F**K BEAUTY

When you can’t write what you need to write, you write what you can. I want to write about…

That new Dove ad is absurdly symbolic. Women in five cities around the world are made to choose one of two doors in order to enter a space. The entries are labelled ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Average’. There seems to be no other way to gain access to the building. Your physical appearance is your only admission. Choose beautiful Dove says. F**K that.

My sister looked radiant tonight. I don’t know if I have ever seen her glow like this. When she made her entrance into the hall, mischief captured her and she threw her hennaed hands up in the air, her intricately brown laced hands swirling through the air as she danced. Little dried flecks sprinkled off her hands like black confetti. Later my father, handsome in his turquoise blue sherwani interrupted the proceedings to give a delicately whiskey laced speech in honour of the bride. And my grandfather wept. He has been weeping for weeks. ‘It’s not like I am dying’, she keeps telling us. I am just getting married. We still weep. We will miss her.

These women going about their lives, doing ordinary and extraordinary things were interrupted, forced to pick a box. Am I beautiful? Am I average? Those are your only two options. Select carefully. If I pick beautiful, does it mean I have good self-esteem or a healthy dose of self-delusion and a dash of conceit. If I pick average, does it mean I have a low sense of worth, or just that I have a grasp of reality with a sprinkling of humility. Pick carefully. This defines you as a woman.

It is 5:02 am. We tumble into the house, all a little tipsy and absolutely ravenous. I climb up the stairs, removing my heavy jewellery along the way and leaving a trail of my unravelling brushed gold lace sari. I gaze into the mirror at my glazed kohl lined eyes, and tell myself I must get my henna done tomorrow. Who ever heard of the bride’s sister having bare hands at her sister’s wedding. I play that game, where you look deeply into the reflection of your eyes, and try to see yourself as a stranger would. I kick off my heels, and check  my phone for the first time that day. I scroll down the timeline on twitter. In horror. Feverishly.

What’s with all this focus on beauty anyways? Why is beauty the penultimate quality that every woman should aspire to, that every woman is judged by, that every woman works towards. Am I beautiful? Sometimes I am. Today I was not. My aching body pulled down my shoulders into a defiant droop. My eyes were heavy, lined, sad. My hair looked like a nest, the curls spectacularly pulling off both frizz and limp in one deft move. My cheeks were puffy from two weeks of over-indulgence and too little sleep. Yesterday I was beautiful, my eyes sparkled. My thighs filled out my jeans lusciously. My hair was a dust filled mess of curls that made me look like I had emerged from a fabulous horizontal adventure. Am I beautiful? Who the F**K cares anyways?

We make cheese sandwiches and ginger chai. To feed our hunger. To fill the gaping pit in our stomachs that has spread its tentacles into our throats. We murmur. Garissa. We stand around the kitchen table, our hands nestling hot cups of comfort. I choke down a sob with a mouthful of melted cheese. We eat in silence. My sister is asleep. We don’t want to spoil her wedding. Outside, the dogs howl as the sun threatens to rise.

I imagine having a conversation about beauty with my unborn daughter. Perhaps I will write her a letter, from me at my 33 year old self. Dear daughter, I will write. They brought booty back. Well, it started with Jennifer Lopez, then Beyonce seconded it and Kim Kardashian confirmed it with her attempt to break the internet with butt. And if you have my genes, dear daughter, your booty will be one thing. Flat. You see, in 2014 it was all about that bass, and I was all treble. And tremble. I will tell her that they keep changing the goalposts, and you can never keep up. So ignore the rules and create your own instead. Refuse to be judged by your beauty. Refuse to be judged at all. I wonder which door I would have walked through. Beautiful or average? I think I would have kicked a hole in that wall instead, and entered the space on my own terms, who the F**K says I have to be one or the other?

It feels wrong to be getting henna on my hands. But I sit there obediently, arms resting on a cushion as the woman squeezes the silver foil cone which hovers above my hand, while she moves her wrist to draw swirling flowers on my palm. The paste tickles as it lands. The patterns form in the air before they settle onto my skin. It is cool and fragrant. I feel the henna sucking the heat from my blood as it dries, drawing out the warmth to deepen in colour. I want to cry. I feel numb. The henna lady bites her lip in concentration. I bite my lip in anguish. I check the news. I don’t know what else to do. Numbers. All I see is numbers. Where are the faces, the stories, the dreams?

It’s about inner beauty. It’s about feeling beautiful. It’s about choosing to feel beautiful, silly. I don’t care. I am tired of society bombarding me with messages that a woman’s worth is valued by her beauty. There is so much more to me. Don’t you see? I am kind. I am goofy. I am sensitive. I am intelligent. I am funny. I am (insert whatever random characteristic I feel like at this precise moment in time.) So would it have made me feel better if you put those terms instead of average and beautiful? No! Stop putting me in boxes. Stop defining me by one thing or another. I am more than a damn label. I am what I do. Sometimes I feel beautiful, and sometimes I don’t. What’s the big deal? Why the F**K does it even matter!?

