Dove, a personal care brand by Unilever has released an advertisement in India recently with the campaign tagline 'Stop The Beauty Test', questioning 'How much beauty is enough?' It encourages consumers to take a look at a woman's personality at first rather than judging her based on her physical shortcomings.
The campaign captures what South Asian women go through every day when they fail to live up to the 'tall, fair and slim' beauty standards and uncomfortably highlights the crushing of their self-esteem every time someone points out what society deems to be their "flaws".
Seeing how Bangladeshi girls and women face almost exact situations in their lives, it poses a serious question. Is it time to rewrite the stereotypical standards of beauty for women in our country?
Countless studies have shown that women are more prone to be dissatisfied with their physical appearance than men. The media and society play a big part in maintaining that women need to present themselves in a certain way to shatter glass ceilings.
How many times have we seen an actual dark skinned woman being shown as beautiful in our country? Lighter the skin the more pretty you are, that is what has been ingrained in our minds since the beginning of time.
A multi-crore economy is built on our insecurities about the size and appearance of our bodies. Leading beauty and fashion companies came to the conclusion that the more dissatisfied we are with our image, the more profit they can accumulate. It is hardly surprising that these companies promote beauty standards that are less than ideal for women.
Men also struggle with discrimination based on their appearance but our society is far more judgmental when it comes to women meeting even the minimum standards for looking 'beautiful' — only because society's image of an "average woman" vastly contrast what most women look like in real life.
Women are valued primarily for how they look. I remembered having a conversation with a friend once. She was cribbing about how she has to squeeze in a kameez suit for a cousin's wedding two times smaller than her actual size.
When I told her that she looks fine just the way she is, she scoffed and reminded me that lest she wears her actual size to the wedding she would be leaving in tears. Her relatives and even close friends do not spare a chance to ridicule her for her weight and constantly berates her, telling to watch what she is consuming.
It does not matter to them that she has a medical condition where she struggles with eating. A girl should always try to get slimmer, fairer and more "beautiful". Even when a female politician speaks, there are far more discussions about her outfits and her appearance than what she was talking about.
During the 2020 election in the USA, I remember reading more about Kamala Harris's pant suits and sneakers rather than what she believes in as a politician. How many articles were dedicated to President Joe Biden and his suits?
The constant bombardment of images and imaginations of what an ideal Bangladeshi woman must look has taken a serious toll on our physical and mental health. Body and appearance dissatisfaction among women have been linked to lower self-esteem and appearance anxiety.
According to studies in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Leeat Ramati-Ziber, Nurit Shnabel and Peter Glick, people believe women should be spending more time on achieving and maintaining beauty in order to be taken seriously at work. A number of the subjects they conducted their studies on argued that women holding high power positions at work should be pursuing beauty because that might portray them as more hardworking or being able to hold up to their boss's and other people's expectations.
Women in Bangladesh face similar situations as well where at workplaces or even in personal lives they are expected to conform to higher beauty requirements than their male counterparts. This is because beauty is considered more crucial to the feminine gender rather than the masculine one.
Years of sexism and sexualization of women in media and now social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have impacted how women in our country should appear. Nobody wants to be excluded from the standard of beauty and as a result women are left with little choice than to try to adapt to what our society looks like to fit in.
From lathering on foundation shades lighter than our skin tone to adopting unhealthy and extreme diet fads, we all have been guilty of trying to change ourselves to become "better".
It is still not too late to steer ourselves and our future generation to a more wholesome perception of beauty. It is very important for women to acknowledge that not everyone is born similar and how we look is based on our biological makeup.
Beauty practices for women can certainly be both a source of enjoyment and a mode of self-expression. However, it should not become an obligation for them to fulfill. There is absolutely nothing wrong in wishing to feel beautiful and desirable.
Keeping our bodies fit, applying makeup and wearing fashionable clothes are all perfectly normal; it only becomes a problem when we end up hating ourselves if we do not conform to our society's version. Beauty cannot and should not be standardized. We need to praise being unique in looks and focus on individuality.
At the end of the day there is truly no one else like you.
Melisa Khan is a freelance writer.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.