Gayatri Singh – Due to the amount of scrutiny we go through while growing up, being constantly observed by those around us and often criticised, feeling insecure about the way we look becomes an inherent part of our personalities. Fluctuating hormones, uneasiness and being under-confident about our appearance work against us. A distorted image of what we should look like often plagues our minds. Being extra critical of one’s appearance, to the extent that one’s own mind and opinion become toxic influences to one’s mental and emotional health.
In today’s day and age, with Photoshop and filters being the highlight of every photo and video we view online and in mass media, body positivity has never been more important. It is essential to let ourselves know that what we see in posts on Instagram or Facebook is not what we should strive to look like. Digitally-altered images are not the best source of body-positivity.
Capitalism has been responsible for many a sin, and the creation of beauty standards is one of them. It is this relentless pursuit of profit that has led to fashion and beauty houses creating a perception in the minds of women, both young and old, that they need to measure their attractiveness by a yardstick presented to them by an industry that seeks to profit off their insecurities.
We hear about various fashion trends. For some years, long coats are trendy, for some, short jackets sweep the runways. What irks me as a woman is that women’s bodies are also the subject of being “in fashion” or “out of fashion”. How can a body type be trendy one year and passé the next? The 1920s saw women with small shoulders, skinny ribs and wide hips take the stage. The 1950s were all about that full-figure in which a woman’s body was supposed to be towards the “healthy” side, if not entirely voluptuous. Having a large bosom and pleasing curves became irrelevant in the 1990s when being skinny and bony became trendy. A decade ago, women were running from pillar to post trying to maintain their petite figures. A small waist, a shapely bust and an almost flat butt were “in fashion”. Today, curves (with a flat stomach, of course) are trendy to such an extent that women are going about injecting fillers into their busts and butts to make them appear fuller.
These trends that define the “ideal” body a woman must possess have led to an unhealthy approach towards maintaining such bodies. Cosmetic and elective procedures have become the order of the day. In the 90s, heavily tweezed and plucked eyebrows were in fashion, so women went to their local salons every second day in order to ensure that their brows fit the need of the times. Now, since bushy brows are in fashion, those with thin ones are going in for treatments, transplants or make-up to have their brows appear “natural”. Airbrushed photos have led to a belief that stretch marks should not exist in general. Therefore, it has become necessary to apply foundation and concealers to one’s thighs, waist and chest.
It is understandable that looking a certain way boosts one’s confidence and may be better for one’s mental health, but one needs to know where to draw the line when it comes to having a surgeon push a scalpel into one’s body. Treatment for scars, marks and blemishes, if they hinder body-confidence and general mental well-being, is justified and encouraged. To be able to look at yourself in the mirror and love the body you see is important. Traumatic injuries as a result of accidents or violent encounters need to be cared for in a manner desired by the survivor. Body-confidence comes from within, not from societal approval.
The desire to look like a porcelain doll that is smooth all over- without any blemishes, marks or scars- is often influenced by the content we consume. Every airbrushed, photoshopped and digitally-altered image of a woman has the ability to make the others feel inadequate in more ways than one. Body hair on women is a subject of taboo to such an extent that advertisements for women’s razors and hair removal creams often show a woman using these products on an already hairless limb! The taboo has found itself a seat so deep within our minds that we have started to call body hair “unnatural” and “unnecessary”. Had body hair been unnatural or unnecessary, billions of years of evolution would have ensured that humans remained hairless throughout their life cycle. Has consumption of capitalism-driven mass media influenced our minds so much that we disregard evolution and believe that something as basic as body hair is unnatural?
Having a flat stomach and aesthetic curves at the same time is an endeavour for a lifetime. One cannot have smooth, bump-free underarms. A heavily edited image will have you believe that the only rough or dark underarms to exist are yours and yours alone.
We need to re-assess our priorities and understand that the standards of what makes an “ideal beauty” are impossible to achieve without the aid of a team of doctors, surgeons and photo editors. Miracle cures do not exist. A flatter stomach and clear skin cannot be obtained overnight. Constant hard work and dedication will give you a better body and glowing skin. Overnight cures and treatments are a hoax. A laser is not the answer to all your problems. All these treatments may enhance how you look, but youth cannot be captured in a bottle or inside a laser.
Every scar, every stretch mark, every “flaw” as it is termed by the media tells a story- a story of how you became the person you are today. That mark on your leg from when you fell off your bike, or that dark spot where you burned yourself while baking your favourite cake- they are all chapters in the book that makes you the person you are today. Being accepting of your body is the first step towards enhancing how you look. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is the second.
Dr Suruchi Garg – Since the time immemorial, man/woman had this innate desire to look beautiful and enhance the looks with whatever resources were available time to time as we roll down the history piece by piece. When we talk of striking a balance between the desires to look attractive versus the stress that is created by a society by bringing in overambitious glamour industry to rule how a person should match the appealing face/body looks based on changing trends, well I would say it is a tight and precarious rope walk. A person who has the confidence to flaunt the scars and hairy body in the world that we are living today, is in herself an institute of body positivity on her own and has the responsibility to spread that by instilling that confidence into others.
For others who don’t have I well here is my take- When my spiritual sense says, one should accept these physical aspects the way they are and should not let your inner happiness affect you. But my rational mind revolts point-blank and rather endorses to avail a treatment which is justifiable, rational and under medical supervision and gives me more confidence at the end of the day for my body image. I have commonly seen that there is a very thin line where the confidence becomes obsession and the concerned person starts doctor-shopping every now and then; availing treatments at various places and lands up harming himself/ herself instead of getting benefitted. The overzealous and overambitious society certainly needs to be blamed contributing negatively to create that desperation in one’s mind to make one run from pillar to post to grab some help. This is definitely an area of concern and doctors need to do endless counselling in order to bring back the confidence, refusing non-essential treatments and supporting the patients by offering something that is truly needed, in gaining positive body image. But at the end of the day, the person needs own himself or herself and accept some flaws with grace and gratitude rather than fantasizing the crisp and flawless face and body.
Personally and professionally, I feel there is neither harm in looking attractive or having a great body and nor there is any disadvantage to take help of medical devices like lasers and body contouring machines under doctors’ supervision. After all, there has been centuries of hard work, research and innovation involved to reach at a level where a person who has low body image because of scars, injuries, acid attacks, stretch marks and for that matter even due to weight gain resistant to diet and exercises. Where former list is more to correct deformities, the latter in my opinion is all the more important taking in view how life style diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart diseases all grouped as metabolic syndrome can effectively be reduced, considering one can reduce the waist fat by use of body contouring devices and thus bring down the overall risk to develop metabolic syndrome! Isn’t that a miracle in itself that rather than landing into the lap of a diseased body and consume endless medications; one can actually avail these treatments, attain a more positive body image and ward off fairly deadly diseases. So to conclude, besides the lifestyle changes, there is definite role of these procedures not because one has to live up to the standards of society but to feel healthy and align body, mind and soul in one positive direction to stand by the definition of good health.