Historically, beauty has been seen through a specific lens, dictated by specific types of people, appealing to a specific niche. This ‘niche’ has been a socially constructed ideal of how we should look, speak and act. Being beautiful is seen as something we aspire to. Society showcases it as the ultimate ideal and portrays it as the final destination. The journey to ‘be beautiful’ involves the arduous process of tweaking, straightening and plucking away our imperfections. These same imperfections are what the media scrutinises and blacklists. We are told through adverts and commercials that these blemishes hinder our chances of being beautiful. It thus promotes the idea that beauty is a process and it appeals to the desire of perfection. Not fitting in with the social mould has helped perpetuate the idea that different is ugly. The dichotomous narrative that has pinned ‘same’ against ‘other’ has translated into the beauty standards we have today. Being different has been viewed as a social rebellion to what it means to fit in, negating individuality.
The invisible voice that dictates the rules is still prominent and has helped shape how we interact with the words ‘ugly’ and ‘beautiful’. It is this same invisible voice that appeals to the voyeuristic nature that seems to define beauty. External voices looking at us and telling us how we should see ourselves. External voices setting the tone of what we should do in order to measure up- beauty talks and we listen . It rips away the individual authority we have over our identities and forces us into boxes that indicate our lack of choice. We have no choice in whether we think our black skin is beautiful; society tells you lighter is better. We have no choice in whether we think our curls our beautiful; society tells you straighter is better. It is within this dialogue that we are denied our individual freedom to feel beautiful.
The conversation has now taken a turn from the ‘they say’ to the ‘we say’. Now, we’ve seen movements against the dictated beauty standards and an increased emphasis on our own individual perceptions of how we define beauty. What we feel is beautiful has now taken center stage and the rest of the world seems to be paying attention. Celebrities like Alicia keys have taken a bold stance against the standardised beauty expectations. The popular musician penned an open letter to her fans explaining why she has chosen to stop wearing makeup. Alicia keys discussed the negative impact the media has had on the standard of beauty and a saddening realisation that her own individuality was being blurred out. She goes on to state that it was through this media-fueled perception of beauty that she felt belittled, ugly and simply not enough. Embracing her own skin and choosing not to wear makeup has been a position of freedom- from her fears and from societies strongholds. The term ‘black-out’ has also been a popular movement on tumblr that seeks to embrace and celebrate black skin. Users on tumblr post pictures of themselves, alongside the hash tag ‘black out’ to celebrate their black skin. Terms such as ‘melanin’ ‘carefree black girl’ etc have been made more important to pop culture, seeking to showcase black skin as being beautiful. The movement also seeks to redefine an otherwise whitewashed sense of beauty by celebrating typically black features. The celebration of black features has helped people who don’t feel like they fit in to step up and revel in their individuality. It has also showcased the need to be proud of our differences as opposed to being ashamed of them.
Understanding that beauty is not a universal trademark that you either are or aren’t the crucial in abolishing beauty standards. It isn’t something we take off and put back on. It is a constant, intrinsic sense of self. It is personal value that can only come from within. It is a decision that screams our individuality.