Narmin Kamal: Beauty – 250 Volt


Read the original essay, and comments it received, here:

I am attending an academic conference. There is a huge mirror on the right side of the hall. Several PhD candidates are sitting there – three girls and many boys. Boys are feverishly discussing an issue of the legal regulation of property management in foreign countries. One of the girls turns around and looks at her image in the mirror. She wants to check her appearance before addressing the audience. The other girl reaches into her bag, presses on a perfume flask in it and wipes around her ear with a finger. Minutes pass.

The discussion between the lawyers becomes even more intense; they seek to figure out which country’s laws regulate the division of property for an Azerbaijani national married to a foreign national in case of a divorce. The lady who has just perfumed herself scans her image in the mirror out of the corner of her eye and starts expressing her opinion while looking into the boys’ faces. Sometimes they apologize for interrupting her and make remarks on a different legal question. She avails herself of the pause brought by such an interruption and throws another glance at herself in the mirror…

I am watching TV now. In the TV show, men and women compete for an expensive prize. While men are heavily involved in proving somebody is right or wrong, women often turn to the studio screen to check how they look in front of the audience.

A 19-years old girl whom I know well admits: “Oh, every time when I walk with my fiancé in the streets and he talks about his expectations of family life, my eyes jump from one shop window to another in search of sales offers where I would come back later to do shopping. He gets angry and asks where my attention wanders when we are having such a serious talk. He cannot understand that I need new clothes for our next rendezvous and another new dress for the one after that…»

I am approaching a book stand with many shelves entitled «Women’s World» in a bookstore in some European country. Female writers have produced tons of books on ways to look pretty! “A Secret of Success” is one of the titles I come across today.

I could cite dozens of examples similar to the above, for more examples will provide a better illustration of women’s struggle for the sake of beauty. When they don’t look nice, women avoid appointments, become gloomy, lose their love for life and self-confidence…

An attractive appearance is many women’s number one concern that keeps them under constant pressure and interferes with other important spheres of life such as science, philosophy, and law. When a man ponders over philosophical details of the meaning of «logos», a woman wonders what people see when they look at her face and body.

As if their never-ending search for beauty and charm is the devil’s trap.

Why weren’t the men I watched at the conference burdened with such worries, whereas the women obsessed over their appearance instead of concentrating on the competition?

I have always seen women in struggle over ideals of beauty. Maybe that has been the case even before I was born? Or even three, or seven centuries ago? I wonder whether that is the reason there were fewer female philosophers or lawyers throughout history?! Whenever a woman could steal a minute after washing her husband’s socks and feeding her children, she had to rush to the mirror just so that nobody would call her ‘ugly’. Instead of reading a book, she placed it upon her head to develop good posture. She walked so that the book would not fall down.

Children, adults, women, men – all of them believe in the absolute truth that ‘a woman shall look cute’, if she does not, she is a bad woman. Beauty is the load everybody places upon a woman’s shoulders from her birth as an absolute obligation. The most frequent judgment made about women is about their looks. After her name comes an opinion: “She is nice-looking” or “No way, she is not”. Such reasoning beleaguers women.

How can a woman whose thoughts and mind beat nonstop to the rhythm of permanent worry over her attractiveness, who does not get tired of shops and beauty salons, and whose eyes mostly view her reflection in the mirror rather than the real world – contribute to science and philosophy with her inventions, discoveries or treatises? Especially when she is not expected to do so in the least. What is wanted from her is “somebody who looks more beautiful,” “somebody whose eyelashes are longer.” Who has subjected women to such a ridiculous rivalry? When did this start?

The fact that I am concluding my writing does not resolve the issue and does not provide a comprehensive answer to the question. Who has drowned women in the whirlpool of permanent beauty contests, when, and why? Please do deliberate upon the question, write your conclusions, I will be reading your views – while keeping one of my eyes glued to the mirror 😉

Once I saw a photo which deeply impressed me. A very young woman with tousled hair, a grey outfit with a folded flap, and a sulky facial expression, squatting down and scrubbing the floor. And below it is the caption, by an author which I do not recall now: “A woman indifferent to her appearance is beautiful.”

Narmin Kamal may be reached through Facebook and through comments to the forum where this essay originally appeared. Link is at the top of the post.