Look in the mirror. What do you see? What do you notice first?
Is it that pimple that you hide behind your fringe? Is it the nose you’ve been traumatically teased about? Is it a dry patch that just won’t repair itself? Is it that lone grey hair that only you know about? Is it everything about yourself that you’ve been told is “abnormal”? “Ugly”? “Wrong”?
We live in unprecedented times. Social media has distorted our self-image, bombarded as we are with constant reminders of how we are not enough, how everyone else lives perfect lives with perfect health in perfect bliss. Now that everyone can be a brand, we all act like brands – incredulous claims, papered-over faults, salesman smiles and perpetual marketing. Recent scientific studies all come to similar conclusions; the glaring correlation between excessive social media use and falling self-esteem.
Of course, social media is not a vacuum nor a scapegoat. It can only catalyse what is already present in society. Consumerism and cosmetic culture has been selling us the lie of what is “normal” for decades. It’s hard to find confidence in yourself when an industry is bent on exploiting and expanding every insecurity we possess, selling us unhealthy products to actual problems and creating “solutions” to imaginary ones.
As much as capitalist corporations have created a beauty industry that feeds on distorting our self-image, the problems run deeper. The concept of beauty is thrown upon women as a gauntlet in a coliseum, where we are all pitted against each other, constantly analysing, always comparing, always deprecating or coveting. These unhealthy cycles of competition based solely on superficial parameters have been present in society for generations. Indeed, it might take generations to unlearn. Women are shamed for refusing to conform to rigid beauty standards but then criticised for conforming as well. We have let corporations and oppressors decide the criterion of beauty, as though it can be quantified, manufactured and sold in a box.
Imagine, we are asked to “fix” our features, the features we are born with, the qualities that we have possessed by birth. How can one have the wrong skin colour? Or have the wrong body shape? Or the wrong height? Isn’t about time we asked who came to define what the default skin colour, body shape or height is? Why is conformity encouraged, and then, why are the standards for conformity beginning to exceed possibility? No, we cannot all have white skin, just the right amount of fat, just the right kind of hair, just the ideal height. Why are we forced to define ourselves by what we are not?
Here, in Pakistan, we trace our much-documented but never-waning obsession with white skin to our colonial past. We may have gained our geographical independence, but our mental dependence on western approval remains, underlining our confused sense of identity and feelings of inadequacy. Our own media remains adamant on putting certain features on a pedestal, while the rest of us start feeling like supporting characters in our own lives. Surely, if everything I see or hear tells me my success is dependent on how my features conform to arbitrary standards, how can I have self-confidence without bleaching my skin, getting cosmetic surgery, and applying lots and lots of products that will hide the real me? Who needs a British Raj when we have colonised our own identities?
I say, do away with normality. The new normal is there is no normal. Humans are a diverse, multifaceted, extremely adaptive species. It would be against our own interests to limit ourselves, to monopolize or be monopolized, to suppress our emotions and art and to not live up to our potential because global society has chosen to idolise a few at the expense of many. Beauty is an individual characteristic that is undefinable. We cannot stick a few labels and decide that beauty can only be found within these limited parameters. Beauty is not just our physical manifestations but the soul within. No longer should we have to cower in self-doubt or be made to feel small for our uniqueness, our inimitable selves. True beauty is to celebrate yourself, love yourself, as yourself, for yourself.
Look back in the mirror. What do you see? Is it the way your hair cascades around your face? Is it the unique shape of your nose? Is it life shining in your eyes? Do you see how you do not need to be “fixed”, only cared for and appreciated? How we can extend this love all around us? Do you see how this entity in front of you is like no one else who has ever lived, or will ever live again? Do you see the beauty in that?