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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Construction of Beauty: a post-colonial and neo-Marxist discourse

By Indra Dhoj Kshetri  

It may be very difficult for the people to understand that Beauty is a myth. But, it is indeed solely a myth. Myths differ according to the cultures and beauty can differ from one’s eyes to the others’. So why, Wordsworth said beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. However, even our eyes are deceived. We are preoccupied by myths. Everything we see is framed by these myths and our sights are also guided, even without knowledge. There are important myths about the beauty of both male and female in the contemporary world. In this write-up, I would like to observe beauty myth created by media in light of colonialism and Capitalism.

First of all, let me answer the first question if beauty is a myth. During my preparation for this article, I had a nice discussion with one of my friends. She exclaimed - you mean there is nothing beautiful and everything is constructed? She was right.

Myths are created in such a way that they look like absolute truth and we can’t question them. To answer this question, let me begin with a joke. There was a village where everybody suffered from goiter. People from this village went to see a girl for marriage to another village. They saw the girl and their remark was: the girl is beautiful, had she had a goiter, she would have been more beautiful. Of course, the beauty is myth and the definition changes. To refer Stuart Hall, it is just that the powerful people try to fix the meaning, surely in their favor.

But here, we are considering some of the beauty attributes which are to some extent, globally accepted and if changed, changed in favor of the capitalists and imperialists. The presumed attributes for a handsome male are white, tall, not so fat and neither so thin while for girls, it is white or fair complexion, tall and slim body, blue eyes, big lips etc. Besides, many body attributes of women like waist (smaller the better), breast, heap and neck also matter (think of the measurements of the body organs of the Miss World or Miss Universe contenders). In terms of males, the myth is changing. Earlier, rough looking boys with big muscles, body and height mattered. Complexion would matter less. Nowadays it is shifting towards sober, thin and fair look. We are finding increasingly similar beauty attributes among men and women. Among many beauty attributes, I am dealing with color, body size and height here.

Let’s see the dichotomy of beauty and ugly. The beautiful is White/Fair, Tall and Thin while the Ugly is Black, Short and Obese. This is quite resembling and dichotomous to the people in the world. Of course the people from the West and the North will have the former attributes while the rest of the world people possess the latter qualities, except that Africans outdo the formers in height.

This also shows that our existing definition of the beauty (which I am referring to as the beauty myth) is synchronous with the natural attributes of the people in the West and the North. They are beautiful not because they possess these qualities but as they possess these qualities, these are the constituents of beauty. Hence, the beauty myth is created in such a way that some people will always be beautiful and the rest of the world will have to follow them, move in their path- they are our masters and we, the servants.

Think of a situation where black, short and obese people are beautiful. In such context, the people from the West and North will surely lose these qualities and be ugly. Some places like in Mauritania and among Sumos in Japan, being obese is the beauty attribute. In many African traditions, being black is beautiful. What will happen to any White person in these places? I take Gulliver’s Travel as an expression of English people’s fear of being too short or too tall. Hence, the beauty myth is carefully crafted in their favor.

And through many products of the multinational companies, they are further expanding this myth, making it stronger and stronger. Think of any facial cream or detergents that don’t appeal of making you white (though, in fact they ruin natural glow of your face and make you dependent on such detergents for the whole life). And no doubt, the advertisements are enforcing the notion that fairness is one of the strongest beauty attribute. To the next, think other advertisements which talk about making you and your child taller and stronger. Of course, the height of the body is mostly not in our control. It is natural thing and stale and preservative added foods will hardly ever help you and your children become taller. But we are consistently told that we can be taller and we have to spend precious time of our life in trying to be taller.

This is how, the imperialism lives. Any Negro or Asian or Hispanic can’t become equal to the white Britons or Americans because s/he is not as beautiful as them. This is how the class and racial superiority is created and imposed. Without faint knowledge, we are being victim of it and at many times promoting it. How gender lives in these myths, it will need separate article to deal with. But by now, we can clearly say that these myths are created and imposed. There is nothing absolutely beautiful or ugly.

Until a few years ago, being fair was important in part of women. Rough and tough was the attribute of the handsomeness of men. But now, probably, the multinational companies might have felt that they have established the myth and now they are turning to men. Yeah. Men also have to be fair – use these products and you will have many opportunities. That is loud and clear message from these products, advertisers and companies- you need to be fair to be lovely and handsome. You need to be fair to find a nice spouse. You need to be fair to get a job and succeed in it. They are buying the sentiment of most of the middle class men and women by telling that being fair will yield them jobs. Objectification is at the core of the capitalism and they are objectifying this sentiment of the middle class youths. Even, they are encashing our children’s quite normal psychology to look taller. This is how capitalism and imperialism lives in every myth in the society.

I hope to see some of the important myths like family and God in my next write-ups.

Indra Dhoj Kshetri is a Kathmandu-based journalist-turned-social media enthusiast. He is also a blogger, media researcher and teacher of Journalism in more than one colleges in Kathmandu. He has keen interest in politics, society and culture. His blog 'Media discourses and globalization' contains most of his work and gives a list of his published work. 

This article was first published in his blog on Dec 11, 2008 and is reproduced here with permission. 

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