The Tyranny Of Beauty......

Courtesy:Google Images
Do you know why so many of us love watching Nigella Lawson’s show on TV?  She may be a cooking show host but I for one never watch it for the recipes.  A strikingly beautiful woman, spilling out of her dress, she makes gluttony look like a form of art.  It is a sheer joy to watch her pour cartons of double cream, slabs of dark chocolate, a dash of rum – and as she gleefully adds a dollop of butter, you almost choke on your coffee.  Her eyes light up as she whips the concoction in a bowl and closes her eyes in ecstasy as she takes a lick.  Nigella takes erotic pleasure and delight in her cooking and eating.   Later as she opens her mammoth refrigerator to fix up a midnight snack for herself, you can feel her rapture as she puts a spoonful of bacon in her mouth.  You derive vicarious pleasure in watching her surrender herself to her gastronomic indulgences. You sigh wistfully as you munch your bowl of roasted gram.  Here’s a woman who loves her butter and carbs and is not apologetic about it.

Very different from the woman of today.  Let me rephrase that.  Very different from the woman that society insinuates, directly or indirectly, that women be today.    

At one level, the new millennium femme has emerged triumphant after decades of struggle against a social order that asserted man as supreme. You are but a mere extension to him... is what she was made to believeSmothered by a long list of don’ts imposed by society and religion, her rights were denied, opportunities curtailed, her voice silencedNot anymore.

I know what I want and usually get it – I have learnt my lessons from History.  She is now aware of her reproductive, marital and political rights and doesn’t hesitate in asserting herself.  She fights for what is due to her at her workplace.  She is unapologetic about indulging on herself.  She is focussed and wears her many hats effortlessly.  Yet, at another level, she struggles to conform to stereotypical notions of beauty imposed by society at large.  She toils at the gym, gets her hair re-bonded every few months, prefers French manicure.  She starves, goes under the knife, takes painful injections in her eternal quest for beauty.   As Germaine Greer has so succucintly put A woman lives in the terror of her bum looking big.   I hate my nose, change it please.  My laugh lines make me feel older, I want them erased.  Flabby thighs, crows feet, close set eyes....they all dent my self-esteem. With beauty, I have the world at my feet.

But how many of us can be that woman?   A friend of mine dreads meeting her friends from school.  Every time they do, all they can exclaim about is her post-baby weight.  Barbie with no individuality or character is the beauty icon of today, transcending the oriental and the occidental.  Teenagers starve themselves because they want to look like Katrina Kaif.   They want bikini perfect bodies and greedily devour their favourite star’s health gyan!  Ooh I love lauki, I snack on seeds, I meditate for an hour....A pack of lies if you ask me.  Most of them go on extreme diets surviving on just orange juice for days and work themselves to exhaustion with their fancy trainers.

But why blame them.  Sushmita Sen is ridiculed for her yo yo weight. The media derives sadistic pleasure in highlighting a celebrity’s cellulite.  An unwanted tyre on her midriff is captioned with a what was she thinking!!  An actress in her 30’s is considered past her prime.  Wrinkles, mismatched shoes, bed-heads are the new cardinal sins.  Kate Moss makes a reappearance on the catwalk for her friend Marc Jacobs and all the world can talk about is her wrinkly, sagging behind.  The world would rather go gaga over Demi Moore who spends millions on surgery!

The beauty industry thrives on our insecurities.  Don’t go under the sun, harmful UVA rays will damage your skin.  Did you know your face has dark spots that you can’t see! Your skin starts aging in your 20’s – some skin care company informs you smugly.  Gosh you are 40 and you don’t use anti wrinkle cream?  A bleak future awaits you.  There are creams peddled for every part of your body, every hour of the day – there is one for daytime, one for night, one for under eye, for hands, for cuticles.    Beauty is available off the shelf and for a price. 

