When you live in Lebanon, where physical beauty following particular standards has become your ticket to ‘success’ (fine marriage, fine job, good connections, more money,….) or at least your guarantee to be ‘accepted’ by others, the pressure can be often unbearable, leading to: Insecurities, Depression, Anxiety, Extreme Eating disorders, Narcissism, Paranoia, Addiction, Mutilation, Obsessive Compulsion Disorders, etc. Most Lebanese girls and women wish they were thinner, when only few of them are in fact medically overweight!
You may ask yourself: is our idea of beauty as Lebanese through nature or nurture? Are we born knowing what is considered beautiful or are we nurtured to see beauty? Even if the latest findings in genetics prove the existence of a ‘collective memory gene’, ideas of beauty are mostly socially constructed, and the Lebanese ones, i.e. mainstream ideas, have become so powerful, that teaching university students about the beauty of general culture, philosophy, … well, ‘the beauty of the mind’, and that self-identity goes far beyond appearances, has become a challenge! Even trying to teach about the importance of building knowledge has turned into an ‘insane initiative’ led by geek dinosaurs!
Recently, many of my students started their presentations on dating by saying: ‘We are women, so we have to be thin – size 0 -, have long dark hair, big lips, and if there is a need for plastic surgery, we will definitely use it, and that will help us find our Adam’ or ‘As men, we would like our girlfriends to be as described by our colleagues, meaning the Haifa or Maya Diab – famous plastic bomb Lebanese entertainers – type’. This was quite telling, not merely about the images created and sold by Music, Cosmetic and Media companies, but also about how such images have become ingrained in our day-to-day lives.
The real problem lies in the social construction of beauty as a uniform standard, leading to disempowerment! As Naomi Wolf argues in her book The Beauty Myth, the objectification of women’s bodies to satisfy an objective and universal standard of beauty is inherently problematic and disempowering for women. A look at the adverts at any TV station provides many examples of a woman’s body presented as a product which can (and should) be perfected. “Body sculpting” is promoted as if women’s bodies were a piece of art.
“If ageing and wrinkles are natural and irreversible, diversity in body shapes and sizes is evidence that humans are not produced in factories. Different stages of life and the uniqueness of physical attributes should be socially acceptable. Nevertheless, many women still feel tempted or compelled to spend money on slowing down or reversing these attributes. What for? To meet a beauty standard set by “others” – usually men. The whole exercise becomes a trap. Women strive to achieve the impossible and the resulting failure lowers their self-esteem and confidence. Even if they achieve a goal, there is always another target to aim for. That’s to say nothing of peer pressure or the desire to stand out from the crowd. Women are told to believe in and enjoy the empowerment that flows from attracting the attention of men. There is nothing wrong with this basic human instinct. The problem lies in the fact that the tools to draw the attention are selected by men. Historically, men exercised control over women by confining them to the private sphere and covering up their bodies. In the modern day, both are difficult to justify, even in the Arab world. So control is now exerted by uncovering a woman’s body or by imposing on women unrealistic expectations of physical “perfection”. What may seem liberating superficially may actually be a recipe for enslavement”.
Each and every woman should ask whether it is worth chasing an illusory ideal of beauty that dehumanizes women by seeking to convert them into stereotyped dolls.The concept of beauty does not need to be only physical, nor invasive, harmful, objective, universal, externally dictated and competitive.
Image source: https://www.facebook.com/onemillionvjj?ref=stream