By Susmita Abani:
A sub continental wedding is always a breeding ground for the latest slanderous remarks and gossip. Just recently, for example, at my childhood friend’s colourful Haldi ceremony, I overheard a conversation I wished I hadn’t. A newly-wed acquaintance of mine keenly described to a friend the facial features she’d like her future daughter to have. While pointing at her fair complexion, she said “I want her to have my skin tone”, her eyes briefly glancing over my dusky face perhaps realising too late that I may take offence to such a statement. And I did. Not because I felt personally insulted, but because it always saddens me to hear others trumpet meaningless social constructs – such as the definition of beauty – as though they are a matter of fact.
It’s a topic that may seem overemphasised at times, occasionally referred to as a “non-issue”, possibly trivial in the face of the countless tragic events that circle our lives and fill the news each day. But nonetheless, I strongly feel that it’s imperative to keep it alive in the media, to reiterate to the many women and men in their vulnerable youthful years that a negative self esteem should not go ignored. I want to remind them that society’s measuring stick of beauty is grossly inadequate at determining their real worth.
In a recent TED Talks speech, Meaghan Ramsey, the Global Director of the Dove Self Esteem Project, highlighted the impacts of reduced confidence on an individual – particularly women – as well as on society. She rationalised that as young people increasingly become mentally preoccupied with their appearance and self deprecating thoughts, they are spending less time and attention on activities crucial to their personal development – such as sport, education, hobbies, their families and friends. Statistics drawn from Finland, USA and China show nearly one in three teenagers are disengaged from classroom discussions from fear of attracting attention to their appearance, while roughly 20% avoid attending school for the same reasons. A distorted perception of one’s body image results in higher absenteeism from work among women and also lower school test scores.
And of course, the psychological pressures of an image based world warrants a discussion of its own.
Thinspiration, pro-anorexia, thigh gap, finger trap test, six-pack, blonde bombshell, fair and lovely, double eyelids – these are but a few in a long and dangerous list of beauty criterion created by people to ensure consumers are forever trapped in the pursuit of products that promise to give them the perfect look. They help raise some onto a pedestal above others, inciting competition for a superficial happiness while directing focus away from becoming truly content.
It is absolutely essential that our youngsters have access to voices of reason in the media; reminding them that society’s obsession with idolising beauty is based on fleeting fads that change with time. We must draw attention to the stories of those who’ve shown incredible strength, carried out meaningful work and made lasting impressions on the society despite their appearance. The essence of a whole person can never be defined by a single attribute, and it’s vital that our children develop a filter against any claim that suggests otherwise. And I write this with the hope that one day every child will be equipped with the consciousness to achieve peace with their entirety through every situation in life.
More on Meaghan Ramsay’s speech here.