Thursday, December 11, 2008

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

Is beauty a Myth?
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.

What is 'Beautiful'? What is 'ugly'?
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.

The Commodification of beauty
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.


  1. Very critical article. Of course how much power and politics means to promote the things they have. As a language students, more specifically English, what we assume, while distinguishing language from dialect, is "A language is a dialect with navy and army". Really we people are unaware of the fact that we we are being being the slave of their thoughts and we clap on the thoughts whatever they utter.The line in your article "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." is really a remarkable scrutiny on this fact. I wish every person would be aware of this colonization and imperialism of so called forward people. keep writing this sort of article and contribute for preventing people from being the westerners' slave. All the best.

  2. Very critical and analytical article . Only criticizing for others is not enough we should try to convince people to follow the path you intend to.Article should revolutionize people against the extremity of colonization and imperialism. As long as we deal with the matter of beauty it depends upon one's perception as Wordsworth said. Do you believe that the article you have written is beautiful? if yes how? Of course we can not find the people having same fitness and appearance in the world. every one is different in themselves and difference does necessarily mean something superior and inferior. i found nothing about one's mental beauty in your article.
    how about dealing with it? Perhaps it would be a more plausible matter to discuss about.
    Keep it up and sharpen your intellect all the best.

  3. Quite thought-provoking article. we need such serious discourses in a host of issues and that was a good start. As such I am about to complete 'The Glimpses of World History' by Nehru right now and have found a pretty coherence in the tendencies of the Imperialists then and now. Your article rightly dissects one of the virtues of the neo-imperialists. with many such deeds they have been able to take hostage the intellectual development of the young minds worldwide.

    let's hope our sporadic efforts to combat the propaganda machine of the neo-imperialists will soon turn into more organized ones and we'll fight with new vigour.

  4. That's good, Jiwan. We have to try as much as we can. After all, it is for sure that capitalism is not the best ism to govern the world. It is increasingly being vivid that it has given sorrow to more people than happiness. It is doomed to fall one day when everybody will know how s/he is made to look different with others and in this race how much we have left behind the humanity.

    Regarding Sharada's queries, I would like to thank a lot for very important comments which prompted me to dwell into the matter further. I have come up with a little explanation in my latest article in this blog. I would like to add that I am not giving an alternative to the world how they should see the world. I am not an activist. What I believe is that the learning has helped me to think about the existing phenomenon and truths the other way around. It is just giving explanation to the existing phenomenon and as the student of social science, I believe there can be countless such explanations.

    About inner beauty, thank you very much for raising the issue. However, what I am trying to establish is that the external beauty should not matter in judging anybody. Still, there can be many debates about what is the inner beauty but that admitted by the existing discourses should be taken into account. That is what, my article precisely intended.

    Regarding comment by Manoj, I would say that at least people should be aware about how they are being the part of capitalism and colonialism. The rest or how to act will be in their conscience.

    Thank you all three for very important and good comments.