October 24, 2016

KANKANHALLI | On Blue Eyes and Other Pretty Things

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In somewhat heartwarming, somewhat disturbing news, a “super hot tea-seller” has gone viral in Pakistan — not for his flavorful chai, but for his dreamy blue eyes, fair skin, angular cheekbones, strong-but-not-too-strong brows, bushy black hair, firm jawline…*ahem* — because he’s a good-looking guy. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m talking about the kind of beauty that transcends personal preference and pays no homage to taste. The dangerous kind. The kind that earns you a modeling contract when, just days ago, you were supporting your seventeen siblings with a monthly income of less than $90. This eighteen-year-old Pashtun boy, Arshad Khan, now signed to model for a clothing line, embodies the rags-to-riches storyline in a grand way, but what does this mean for the brown-eyed population living in abject poverty? I suppose they should just be content with their lower susceptibility to uveal melanoma?

Fortune favors the bold, but beauty favors the lucky. You’d think it beyond reason to reward or penalize someone for their physical features, which are as far removed from choice as they can possibly be; yet, entirely too often, opportunity becomes a function of appearance. Of course, nobody’s complaining when looks are a ticket to fame, but what about when they get you fired to make room for a prettier face? Arrested because of your skin color? Bullied? Hated?

Sometimes, it feels like beauty standards follow geographical boundaries, which would be a small consolation. Maybe there isn’t just one true form of beauty, but multiple, and statistically speaking, this would offer more people the chance to qualify as beautiful. If you’re in England, maybe Kate Middleton is Goals™ and in India, maybe it’s Aishwarya Rai, and at latitude-x, longitude-y, it’s another beautiful human with a shapely nose and a smile that is just soft enough to convey joy without eclipsing a pair of soulful eyes. But, alas. Beauty isn’t regional, and it’s not inherent — at least not the kind that enjoys glorification. There’s a common thread that weaves the world’s beauties into a single, small matrix of universally aesthetic qualities.

I’m a part of the problem here, and as with most of my problems, I’m not particularly adept at solving it. Try as I might, it’s hard to champion this cause. It’s hard to advocate for the ubiquity of beauty when there are obvious tiers that I subscribe to myself. It’s hard to fight the beauty bias, and it’s even harder to fight biology. Your hobbies and your friends and your attitudes and your views are all somehow subject to the whims of genetic material. The people who are unbothered by the exclusive nature of beauty — how do they do it? Either because of a genuine self-satisfaction, or an equally admirable disregard for society’s ideals, they carry on living with peace of mind. Is it self-confidence? You get yourself some of that, reclaim the power and you’re all set? Well, I’d say that’s a tactic better applied in a world devoid of stimuli, where there’s nothing at all to make you think relatively. In our world, confidence is meaningful when it is at least partially founded in fact. If not, I can tell myself anything and voila — I’m happy. Under this definition, the “you’re beautiful the way you are” campaign meets the full force of my skepticism. I mean, I wish it were true, but it just seems like the verbal equivalent of comfort food.

Even in the midst of global warming and political turmoil and world hunger and bees dying at an alarming rate, we always make time to indulge in our own insecurities. It’s a duty, almost. I can’t escape the desire to feel beautiful or miss a chance to extend this holy grail of feelings to someone else. I bet there a few little neurons in my brain that realize that attaining beauty and pleasing the public eye isn’t the ultimate goal of this mortal life, but they haven’t made it free information yet. For now, I’m just stuck wishing that beauty wasn’t such an active pursuit. *cue baby pink, thin on top with defined Cupid’s Bow, plump on bottom, pouty lips*

Priya Kankanhalli is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at pkankanhalli@cornellsun.com. Matters of Factappears alternating Tuesdays this semester.

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