You say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I say it's a myth

This is a response to Bikram Vohra’s article titled, 'Who are you to tell me not to gaze upon your beauty, Merin Joseph? Get on with your work' which was published on 27 May on Firstpost.

Bikram Vohra’s argument that women being acknowledged for their beauty as long as they are not "being written up as a bimbo" or "ridiculed as a sex symbol" or "being shown disrespect," can be taken seriously only if we are ready to ignore all the brave women and men who have dedicated their lives in the pursuit of gender equality and willfully acknowledge that chauvinism and misogyny are the two solid pillars of our society.

Since that is fortunately not the reality we live in or are at least striving to avoid, Vohra’s position isn’t just absurd, but quite obviously wrong because women are not their bodies.

Here’s a reality check: Adolescent girls in India and girls as young as 10, especially in urban areas, when shown photos of fit women have dismissed them as being overweight. According to a survey conducted by Sushmita Mukhopadhyaya, medical anthropologist, a significant number of young girls have revealed heightened body consciousness and that their "media habits played a significant role in developing consciousness about body weight."


Researchers from University of West Scotland found that hiring groups predominantly judged female candidates based on their appearance, whereas they tended to form an opinion about the male candidates based on the content of their profiles. And this wasn’t just men judging women, but women judging women based on appearances. The problem is that images of women — 'exotic', 'hot', 'sexy' etc are constantly informing the subconscious of those consuming the images (men and women) that this indeed is the ideal. That ideal is dangerous.

Naomi Wolf, author of the bestseller The Beauty Myth, posited that the standards of beauty have powerful impact on women by keeping them focused on their body images, providing men and women with ways to judge and limit women due to their physical appearance.

Here’s something to chew on: When you Google George Clooney, you find out that he is an actor and filmmaker, you also find out that he is an activist and features in Time’s 100 most influential people. Amal Clooney, yes she freed a journalist from Azerbaijan prison, and right below that news story is how she looked stunning in a "green wrap dress". The difference here is that Amal didn’t become a human rights lawyer to be critiqued/appreciated for the clothes she wears or the heels she dornes. The story here isn’t that look at Amal this wonderful, smart and talented lawyer, who’s doing great work, but look at Amal, this beautiful woman who saved a man.

Audrey Hepburn, legendary Hollywood actress dedicated much of her life to Unicef and helping poor communities in Africa, let me ask you, did you know this aspect of her life? The point I am trying to make here is that beauty is that myth that drives us all to look at each other with suspicion and arrogance, it is the myth that makes you value transient aspects of an individual more than their work.

Merin Joseph is right in feeling undermined by articles that feature her in the list of 10 most beautiful IPS officers, just as John Inverdale comments — "never going to be a looker" — on Marion Bartoli offended the sporting community.

Why is that Chris Gayle doesn’t think twice about asking a female journalist out on a date on camera? — "Our eyes are beautiful, hopefully we can win this game and then we can have a drink after as well. Don’t blush, baby." And why is that Chris Gayle again talks to another accomplished journalist and tells her that he has a "very big bat" and that she will need two hands to hold it.

Women in the public eye are more often scrutinised for their looks alone than men. Beauty is the vicious circle that we should strive to break, but the culture of narcissism is deeply embedded in our everyday lives. Aishwarya Rai recently said that she might one day “walk out in a white shirt and jeans on red carpet,” but as Apoorva Sripathi points out in this earlier article on Firstpost that most red carpet events indeed are about "black-tie" and "elegant dresses" — in essence a celebration of beauty that then is regurgitated, reproduced by your very own Myntra, Jabongs and Label Life’s — beauty as commodity commodifying the human.

"We have had hugely attractive personalities like Maharani Gayatri Devi, Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad, Leela Naidu, Shobhaa De, they have all carried their responsibilities with grace and elan despite being stunningly good looking. Rita Faria was Miss World and a doctor to boot. Jackie Kennedy was a symbol of style and grace but she played her official role without worrying about how she was portrayed. Grace Kelly was the quintessential Queen like the Duchess of Kent whose touch of class made Wimbledon’s prize giving a treat. Audrey Hepburn was a Dutch Resistance worker during WW II fighting the Nazis. Mata Hari was the world’s most famous spy. Marie Curie won two Nobel prizes besides being labelled as a beautiful woman. Cleopatra ran an empire. They all discharged their duties. Suggest Merin do the same."

The fact that I know very little about Akbar’s handsomeness or have never come across an article about Albert Einstein’s ‘sexy’ hair should explain to Vohra that Merin is indeed doing her job, she just wants people to talk about her job, not her beauty. Vohra says he hadn’t heard about Merin till she “raised heat and dust” — well she was not in the news until it became about her beauty.

Updated Date: May 27, 2016 18:55 PM

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