undergone rhinoplasty surgery, lip fillers, bodily transplants and more – are worth their observantly, obsessively, aspiring to look just like? And would it not break your heart if you were to ever stumble upon the sound of him or her – your own child – calling themselves…ugly?
I so wish we could just stop seeing ourselves through such critical lenses. When did all this even begin?
And were we not fashioned by the most Beautiful, the most High? The best of geometers? He created you in perfection, in proportion. As another manifestation of His Divine creative signature. And as one who is able to laugh and run and smile and sing; one who can cry and walk and think, cook and create. One who could, unfortunately, fall into the trap of spending an entire lifetime erroneously thinking she is not ‘pretty’, and thereby berating herself for some abstract crime that she did not ever even commit.
The goal then, surely, is not to assess ourselves against criteria that may not always be in our favour and reflect what we already look like. The goal is to be as healthy as we can be – to water ourselves, and to nurture the intrinsically beautiful things that are part of us, individually.
May our goals – on the physical front – be optimal health, and even this, not against anybody else‘s yardstick… certainly not the yardstick that imbues us with the impression that we are to see ourselves as plastic products, and that our intrinsic values rise and fall with the glances of strange men – that we need to heavily ‘work on ourselves’ in this particular regard…
I mean, how utterly, inconceivably foolish would it be to attempt to judge one masterpiece against the fingerprint criteria of another? Are we to examine, say, the Great Wave against the criteria of the Mona Lisa? Do we assess the aesthetic appeal of a majestic cherry blossom tree against the characteristics of, say, a soul-invigorating urban sunset? No. For these things are so very beautiful, but each in their own right.
And even if we were to (quite unfairly) reduce all these considerations of beauty and intrinsic feminine value to questions of sexual appeal (i.e. ‘who-is-the-most-widely-sexually-appealing?’) it must always be known that the real objective here is not to look like others – but to look like ourselves. Another’s personal, natural, blueprint for what they may look like at the height of their own health and fertility and whatever else will simply not be the same as yours.
As afore-implied, there are certainly some very ‘natural’ bases when it comes to all this talk of feminine beauty and physical attractiveness. Health, and those signs of fertility… But nature, as is often the case, can be manipulated in various ways, via ‘nurture’. Of course, the media – its widespread, various, and insidious effects – might trick us into thinking that certain ideals of beauty are far more valuable than others. Maybe it will take some effort and a great deal of conscious unlearning to eventually part with these unhelpful views –
and to come to the habit of looking into mirrors and reflexively seeing ourselves through appreciative eyes. To thank Allah (SWT), instinctively, for this hair, and for these hands – for this face, and these eyes. This capacity to run and to love and to hug and to play. For the loyalty of our heartbeats and for the stuff of life that flows quietly, ferociously, through our very veins.
“Oh Allah, you have made my body beautiful, so beautify my character too.”
– A du’a [Hadith, Ibn Mas’ud]
Sadia Ahmed J., 2020