Political correctness can reduce public debate to very limp and shallow discussion. Whilst many journalists in the West are often afraid to call a spade a spade, some in Asia are not such nervous Nellies. Take for example Surya Deva (an associate professor at the school of law of City University of Hong Kong) who writes an article headed “Women shouldn’t buy into constructed idea of beauty”.
The following are extracts from her article: “Recently, one of my students started her presentation on The Body Shop by saying: ‘I am a girl, so I have to use many cosmetics.’ This was quite telling – not merely about the images created and sold by companies, but also about how such images have become ingrained in our day-to-day lives.”
Deva points to advertisements in Hong Kong railway stations that provide “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. Then there is ‘contouring’ to achieve a “V-shaped face” or augmentation of different body parts, and Botox injections are used to tighten skin. It is a common in Hong Kong to see women applying multiple cosmetics on the go. This is beauty obsession at its best.
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.”
Deva mentions that the multibillion-dollar beauty industry tries to control women; “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.
Women’s ‘freedom to choose’ is also used by companies to sell beauty products and services. But one should not forget that choices in a free market economy are often conditioned by the surrounding environment. The choice argument is just another myth perpetuated by businesses to derive economic benefits.
Companies basically want women to become what they are not. If you’re Caucasian, then you should use tanning products. However, if your skin doesn’t need tanning, the industry bombards you with a vast array of whitening products.
Each and every woman should ask whether it is worth chasing an illusory ideal of beauty that dehumanises women by seeking to convert them into stereotyped dolls.
The concept of beauty does not need to be physical, invasive, harmful, objective, universal, externally dictated and competitive.”
Deva’s last comment about the concept of beauty is valuable; it also calls for some positive thoughts. The concept of beauty indeed need not be physical. The Bible for example points to virtue as something beautiful, while adding that “beauty is passing” (Proverbs 31:30). Proverbs chapter 31:10-31 describes a “virtuous wife” which gives a godly and broad perspective of female beauty (see link for full text).
The apostle Peter writes about wives: “Do not let your adornment be (merely) outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:3-5. Older translations of this text omit the word “merely”.)
Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honour are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates”
(New King James Translation).