If patriarchy was the greatest con in the history of humanity, you just have to look at the starving bodies of female models walking on stilts on the ramp to know that women are still manipulated by men. The tyranny of patriarchy has been replaced by the tyranny of beauty.  We are scared of our greys, we are petrified of sagging skin, we are consumed with the idea of youth and beauty.

Naomi Wolf has argued in her book “The Beauty Myth” that forced adherence to standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women as they gained power in other societal arenas.  She posits the idea of an "iron-maiden," an intrinsically unattainable standard that is then used to punish women physically and psychologically for their failure to achieve and conform to it.  Pick up any magazine and the women look picture perfect – not a hair out of place, her skin glowing, her never-ending legs taut and perfectly bronzed.   If something is less than perfect, there is always the air brush.  She is not a woman, she is just an idea peddled by the fashion mafia!  We see the glamour but not the frustration and the pain.  And like a bunch of gullible fools we fall prey to it.

Is the woman of today truly emancipated?  Isn’t she sacrificing her happiness and independence at the altar of beauty?

 To be truly emancipated she should be free to do whatever she wants with her face and body.  Don’t let anyone have you believe that Men are seen and Women looked at.

I am not advocating that you gorge on kormas and let go of your fitness regime.  I am all for healthy living.  But don’t let others dictate beauty to you.  If a man falls for your physical attributes rather than you, he is not worthy of your affection.  You are not just a body, you are not mere statistics.  Your warmth, your sunny disposition, your smile, the way you tilt your head, your ready wit – this is your inner beauty.  Your face with its laugh lines, crow’s feet and creases on the forehead tell a story.  Love your child-bearing hips and look at the mirror with your head held high.

The next time you meet a long lost friend, don’t gloat about her ample frame – she has a mirror at home, she already knows it!  She is still that girl who made you laugh, was with you through your heartbreaks and was your closest confidante.  Remember how happy you were for her when she won that singing contest?  Love her for what she is.

Pulchritude has its place.  But let it not compromise a woman’s right to happiness and contentment.
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  1. btw, Nigella works because she has pulchritude and Kate Moss is totally bereft of it.Nigella holds the silken promise of '"Eat your pasta to look like a sex goddess."
    Also the beauty thing has nothing at all to do with either fitness or eating well -it mucks up those two very positive things with its lookist agenda.

  2. I love watching Nigella too and not for her recipes....
    You hare echoed thoughts of several women.
    Very well written, very apt....and I am going to eat that Dairy Milk now.

  3. You can just say that people are insecure with themselves. And not just women.
    Beauty is skin deep for most. And that is where the problem starts.
    There is a difference between being healthy and being anorexic and most people don't seem to realize that.
    Personally, I would rather that people quote the famous line from 'Gone With The Wind', when bombarded with suggestions, beauty products and cribs of cellulite and fat hips..."Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

  4. beauty has to be appreciated and is in the eye of the beholder.
    if we fail to comment on the 'looks' we are 'not paying enough attention'

    damned if you do and damned if you dont.. :)

  5. Excellent write-up.

    Sometimes I feel like a 30+ mother of two when I repeat the very things you mentioned to my dear darling friends. I am going to make them read this.I am not afraid of food and all the experimentation that associates itself with the love for food.

    I am a Bengali and I can pretty much say that most of the best moments in my life were spent at eateries.
    This love has kept me happy at every point in my life.

  6. Hi Purba,

    Nice post , I never watched the show of Nigella Lawson , BTW on which channel does its comes ?(my cablewala is an Idiot keep on changing channels now n then :( ) , just heard about her when I searched Google in respect to my blog.

    She is a real inspiration for all women as well as men ..if we perceive something within we must go an achieve that.

    Yes , the real Shakti as women symbolizes are leaving footprint of their superiority in most fields.

    Loved reading this post.


    P.S : Coming to your space after a long time ..but as always I got share luck of reading some interesting stuff.

  7. Woohoo another Zabardast post.I wish I could eat fried food and still look like Malaika Arora.Sorry,I put on weight even if I sniff french fries.Blame it on my genes.But ya most of my friends are more or less like me on the brink of balance.Neither do we have time nor interest in analyzing each other waistlines.That way,I simply love my friends..

