On Beauty

The human woman is a thing of beauty. This is, without question, how she has been designed and made: beautiful. From her eyelashes to her voice, and to the soul that rests between them, the human female is different to the human male. Both, in general, have differing essences, and each are attracted to differing things, in the other.

In this article, I want to talk about beauty standards. I may also touch on the topics of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the like. I want for this article to encapsulate my indignation towards, for instance, the fact that some of the most beautiful women I know think themselves to be hideous; I think current popular conceptions of ‘beauty’ are symptomatic of, well… a world gone mad, taken to deceit, superficiality, and shallowness, among other things.

One of my little cousins, I tell her, she does not need to worry: she is gorgeous how she is, Masha Allah! But she says, no, she is not. Why, I ask? Because, as she tells me, she does not look like her, and she points to a girl she is watching on Tik-Tok, whose face is laden with makeup, whose features are accentuated through the use of certain poses and filters.

The ‘Instagram face’. This is an important concept in today’s world, so it would seem.

I so wish everybody could just know how beautiful they are. A few months ago, I carried out that survey thing, for which the fourth question was about people’s main struggles and insecurities. Everybody responded to this with, looks: they struggle with accepting and appreciating how they look, and this actually holds them back, they find, in other areas of life. People find themselves ugly; want to do away with certain features of theirs, acquire new ones.

What a world we live in, huh? Our notions of beauty are so distorted. This ‘Instagram face’, this template that begins with European features, takes from ‘ethnic ones’, merges them together to create the notorious almost-bionic template that plasters our social media feeds these days. My issue with the culture that this has been fostered by (and then, in turn, fosters) is that we now have humans who are disgusted by some of the baseline stuff of being human: who spend hours hating their own reflections, who look beauty right in the eye each day (when they look into a mirror) but who cannot at all recognise it for what it is.

The media we consume on a daily basis undoubtedly has a massive impact on the ways in which we come to see things. It is all quite interconnected, too: how addictive these platforms are, how much of its content we consume each day (often quite ‘mindlessly’. But it is always having an effect on our minds…), advertising, the cosmetic industry…

The truth is, looks do matter. Of course they do. But it gets awfully political, if you think about it enough: how the ones with the most power, have the power to truly influence how we view things. Like beauty. The thing about beauty is, it is meant to be indicative of goodness [and, I would argue, of Truth. We tend to see things that are unified, proportionate, and harmonious, as being beautiful. I think this points us towards a supreme wisdom, a Oneness. Allah].

An envelope, and then you open it, and there is goodness to be found. But as soon as we come to believe that only some women (i.e. those with European features, lightly infused with more ‘exotic’ and ethnic ones) are truly beautiful, we are also allowing ourselves to believe that they, by nature, hold unique goodness within them. Such ideas – pertaining to both the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ – are strongly linked to European colonial ideas. That white women, for example, are more ‘feminine’ and ‘angelic’ than other ones. [And that white men are more civilised and intelligent than other – the more ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’ – ones]. Then, these notions of what constitutes seeming ‘angelic’, and how these have, over time, developed into modern conceptualisations of the infantile woman, who is at once childishly adorable, ‘angelic’, and very sexually fecund… doesn’t it all make you a little uncomfortable?

The human Fitrah does ‘naturally’ recognise beauty. Most human beings absolutely love ‘nature’. It is visually, aurally, atmospherically beautiful. But our Fitrahs can be, and very often are, affected by environmental factors. By the media, for example: what we cognitively consume, and just how much of it. These things that can acquire power over you, a hold on you, can in turn deeply influence your thoughts and beliefs.

I wish humanity would just accept its own humanity. I wish we would stop worshipping plastic notions; stop allowing ourselves to be fooled so. Whenever I come across pictures (e.g. at museums) from the past, of people simply having fun, and while looking unashamedly human, I think about the ways of now. How we dress ourselves up so much, to go just about anywhere, and how hyper-aware we can tend to be, of our own physicality.

Sadly, this hyper-awareness stops a lot of people from playing. From having pure, unbridled fun. And from bearing witness to their own inherent beauty. It makes people compare themselves (to heavily engineered images) and then come to consider themselves as being ‘ugly’. It motivates people to go on a lot of these unhealthy ‘diets’, to think about getting nose jobs, bodily implants, and more.

How did we get to this point, at which normal human faces are seen as abnormal? Where, if a woman walks out without makeup, she looks ‘sickly’ and un-groomed.  If she wears ‘subtle’ makeup, little girls come to think that this is how they ought to look without makeup [this is what the ‘no makeup makeup look’ does, in truth].

Nobody is born ‘ugly’, and nobody is born seeing themselves this way. In fact, it goes against the inclinations of the human Fitrah, to see ‘ordinary’ humans as being ‘ugly’. This would be tantamount to denying the beauty within walking definitions of beauty!

