Print Edition - 2014-09-06  |  On Saturday

Some things about beauty

  • I have been called ‘Bhote-looking’ sometimes even though my last name identifies me, quite unmissably, as from an Aryan clan. I used to be angered by such comments when I was younger, even embarrassed. To look ‘Bhote’, I knew, was not a good thing
- Narcissus
Some things about beauty

Sep 5, 2014-

Physical appeal and attractiveness have always rested on facial symmetry and shapely bodies—biological markers of good health and perhaps more importantly, good genes. But whenever we’re chasing any social ideal of beauty, we’re also buying into a complex mesh of contemporary ideas regarding a person’s possible reach of resources—a person’s wealth and power, their ethnicity, their ‘modernity’. The Caucasian (and by Caucasian I mean white) woman is the ideal beauty of our time; she is on the pages of the magazines we read, on screen, in the films and television programmes that we watch. She lives the kind of modern, cosmopolitan life we would all like to live, I suppose, and she comes from some of the most powerful nations in the world.

We live in Nepal, and none of us, no matter what caste we belong to, is remotely ‘Caucasian’. Yet, we chase after their model of beauty; an endeavour  that is made all the more easier by the traditionally dominant Aryan notions that have always valued big, deep-set eyes; sharp, aquiline noses; and large, voluptuous lips. For girls and women who are not of Aryan ancestry, features are defined in opposition to the norm: the eyes are chinky, the noses flat and the lips unsuitably thin. If she happens to look somewhat ‘Japanese’ or ‘Korean’, she is pretty-not quite the norm in Kathmandu, but quite ‘modern’ these days, regarded beautiful for her stated differences.

Beauty is a strange thing; if your appearance is markedly different and yet still conforms to the social ideals that judge beauty, you are deemed more beautiful than the rest.  And still, in Nepal, if she does not look Aryan, she looks somewhat ‘Bhote’. She’s ‘Tibetan-oid’, when she might actually be Gurung or Rai or Lepcha or even Newar, the details don’t matter. I have been called ‘Bhote-looking’ sometimes even though my last name identifies me, quite unmissably, as from an Aryan clan. I used to be angered by such comments when I was younger, even embarrassed. To look ‘Bhote’, I knew, was not a good thing. I still don’t like the fact that anyone who looks the least bit Mongoloid is called ‘Bhote’ in Kathmandu (people should know that not all Mongoloid people are Tibetan, just as not all Aryan people are Brahmin), but I have learnt not to mind such remarks.

Comments regarding height are another set of observations regarding my physical appearance that I have come not to mind in recent years. “If you were a bit taller” are words that used to disappoint me bitterly when I was younger. Growing up, I had high hopes of growing tall, like all those beautiful women on TV, I suppose. Not that anyone is my family is tall; I just had this one-time magic growth spurt when I was 10 years old and thought it would continue till I was at least five feet eight inches tall. I still sometimes—only sometimes , when some clothes do not suit my five-foot frame—wish that my legs were longer, but I have largely come to love my body and my frame for what they are. And I don’t mind that I look more like the people on my mother’s side of the family than my father’s; I actually like the way I look.

At about the same time I was experiencing my magic growth spurt, I also came across a woman called Audrey Hepburn in a magazine. What she had to say had surprised me then but I find it makes much sense to me now. The article was titled: Audrey Hepburn’s Beauty Secrets, and the actress—pictured in romantic black and white, with a sparkling tiara on her pretty little head—was said to have stated that one must “speak words of kindness” for attractive lips and “seek out the good in people” for lovely eyes. I could not believe what I had read. I might have been only a child, but I knew enough then, I thought, to know that physical appearance is exactly  what it is; that no amount of saying things like “It is what’s in the inside that counts” ever changes that. And yet there she was, this ridiculously beautiful woman, saying, if I understood her correctly, that it was exactly this, that which was on the inside, that counted.

Audrey Hepburn is best remembered as a style icon; her signature cropped pants and ballerina slippers are a timeless classic, hers was quite possibly the original pixie crop, and the bold, beautiful eyebrows that framed her lovely doe eyes were the ones to create a stir decades before Cara Delevinge’s did. Hepburn understood style, and embodied it to perfection, but she also understood that the beauty of a woman is not (or maybe not just) “in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair”, that it must be seen “from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.” This understanding, I suppose, is what gave her such grace; she never let all the high praise and complement, the shine and sparkle, the dazzle and success get to her.

Not all of us might be such sweet, darling, beautiful creatures as her, but we are all perfectly capable of always remembering that physical appearance is only one aspect of the self. It is a rather important aspect in the small world we live in, but there are others that are more important. Beauty, the fickle thing that it is, values small feet one century and tall frames another. In Kathmandu, the appearance my mixed lineage has given me might be regarded somewhat appealing in 2014, but that was certainly not the case when I was growing up. There are so many rules and ever-changing norms in this regard that to focus too much on appearance is to get caught in a senseless charade that will ultimately lead you to absolutely nowhere. Learning to recognise oneself and be comfortable with oneself are far more important than seeking beauty in one’s face and frame. I realise these assertions sound high-minded, but the fact is they’re absolutely, entirely, completely true.

Published: 06-09-2014 08:58

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