Day three of the wedding. I stare at the blinking cursor. I am trying to write a speech for my sister’s wedding reception. Nothing comes out. I think this is because it is too difficult to sum up an entire relationship in a few hundred words. Or maybe it is because I can’t remember anything from when we were growing up. My memory is notoriously bad. I joke that maybe I have a brain tumour. Secretly I am scared that I do. My sister has always been my repository for our childhood memories. I think about all those sisters who lost their sisters. Whose sisters were murdered. Who will never, ever, ever see their sisters again. The grief clasps my throat again. The speech loses meaning. A friend tells me that if I have something to celebrate at this time, that I must do it. The speech becomes the most important thing in the world.

I am born with the looks that I have. I don’t have much control over that. What I do have control over is the things that I choose to do with my time. When we place so much currency on looks, so much energy, focus and time is spent trying to change these looks to fit whatever flitting definition of beauty there may be at that time. Because subliminally we are made to believe that we don’t deserve to enjoy life fully, unless we look beautiful. So that girl who stands on stage singing her soul out holds back a little. Because maybe if she sings too big, they will notice her acne. And it won’t matter how much beauty her singing filled the air with, because her face is not beautiful. So maybe you aren’t beautiful. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Because your gifts to the world are so much deeper than just the way you look. Imagine if we spent all that time and energy we spend on looking beautiful, on trying to feel beautiful, on showing the world just how beautiful we are, and instead focused on the things that actually mattered. On making the world a better place. Stop shoving the message down my face that I can look beautiful or that I should feel beautiful. Instead leave me the F**K alone, so I can do beautiful things.

So many of our Kenyan brothers and sisters have been robbed of their chance to do beautiful things. Beauty has been stolen. The henna is fading. The numbness has not. My sister has left for the next part of her life, a chapter full of promise and hope. #147NotJustANumber they will not be forgotten. We will say their names out loud.  We will remember them. Every single one. We have to find a way to make sure that this never happens again. We pray for strength for their families. There can never be enough words. But we must try. We must not let silence steal them away from us.

I pray for the day when beauty doesn’t seem so trivial.

When it ceases to be a luxury in Kenya to have a life uninterrupted by tragedy.

When the people who have the power to actually do something actually gave a shit.

Sometimes grief hides. It disguises itself as anger and lashes out at enemies of its own making.

Sometimes you have to write the thing you can, to write the thing you need to.

Photo Credit

(If you like it over here in the shade, do vote for Chanyado for Best New Blog at the Blog Awards Kenya – to vote, go here: http://www.blogawards.co.ke/vote/)

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238 thoughts on “F**K BEAUTY

  1. Sometimes grief hides…
    This is so true!
    Grief can take many forms. Sometimes we can’t get a handle on the emotions storming through the soul so we wait for the clouds to break – – we wait for the moment, however brief, when there is a clear day so we may take a closer look. Then word by word, sentence by sentence, we utter to whomever would listen, how we feel. Knowing that someone hears those words and understands is the first step to easing the grief and finding closure.

    Seems that this post offered a bit of release for you. But if I’ve misunderstood, please forgive me. It was indeed beautiful and important to be said !

    1. How poetic! But how practical? There is a whole system which drives our thoughts to the default perception of beauty, which of course, differs among individuals, societies and ethnicities! I am unsure if I am completely on the same rostrum… Hope you can relate my views… 😉

  2. Reblogged this on Miss Writer; Rehabilitated still Recovering and commented:
    It’s about inner beauty. It’s about feeling beautiful. It’s about choosing to feel beautiful, silly. I don’t care. I am tired of society bombarding me with messages that a woman’s worth is valued by her beauty. There is so much more to me. Don’t you see? I am kind. I am goofy. I am sensitive. I am intelligent. I am funny. I am (insert whatever random characteristic I feel like at this precise moment in time.) So would it have made me feel better if you put those terms instead of average and beautiful? No! Stop putting me in boxes. Stop defining me by one thing or another. I am more than a damn label. I am what I do. Sometimes I feel beautiful, and sometimes I don’t. What’s the big deal? Why the F**K does it even matter!?

  3. Just re-blogged this!!! This is the reason why i believe literature is food to my soul…not just any literature but RICH literature. Aleya keep it up…Maaann I just love to read your work. I hope one day you write a book and sign my copy!!!

  4. Beautifully written indeed. those words have life, it’s like each sentence picks up a life of its own after every full stop. The same with the paragraphs. I bet you gave this your all, feels like you were pouring out your soul yet still holding back enough to keep us wondering what was up…….