I reckon it began with makeup. With the arrival of new potential, for women with ‘ordinary’ faces to look special, ‘exotic’ and sexy: to accentuate their features with the use of substances that blacken and bronze and ‘beautify’. Interestingly, the basis of all these makeup products is the promise of an ‘ethnic’ look, a ‘sultry’ and ‘exotic’ one. With mascara, white women could now darken and elongate their eyelashes. With bronzer, they could achieve that ‘sun-kissed’ look. Lip-liner allowed them to achieve the full-lip look. Other various cosmetic powders and liquids allow for skin to look ‘flawless’, glowing. But women who are South Asian, black, Latina, and Arab (generally) naturally have these features already. So where do they fit in, in terms of how the global cosmetics industry direct their advertising and relevance?

To put it simply, white women started to want these ‘exotic’ ethnic features. They were seen, undoubtedly, as being fascinating, and (thus) ‘sexy’. But some ‘exotic’ features had been left behind, in the conceptualisation of this model: uni-brows, for example [and thick eyebrows, too. These only became ‘fashionable’ far later]. And hooked noses, and certain face shapes, among other things. So, it is almost as though a makeup template for white women had been created deeply inspired by certain ‘ethnic’ looks and features, but then, in turn, ‘ethnic’ women took from the new European-with-hints-of-‘exoticism’ model.

And so, lots of white women rushed to get lip fillers, while lots of black women rushed to acquire straighter hair. Lots of Arab women rushed to get nose jobs. Lots of South Asian women rushed to lighten their skin.

See, the entire cosmetic industry peddles the idea that no, you are never ‘enough’, never quite done yet. You do not yet look like the ‘models’ we have created. So keep going, keep buying, keep ‘improving’. 

And yes, I think ‘celebrity culture’ has played a notable role in all of this. From the beginnings of Hollywood, to the ways of things now, this culture has always relied on some people being presented as being extraordinary, very special, worthy of much popular attention. They had to be set apart from everybody else: talent-wise, and, of course, ‘beauty’-wise.

But, gradually, the cosmetics that only the rich and famous had access to became increasingly accessible to the rest of the public. And, with this ‘celebrity culture’ mentality in mind, of course, people wanted to emulate whom they had been made to perceive as being the ‘successful’. And thus, I think, was birthed these ideas of the most non-human-seeming human things being the most attractive ones. Terrifying, really.

Hooked noses and pointed chins, for example, are not objectively ‘ugly’. And nor are rounded faces, or thinner lips, stretch marks, tummy rolls, or whatever else.

I do think it is a very human, ‘okay’ thing to want to be beautiful. In general, women in particular have innate desires to be beautiful (on the inside, and the ‘out’), while men tend to obtain the majority of their self-esteem from how ‘strong’ they are (both on the physical, and inward, emotional level). But I think our paradigms of beauty ought to be more ‘from us’. Beginning with us, and ending, for the most part, with us: with the beautiful features and things that Allah has given us, already. The goal, perhaps, ought to just be: being as healthy as we can be. Developing according to our own natures (and this should be true, for us, on both the physical level, and the mental ones).

Hey, did Aphrodite not have tummy rolls? She is, then, perhaps more human than most of us today will, unfortunately, allow ourselves to be.

I worry for my little cousins, I really do. In fact, I worry for every woman – especially the younger ones – who finds herself alive, right now, in this world of ours. I want for beautiful people to know that they are beautiful, even where their faces do not fit with the whole Instagram cut-out template.

If I ever have a daughter, I hope I can teach her how to stand before herself and bear witness to the beauty that is inherent in her, a gift from God. I know I would want to protect her from these never-ending streams of media that may seek to tell her that, in terms of beauty, she is lesser than what she, in truth, is.

Dear reader, I want you to know how beautiful you are. So, for today at least, I challenge you to exchange those critical lenses through which you may look at yourself in the mirror, for ones of appreciation. When you actively look for the beauty that (I promise you) is already there, you will surely come to see it, Subhan Allah. Nobody else in the world has the beauty that only you do.

And why would you ever want to look like anybody else?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

One day, They say

One day, they say,

A man will sweep me off my feet,

And catch me in his loving arms, just milliseconds before

I hit the ground.

He will tell me that I am beautiful, and that there is no other girl like me-

No better woman to devote himself to,

 

No better prey to feast on.

 

One day, they say,

A man will save me.

He will swoop down from the heavens, in a tuxedo, no less,

His perfect hair complementing his perfect face,

He will swoop down and rescue me.

With muscular arms,

He will extricate me from the dirt of this life,

This ditch that I seem to have dug for myself,

And then he will ask me to marry him.

 

One day, they say,

I will lead a perfect life as a trophy wife,

Raising children on a diet of love and picket fences,

While the demons are kept at bay

By my brave, brave soldier.

He will take the broken glass of my soul,

And embrace me so tightly that somehow

The pieces will all come back together.

 

Sometimes I wonder if he will realise that broken glass, even when fixed, is still

Broken glass.

 

The abyss will be filled with red roses and

Teddy bears, stuffed to the gills with love,

Expensive meals at restaurants, spontaneous adventures,

Cute couple pictures, movies and laughter,

Piles of unwashed clothes to take care of,

A life of servitude and sadness,

Remnants of what once was and what could have been,

Constant feelings of inadequacy,

Until every silence becomes awkward

And every conversation becomes an argument.