  8. awww wow...two thumbs up. I had some idea like this in mind...but I cannot accuse u for palgiarism now !!! but you being a woman have put it superbly

    i have read tht during hippi era women used to dress as they liked... There was an anti-hillary clinton book i read where the journalist author accused tht she used to wear sleeveles costumes with unshaven armpits (during her college days)...
    Remember this is an accusation against a presidential candidate!

  9. Nigella, is not just someone women are in awe of.. I know a couple of men who are totally bananas about her. So, she really does have an impact on people.

    I don't believe anything but exercising the body makes a difference.

    I love the comments of some1 in the thread above.. haha..

  10. Varsha...Being beautiful is not a crime but forgoing the pleasures of life for an unattainable standard is.
    And beauty on a superficial level is no longer just a pretty face. A "good body" is an intrinsic part of it. I'm not advocating an unhealthy lifestyle here but let's not take our beauty and fitness regimens to the point of obsession.

    Alka...I can't live without my chocolates.

    Prats...The frankly I don't give a damn attitude stems from self esteem. I am who I am and am happy with it.

  11. magiceye...You are expected to comment on a woman's good looks but should let her know tactfully :)

    Enchanta...Everything is good but in moderation. Deprivation never helps.
    And babe you were born with good genes.

    Vivek..Men and women drool over her...LOL

  12. Blue Lotus...That's the way friends should be :)

    Jon...The 70's was the era of the bra burning feminists :) And hey go ahead and write that post. It will be interesting to read a man's perspective.

    Pzes...Didn't expect him to comment but the cub rose to the occasion :p

  13. Loved this post and the way you say men are seen and women are looked at. The irony is , women also just look at the other are just what you look.Although it's true for a lot of men too...

    And ohh...Nigella...she just makes us all jealous with that midnight snacking of hers ...but yes , i see her as the epitome of curvaceous beauty ..

  14. hmm i guess nowadays even men are very conscious ..
    and i have not heard about Nigella GOd knows what world I live in , ahhhhhhh

    everyone these days eats consciously I wish i could do that though and loose some of these extra TONS i have on me .. but lucky are the ones who eat what htey want to and still stay slimmm :)


  15. Yaa that is where we women are stuck in this era.
    Where we claim that we are free and independent and the world, men & even women bend us over with the beauty and sexy body non-sense.
    I quote I read really defines a condition well, "Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut and still think they are sexy ..."
    Go figure ...

  16. This is one great message...stay healthy is all I want to add to it!!

  17. 'Gore rang pe na itna gumaan kar, gora rang to din mein dhal jayega'...

    ain't it true, how long can you keep those wrinkles of old age at bay, and how many sacrifices would you make just to get to that ground zero frame.

    But I think that some part of this is a self imposed exile, just to live up to what others might want them to be.
    Some, who started to live on their own original terms, reap the benefits, others just toil.

    Nice post.

    Blasphemous Aesthete

  18. I am one of those who 'gives a damn' about how look like. But as you say, I don't want to given up on a healthy life to prove a point. btw, it is not men who are forcing the size zero on is their own insecurity that makes them obsessive about their looks.

  19. Sangeeta....Agree, most of us judge each other on the basis of how we look.

    Bikram...Of course they are...Fitness is almost like a religion for many of us.

    chocolatesanddreams...Trying to imagine us bald, with a beer gut hitting on men! can't wait for that day :D

  20. hmmm, blame it on the beauty queens who endorse such products, recently I saw a girl in a super market at the billing counter, she had two bags - one for food items/grocery and the other for cosmetics. The cosmetic back was much much heavier!

    Another stunning but missed your humour :(

  21. Giribala...Healthy is the way to be :)

    I think I will stick to Anshul..BA is too long.
    Beauty is like sand in your fingers - a life well lived, that look of contentment, a vibrant personality is what makes you truly beautiful.

