“You’re beautiful you know that? Aha! Even when those kids teas you…Mama I love you. I love you too”. These words are a prelude to critically acclaimed rapper – Pharaoh Monch’s Hold On, in which Erykah Badu is featured. In the song Pharaoh Monch paints a picture of the prejudice and humiliation faced by a young African American girl at school. And how her ancestral connection with Africa was made fun of and was a symbol of ‘ugliness’. The idea and means arrived at as to what and more significantly who is considered ‘beautiful’ is a very sensitive issue for many. It’s sensitive and significant because those who are regarded as ‘beautiful’ are more likely to be accepted into social spaces as opposed to those who are not. I mean think about it, who would want to be associated with a grotesque person, right? But let’s recall that in most instances of pronouncements of ‘beauty’ or its supposed lack of, we deal with humans and not lab rats or objects devoid of emotion! What is it that makes us easily and perhaps, ignorantly and profusely pronounce that other people are ‘ugly’ in their appearance, especially facial make up, no pun intended.
What is the criterion employed in the measurement of who is ‘beautiful’ and who has been bestowed with the authority to set the bar for that task? The standard of criterions of who shall be regarded as ‘beautiful’ and/or lacking is usually informed by the world’s most ‘majestic’ propaganda machine: Hollywood. I use Hollywood in a more encompassing context so as to includes a narrow perspective that is propelled by the various television and magazines ads, which more often than not we will sell an image of ‘’if you don’t look like this, then you are therefore not acceptable’’. We have accepted with the half baked pernicious ideals of ‘beauty’ from McDonaldized societies as the be all and end all at the very expense of self worth. Funny enough, it’s people of darker complexions who sheepishly allow themselves to be ridiculed all in the name of the pursuit of being regarded “in synthetic inclusion”, as poet Moemise Motsepe puts it. For the greater part of the 20th century, darker skinned people, women particularly, were bleaching themselves with the sole aim of being lighter and therefore ‘beautiful’. Former editor of True Love and now editor of Destiny, Khanyi Dlomo once said how she was shocked to see how in some parts of India there products on the market that are called Light and Lovely. It’s not unusual to hear people say a dark skinned female is a ‘dark beauty’.
Why does that woman’s ‘beauty’ have to be qualified? Does that mean that amongst the darker skinned women, ‘ugliness’ is in abundance? The same can’t be said of lighter skinned women, in fact you would be hard pressed to hear anyone say a that lighter complexioned women are ‘light beauties’, they are just beautiful. Even today, in the 21st century world there is still some discomfort with people and the skins they are wrapped in, it seems. The narrow perspectives of ‘beauty’ being restricted to anything below, say, seize 26 is another reason certain women starve themselves all in the name of you know what… ‘Beauty’ pageants are also guilty of maintaining the unfair status quo of who is considered ‘beautiful’. If these ‘beauty’ pageants are indeed about ‘beauty’, it means that a seize 38 woman who meets the preliminary requirements should be allowed entry into the pageant, right? Unless the requirements have more to do with the seizes of the participants. And it goes without saying that the thinner women get the nod and therefore are paraded as the ‘beauties’ as opposed to the bigger women, whose weight means they do not qualify to termed as ‘beautiful’.
That’s why bigger women wouldn’t win a mainstream ‘beauty’ pageant. In fact, you have a better chance of betting on Robert Mugabe to legislate homosexual marriages before bigger woman wins Miss South Africa. Instead, big bodied women’s pageants are given a ‘suitable’ title, one that will not temper with the prejudice driven one of the mainstream: Miss Fohloza (slang for fat)! Recently the government of Cambodia called off the Miss Landmine ‘beauty’ pageant. Yes, Miss Landmine. The pageant was first held in Angola, it was organized for women who were victims of landmines during the Angola civil war. The Cambodian government said it cancelled the event for the protection of the participants. The participating women are not mentally incapable of thinking for themselves, they are merely without limbs. So, what exactly was the Cambodian government trying to do, make themselves feel less guilty about the country’s gruesome past? In an article published in The Star’, Kanina Foss, who had covered the Angolan version of the pageant had this to say. “Miss Landmines causes us to examine our ideals about beauty, and the restrictions that we impose in terms of who is entitled to feel beautiful. We are afraid they (contestants) will be left standing bewildered on the catwalk, suddenly wondering why everyone is laughing at them”.
The biased standards of ‘beauty’ exists as a means to feed off the insecurities and difference that we, as people, have about ourselves. These uncompromising criterions are structured in such a way that when one does not feel ‘beautiful’ they can swipe their Mastercard and Visa and all of a sudden, you are ‘beautiful’ and you will remain like that as long as you buy our products. The sooner we find comfort in the way we are the better. Humans are divisive. There was a time when race was the hallmark of human or sub human. When we have exhausted the different ways of dividing ourselves, we will probably be persecuting people because they are ‘ugly’. The next time you want to say someone is ‘ugly’, think long and hard about the implications of such words on the recipient and painstakingly explain to that person why they are ‘ugly’ and how you arrived at that conclusion. Tell them how better you are. But also remember that those that we divorce from our social space because they are, in our eyes, ‘ugly’, will be embraced by sinister forces because misery loves company, right? And the ramifications of our not so thoroughly thought out conduct might be very grave. ‘Beauty’ is not a destination. Maybe it’s me, I’m just a guy with too idealistic a mentality or, maybe just maybe it’s Maybelline.