 

Until the diamond ring on your left hand becomes

A noose around your neck,

As you plunge deeper into eternity.

 

You have not grown your love- your life from seed,

Just to let it be stolen by someone who is hungry for it.

You are your own woman,

Not an empty shell that exists to be filled

By some man’s oversized ego.

 

Save yourself.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

A Silent Revolution

It is 1965 and she is bleeding.

The ragged edges of their words has managed to cut her once again.

Paki. You do not belong here. 

One end of her crimson Saree is draped over her head,

Her Bindhi sits atop her forehead like a sun waiting to rise.

Her Mendhi seeps into her veins and mixes with her blood,

And warrior bangles cover her warrior arms.

She is sugar, and she is spice, and she has a heart that is made of ice,

She is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A bird without her wings,

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution.

It is 2016 and he is bleeding,

Arms outstretched, lying helplessly on the ground,

He can’t breathe. 

Justice may be a hypocrite, but he is a king,

His wispy afro hair is his crown,

And each tightly-wound curl is a fist,

Fighting between love and pain and melanin.

His dark skin is his kingdom- but it is bleeding now.

They say he smells of deviance and drugs,

But he smells of his lover’s arms, holding him, telling him desperately,

You are loved, and your life matters.

He is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A black-feathered angel without his wings,

A criminal whose only crime was being brought into existence-

a black man- the darkest shade of rejection.

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution. 

Look At Yourself

The mirror is your window into hell,

It is where your darkest dreams and most horrid nightmares become a reality,

You are a beast.

Your eyes are too close together. Your eyebrows are too far apart. Your lips are too thin, your nose is too fat, your hair is too flat and your cheeks look like they are pregnant.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what if there is no beauty there to behold?

Why can’t you look like one of those supermodels with

Hollowed cheeks, a thigh gap, daring eyes, flawless skin and a perfect figure?

This is what the world has come to.

We measure the beauty of a girl by how her body compares to those of airbrushed models or how little space she consumes

But what if I told you that a girl’s beauty is not defined by her ability to apply makeup, or to acquire the ‘perfect lighting’, or to form the perfect pout?

Girls, look at yourselves.

See your beauty without comparison or a compliment or a looking glass.

See your beauty in how a shooting star glides across the night sky, adorned with a billion stars. Even the stars cannot quite compare to your beauty.

See your beauty in how the northern lights dance to the songs of the galaxy,

Or how glorious waterfalls cry tears of elation, how the trees prostrate to the magnificence of themselves and everything around them.

The same divine force that created these is the same force that created you;

You are the universe, epitomised, amplified.

So never shrink yourselves for someone else’s comfort.

You take up space. You are beautiful. You matter.

Fire

The woman crouched down on the floor, her bespectacled eyes affixed on the myriad of books that lined the towering shelf that stood before her. She was tall, thin and atypically beautiful; she wore no makeup, but her skin glowed like the light of the harvest moon. Her eyes were large and brown, and she wore a resolute facial expression of intellect and mystery combined. She was walking perfection. After a minute or two of browsing, she extracted a book from the shelf, entitled ‘The Feminine Mystique’. Stroking her silver pendant, which sat perfectly atop her plain black shirt, she marched over to the librarian’s desk, leaving behind her a trail of fire.

A Question of Gender

Since the age of four or five, I have always considered myself a ‘tomboy’, and would always argue vehemently if someone called me ‘girly’ or ‘feminine’. These terms are usually associated with being dainty, polite and graceful, and having an intense admiration of the colour pink. I am not dainty or polite, and am about as graceful as a physically unstable elephant. I am fond of all colours, however pink is not exactly a favourite of mine. Can I still be considered feminine?

According to the Oxford dictionary, the first definition of ‘feminine’ is as follows:

Having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.

The second definition of the term according to the Oxford dictionary appears to contradict the former:

Relating to women.

If this is the case- if the genuine definition of the word ‘femininity’ simply means ‘relating to women’, there can never exist a prototypical woman, not in this day and age. According to the second definition of ‘femininity’, women who have pixie cuts, women who have long hair, women who cover their hair, women who enjoy wearing sweatpants and T-shirts, Jewish women, Muslim women, women who enjoy wearing make-up and skinny jeans, transsexual women, sporty women, tough women, outspoken women, shy women, smart women, wild women, women who are obsessed with pink, women who are obsessed with black- these women are all feminine, simply because they are women. However, the lives they choose to lead should not be defined by this term,  for a singular adjective can never wholly define a completely unique being.

I am often considered ‘masculine’ and a ‘tomboy’ purely because I happen to express myself freely, and feel comfortable in sporty clothes. When I wear a tinge of makeup, my aunts ignorantly comment, “You look more like a girl!” I am not ‘masculine’, for I am not a male. The term ‘femininity’ for me is completely subjective to each individual woman. I am ‘feminine’ solely because I am a woman. I do not believe the term should come with a set list of rules, expectations and prejudicial associations.

I am a female. I am therefore feminine. Calling me ‘masculine’ or otherwise will never dissuade me from being who I am.

Please share your personal opinions below!


Thanks for reading!

© Sadia Ahmed 2015