    Zephyr...I am aware of it and I admire you for it :)

    Anto...I can be serious for a change:) And the subject is no laughing matter.

  22. I really really like this post!

    But hey - I would like to add that some men haven't been spared from this same 'curse'! Actually, they have the double-whammy of being branded 'metrosexual', which is among the more nicer terms.

    Really really like this post, I do!

  23. couldn't agree more ... a very well balanced argument ...

    At the risk of upsetting a lot of people, one small comment is that I guess this post is more relevant to western teenagers than Indians (speaking of numbers). I guess Indians are not soooo figure conscious as their western counterparts ... (from a completely subjective data standing in busy bus-stops for years) ... To be fair, I don't feel we are a very health-conscious nation nor our food is.

    It definetely is a good strategy for men and women to work -out not for our bodies ... but also for our minds ...

    it's been five years since I left India and I take it that things have changed ... and i really hope we don't go down the crazy lane, as you rightly pointed out ...

  24. I have even heard beauty converts are rigged, so that third world market opens for beauty products. Never heard of an American winning one.

  25. Kartikay...True, the business of looking good is taking over our lives...Men are not spared either. But most women don't care so much for looks in a man.


    flawsophy...Oh you have no idea! Kids now a days are very conscious of what they eat and how they look. And today's fashion is very unforgiving.

    Harish....Is that? But how many of us watch pageants. They all look the same and say the same stuff, year after year!

  26. Hi...loved your blog.I so agree with you on Nigella. She is yummy and I seriously never even bother about those recipes..:)

  27. Nigela's show is awesome...she is our breakfast time show...I agree now beauty is sold and not seen...nice post

  28. You are not just a body, you are not mere statistics. - Best lines from the post.
    Although I agree with everything expressed in here, I know I'll stick to dieting. Coz no matter what we say, this is a patriarchal society and the men will always crack the crudest of jokes on plus-sized women. :-(
    Remember how in recent times a few older BBC newswomen had filed a lawsuit against their employers saying BBC was resorting to cheap means to fire them from their jobs just coz they were getting older and hence losing their charm on tv?
    Such is the sad state of affairs. Well although these women won the lawsuit and got their jobs back or something.

  29. Absolutely loved this post Purba!
    A healthy body should be the only goal. And loved these lines,
    "Your warmth ...your ready wit – this is your inner beauty. Your face with its laugh lines, crow’s feet and creases on the forehead tells a story. Love your child-bearing hips and look at the mirror with your head held high"

  30. feisty...LOL...does anyone watch that show for the recipes?

    Shahid...Sigh..this post is not about Nigella!

    Samadrita... Sweets fitness like religion to me, can't do without my gym and yoga. All am saying is let's not carry it to the point of obsession. Lets not stop living our lives.

    IHM....Thanks I needed to hear that. Got a little tired of having to explain that I am not advocating an unhealthy lifestyle.

  31. Hmmmm...I like the article, but somehow I knew what to expect from it this time. I want to be more demanding from you, like your ma :)

  32. (1) No one forces those ready-to-drop-dead anorexic models to do whatever they are doing;

    (2) Fat and potbellied men also look equally repugnant;

    (3) One would do great favours to one's heart and the associated innards, kidneys, knees and pelvis by cutting down on fats and sugar. Not everyone has the financial might to face a disorder of such body parts.

    (4) Women also are equally responsible for the plight of women.

    I can already hear the whooshing of incoming brickbats, so I'd stop here and duck!

  33. Well put Purba. But then, the malaise is so deep-rooted, it has almost become an unwritten norm - starve or do whatever, but stay in shape and be beautiful.
    I had echoed similar thoughts, 4 years ago (!) here:

  34. I love watching Nigella - and certainly not for her recipes...she loves her work, her presentation is fabulous and she loves her food! Wholesome is a word that comes to mind when I think of her....and I guess that's a word that can be used to talk of beauty too...a completeness..not just the physical....
    Been too long away from you blog, it's good to be back :)

  35. I hear you! A curse (and a plague) on magazines which not only make it seem as if every woman has to look like a mode, but also morph their images on photoshop to make them seem even more inhuman.

