The Invisible Shackles of a Modern World

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By: Intan Jamil

I understand why people want to make themselves look prettier; it’s human nature. What I don’t understand is why there needs to be a certain standard for what exactly is ‘pretty’. For the Malays it seems to be desirable to have fair, flawless skin with perfect teeth, large, wide eyes, a slim body and tall stature. That seems to be almost everyone’s definition of pretty. That’s what the online ads tell you their products can achieve if you use them. That’s what photo apps and filters try to do with selfies. That’s what makeup tutorials try to teach women to do.

I don’t appreciate having these elements being thrown at me through every single channel of social media and television. It perpetuates a belief that I probably won’t be happy with the way I look naturally, that I have to do this and that to change the way I look, even if it’s just a little bit. Why do I need to have fair, pimple-free skin? Why do I need to have a neat row of pearly white teeth? Why do I need to have thick, plump lips and rosy cheeks? Why do I need to have big doe eyes? Why do I need an eye colour other than dark brown, for that matter? Why do I need to be tall? Why do I need to be stick skinny? Why do I need to wear contact lenses instead of my normal glasses?

It was just drilled into my head since I could remember. Fair and Lovely ads said I need to be… well, fair, in order to be lovely. Ads on TV speak of miracle products that will help you lose weight so you can have a slim body and instantly become more attractive. Actresses and models wear contact lenses to either make their eyes blue/hazel, or disguise the fact that they need to wear glasses. Countless girls take off their glasses before snapping a photo because they believe they simply look better without them. Some girls even refuse to wear glasses at all and risk damaging their eyesight even more and just live in a world of blurriness. I remember watching an ad on TV that showed a woman entering an elevator with someone, and as soon as he left she let out the breath she was holding the entire time, just to hide the fact that she wasn’t as skinny as she pretended to be.

I admit, I used to believe in all that. I hated getting tanned skin and used to buy facial cleansers and creams that would make my skin fairer. I wasn’t happy with the way my teeth looked so I got braces and had to deal with the pain of wearing them for a few years. I was horrified the day I found out I needed to wear glasses, and after a year decided to use contact lenses that set me back 200 bucks every few months until my eyes became too sensitive to continue wearing them. My clothing style changed according to how bloated I felt that day, and if a particular outfit made me look fat, I kept changing until I found something that made me look slimmer. I tried wearing heels that had the double effect of making me look taller and slimmer but stopped because I’m just too clumsy to wear them plus my feet suffered way too much in the end. I even used one-shoulder bags to carry around my heavy camera equipment (which can weigh at least 3kgs) instead of using a practical backpack because it looks nicer. My shoulders cried at the end of every day I needed to use a camera.

It was crazy and it made me unhappy. I spent my teen years feeling incredibly self conscious, because I let other people tell me what it means to be pretty.

I don’t mind standards that indicate if you’re healthy. Like obviously the stigma of being morbidly obese has a health implication (but funnily there doesn’t seem to be a similar stigma applied to being dangerously underweight, something some people are trying to achieve whether they realize it or not). Overly dry skin that cracks and peels (which is a legit condition for some) is more of a health issue than a cosmetic one when it’s moderate-severe and goes untreated. Physical signs that point to possible malnutrition like hair loss could be accepted too. But other than that? Why change it? Why hide it? What’s the point of lying to yourself?

Just love yourself as you are. Screw what everyone else thinks, because they can point out as many flaws as they like, but ultimately they’re not perfect themselves and probably have bigger flaws than you. So their opinion doesn’t even matter. And if they bring you down for the way you look as you are then they don’t even deserve to be in your presence. Just dump them and find better people to be around.

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