Tracing the Contours of Beauty

Over the course of 2020 and now in 2021, with various lockdowns and social distancing measures being snapped into place, the rise of options on OTT platforms and work from home (WFH) has led to a sedentary lifestyle and a multi-fold increase in consumption of media.

As I sit and stare at the screen for hours on end, I am painstakingly aware of how the bodies of other women look “perfect”. I feel every stroke of the white stretch mark making its veiny indentation on my breasts and stomach, almost as if my skin were a map leading a spectator towards my insecurities. The internal fight within, rigged by the perceptions of others and acceptance of myself, is hard.

The Eurocentric standards of beauty imposed upon the female demography in Southeast Asia speaks of a residual colonial mindset. Be thin, they said, but not too thin – you do not want to look anorexic. Be light-skinned, they said, but not too pale – looking sickly is never in vogue. Be tall, but not taller than your partner.

So it goes on until your whole identity becomes inseparable from your external appearance and your identity ultimately simmers down to the dimensions of your corporeal entity.

Armed with the purpose of finding a rigid constraint of beauty to label myself under, I wonder. I wonder for a reason, why bigger bodies like mine are often subjugated to the contrasting extremities of being sexualised and degraded – at times, noth simultaneously. I wonder why we have internally classified bigger bodies into being a “good big” and a “bad big” – as long as your body is endowed with big breasts, a well-rounded butt, flat stomach and you fit into the “body of a goddess” archetype, you’re good to go.

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I look at strangers and wonder what their definition of beauty is. Do they think I am beautiful? Unknowingly, I tilt my head a little, smile a little, bite my lips until they are raw and plump and red from bleeding. I think about the whole concept of beauty until I start regurgitating, I start forgetting my purpose to live for myself. My agony is threaded by the same chorus, again and again. Instead, I curate my body for others more than I live in it.

It has been a few years since I have been actively trying to break out of the practice of perceiving myself as a projection of the gaze of bystanders. But the journey isn’t easy when we consume media like a flock of parched storks in a dry desert and we fail to find a body similar to ours because mainstream media still seems to be rooted in a flawed standard of beauty. This affects our subconscious in more ways than we realise and even reverses the unlearning of harmful notions of what beauty is actually like, what we so dearly preach against.

I have been trying to teach myself for a long time now that my body is simply another aspect of my entire being. My body has been kind to me in days of sickness, even on days when I was presumably at war with myself. It has taken me places, and has helped me live.

My love towards it is muddled. I feel alienated inside my own shell. But I try to make things right by it, one small change at a time, as soon as I am able. May this piece be a gentle reminder to anyone going through the same that you have the courage to choose yourself every day.

Medha Biswas is a law student at the National University of Juridical Sciences. When she is not loitering in empty museums and art galleries, she can be found reading Faraz to her birds.  

Featured image design: Prachi Batra