    I have to keep telling my wife not to compare herself to pictures of models and to not hold herself to an impossible standard of beauty and compare herself to people who earn their living by keeping their body the way it is!

    But it seems the pressure is simply too much sometimes... :(

  36. Dear select the topics so wonderfully and deal with them painstakingly, but a very honest view on them. True,i love Nigella and her bites and i too prefer to remain content and happy, not worrying constantly about beauty. To me, knowledge is better than superficial beauty:)

  37. hmm..well written..and while all of us many of us sigh when we look at the perfectly toned body of a hollywood star who has just gievn birth?

    We should accept ourselves however we are..only its diffcult to not compare

  38. Sid...Oops sorry to disappoint.

    1) It is a profession they have chosen for themselves. And if they are of a certain size they are thrown out! We may wax eloquent about plus-sized women but that's just on paper.

    2)Yes they do, but they are not discriminated for the way they look.

    3)Agree...women are the first to point out our so called imperfections.

    And you can breathe easy, there aren't any brickbats coming your way :)

    Vinitha...We need to get out of that mindset. Will be reading your post soon :)

  39. Corinne...You can have the most beautiful face, a figure to die for but if as a person you are shallow not many will like you.

    And its great to have you back :))

    Bhagwad Jal Park...Those are not real women but agree when you say it is tough to disassociate yourself from the pressure.

    cloud-nine....That's the way to live your life. Do what makes you happy.

    Ram Pyari...Tell me about it, how do they manage that! Its as if they are from some other planet. And I hate it when they spew words of wisdom like - Oh running around with my kids keeps me fit..

  40. Like the thought behind it. we have started living more for 'others' than for 'ourselves', the irony being ,its not even some ulterior selfless service for some social cause despite being for 'others':P:D
    nice read.

  41. Men aren't too different. It's just that most men I know (including myself) happen to be too lazy to care.
    Awesome post, though. And very true; everything you said.

  42. I'm on healthier side as I don't mind what I eat and how much I eat. Whenever I meet a relative, they don't talk about anything else other than how I should lose weight to look better otherwise no guy would want to marry me. It's very irritating. Not that I care about what they say, but it's really very annoying. It's not like I exist to get married. Why can't they talk about my career or my interests? Why beauty all the time?

  43. Nigella works on so many levels doesn't she?! No wonder the show is a hit! ;o)

  44. Great post, Purba, Loved it!! A different style and very informative and engaging!

  45. 4 those who care ...Loved how you put it...The selfishly selfless breed.

    D2...I guess once you start working, travel, your perspective will change.

    Nethra....Because for them marriage is a destination, for you it's not. Don't let them bother you.

  46. Supernova...She has us wrapped around that lil finger of hers. Btw I want to conduct a survey - has anyone tried any of her recipes?


  47. Nigella is a treat to watch. I dont even care about her recipes. Just watching her cook is a pleasure. Better than watching our Bollywood beauties who are reed thin and dancing in skimpy outfits! But i have never tried out her recipes.

  48. Very well written n thought-provoking post...felt nice as i remmebered a discussion we were having while watching Nigella...;)
    Its upto us women to fight back n boycott all such products that feast on our growing insecurity...
    BUT we still choose to remain with our prejudices, don't u think? (The friend i was having discussion with kept her tube of Fair n Lovely hidden from me after that)

    as for me, i don't use products that demean me, just those that keep me healthy!

    wanna share this excellently hilarious example of women being manipulated....again!!

  49. feisty....Comfort food that we are better off watching.

    LHInsights....I've never used Fair & Lovely, never bleached or coloured my hair, I stay a mile away from chemicals. Have seen enough cases with life long side effects.

    And which stupid woman will fall for that ad???