    This post really goes well with the quote “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed: Ernest Hemingway.”

  5. Things never change Aleya. That’s how the world was in the beginning, It is how it is now and it will stay this sorry in future. Nothing will ever change.Do I sound like a pessimist? Maybe, but it is a huge therapy observing things in this perspective.

    Ps. Your writing has great. Find time to pay brother a visit here http://www.inmytales.co.ke

  6. Beautiful read, Aleya.

    For years I have had a complicated relationship with my body. I longed for an androgynous look…dreamt of how amazing I could be if I looked just so. Now I’m finally comfortable in my skin…on most days.

    I won’t say F*CK to beauty, though. Maybe the superficial kind. But not to the beauty in a smile, a kind word, a tender gaze, a helping hand, a caring heart. Or the beauty in a hearty laugh, the earnestness of a person striving to be the best version of themselves, a shared moment between family/friends, a painting, sculpture, song or dance.

    That’s the kind of beauty that keeps me from despairing when I’m surrounded by so much human suckage.

  7. In the dove ad, I love the lady who walks up to the doors, looks at what’s happening & walks away. It could be interpreted in many ways but I choose to see it as “f**k all this, I know a different entrance to the building!” & in that, choosing not to fall into someone else’s labelling – whether “positive” or “not”. This is me hoping wherever she went she chose to define herself based on the millions of adjectives available in the world in hundreds of languages. And not just one of two very simple terms.
    “Instead leave me the f**k alone so I can do beautiful things” – I like that.
    #147NotJustANumber

  8. Great blog ! I haven’t read something this much realistic in a while. It’s simply insane how much females doubt themselves and sometimes even hate themselves. Humanity needs more “F**k beauty ” attitudes.
    ps.I can totally relate to the mirror game. ( I thought I was the only one though ! 🙂 )

  9. This was enjoyable to read. I loathe the insidiousness of the commercialization of what is supposed to be empowerment of women. It places, as advertising always has, undue importance on the pursuit of beauty, as if that were the only quality with which we should be concerned.

    You make very good points about the narrowness of the choices presented, as well as the fact that what we get is what we get and no amount of supposed feel good advertising changes that.

    All the talk about inner beauty is just another directive of “if you’re not beautiful, then you need to be blah, blah, blah on the inside”. How about “if you don’t meet cultural standards of beauty, you don’t meet cultural standards of beauty”? I’ve got other things that need my attention. Like the fact that Dove/Unilever still tests products on animals. Maybe I’ll care about that instead of worrying how I can get into their weirdly-labeled building.

  10. That’s brilliant! thank you so much for amazing post…
    And yeah…I clearly understand the feeling when you can’t write what you want to write…and you just write what you can.

  11. Are you saying you’re that one visitor who simply walked away? 😛
    Yeah I’ve seen the commercial. It is made to appeal to your emotions and not your reasoning. As for beauty, beauty is all about perspective. Nobody gets to decide but you.

    Still it was kind of a fun experiment. Do you hate fun?

  12. First I want to say what a beautifully written post! So inspiring.

    I did have to quickly watch the ad before reading. Watching the ad…i found it very interesting. The girl that interested me most was the one that walked away and didn’t choose. Watching i did for a second think what i would choose. But it felt silly and insignificant. I thought once you choose what happens next. Not much. Although the women did give it some thought afterwards…which totally proves what you said when you mentioned interpreting what women have to already think about in a day. I have so much to think about i personally would not have give the whole choice much thought and walked through any damn door, that is if i had to go in to the building of course.

    I felt i could completely relate to you on those non beautiful days where your life just dragged you in to a pit. My eyes also look sad, your not alone with that.

    Lovely to read. Thanj you

  13. Wow. I am a guy, and I understand you. I mean you could do without the curse words, but I know exactly what you mean by all of the “beauty” crap. Beauty should come from within, not just based on the outside appearance Ever heard of beauty pageants? They’re on my Top 100 Worst Things Ever list. May the Force Be With You, always young wordpresser!

  14. I have never understood why the worst way to insult a woman is by insulting her appearances. Whether or not someone is beautiful is irrelevant to their value as a human being. There are so many other things I would rather be than beautiful, if given a choice. Kind. Compassionate. Giving. Loving. Intelligent. Creative. Why should any of those be worth less than physical appearance? They shouldn’t.

  15. Beauty is not a truth, it’s an opinion. It’s a moving target impossible to hit by design. It’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of being a woman–you can either be beautiful or happy, but not both.

    Because in order to be beautiful all the time, you’d have to be beautiful to all the people all the time and they are finicky little bastards with changing agendas. Anyway, who taught you to put anyone’s opinion above your own?

    Fuck beauty. Put all your money on happy, instead.

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