  50. Interesting insight. Nigella feasts and people fest their eyes...

  51. i love nigella too, for her unabashed way of eating dollops and dollops of goodies without an ounce of guilt!! It is high time that we women stop having a poor self image and accept ourselves as we are... Fat, Thin, Cellulite, Acne-ridden, frizzy haired or watever!

  52. i Love to watch Nigella's shows. It makes me feel good that I am eating healthy :).
    Being called an dark ugly duckling have made my personality such that I do not care what people think i look like( but i dress well to make people;s head turn :-p).
    I have made them quite clear to such people who are keen enough to give their advice on my looks to themselves :)
    But still, the comments has hurt me as a young girl. Society surely makes it a point to make children like me vulnerable!

  53. Rohit...LOL good observation.

    Bookworm....Yea healthy in mind and body.

    Bhawna...True, adults are capable of passing insensitive comments. As if the dark complexion or the lack of good looks is the child's fault.

  54. yes agree she is very beautiful

  55. Earlier i used to watch Nigel regularly now she does not have time for me I suppose, she makes cooking so simple and so enticing. I believe with her style even a bad food will be swallowed in a jiffy. What they say decor and ambience matter, that is why one pays a premium in star hotels

  56. I just came to your blog looking for updates (yes, I'm guilty) but I'm lurrvving your new blog theme! It's so awesome that I had to leave a comment!

  57. like always you echoed my thoughts...I remmber the first time i saw her I went .."Boy is this woman yummy" & I don't swing! So U can imagine the plight of the men all for Nigella also because she 's all woman & not scared of flaunting it ..size zero types suck ..if theres anything called erotic cooking Nigella is the Su chef there :))

  58. knowledgeable post.a nice take on whacky commentors at gatherings. with people conscious dietors.

  59. have NO idea how empowering this post was, and how good I feel after reading it. Particularly the 'Iron Maiden' part...a great line. The post was great, loved the examples and the theme.

  60. sm...Yes, very real.

    Deguide...For many it's just good wholesome food that matters - they don't care much for ambiance.

    Karthikay...Aww really! Got tired of the old one :)

  61. shalinijena ..Thanks so much sweetheart:)

    Maitreyee...She clicks the right buttons and man does it work! :D

    pramod...We eat, we feel guilty, we's a constant cycle.

    Sakhi...Am so glad you felt good reading it. We are all beautiful in our own unique ways, let's not forget it :)

  62. Nicely put Purba! Its an obsession in woman these days to be looked at, not exactly beautiful. Infact the meaning of beauty has changed a lot as you said.

    Reminds me of the post Id written sometime before exactly on the same lines:

    Good wishes!

  63. Nicely put Purba! Its an obsession in woman these days to be looked at, not exactly beautiful. Infact the meaning of beauty has changed a lot as you said.

    Reminds me of the post Id written sometime before exactly on the same lines:

    Good wishes!

  64. Whatever happened to the real woman? dont u feel in the last few years, bollywood has gone OTT on perfect pencil thin figures. I say kudos to women who defy the stereotype such as Nigella, Vidya Balan, Kajol even though they r few and far between

  65. Nandhini...It's an unhealthy obsession and I don't like what it's doing to us.

    confusedyuppie...The leading lady is more in news for her weight loss rather than her acting skills. We love these women because they are extremely talented, who cares if they are a few kilos overweight!

    Yes, we need more such women.

  66. Its amazing how Lockean idea of self-hood still drives feminism !! :)

  67. This comment has been removed by the author.

  68. Beautifully written!

    When my father and I were having a discussion on healthy life and all, he said, "Eat healthy, walk a few miles a day, drink a lot of water, work hard and sleep early at tight, and be an early riser. Which one of these is more difficult than going on a crash diet, gymming for hours and feeling hurtful pangs of regret that come after you give in to your urge of having that extra crossiant?"

    We always look out for short cuts that actually take us to our goal in a long, hard and unhealthy way. And in the process, forget to LIVE our lives :)

    As you have rightly ended, 'Love her for what she is", we need to follow it big time!


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