She focused her ear to the discussion between the two ladies who were shoulder level deep into the conversation in the teachers’ lounge. Their whispers were carelessly thrown, and she could pick up most of the conversation. Slowly inched closer to the room and sat down under one window, which was directly located where the two women sat. Sometimes she felt like a fly in the wall, and she loved the idea of looking into life from outside. This point of view gave her perspectives and well as truth. On some days, she got insights on epic moments. However, on most days, it let her in on secrets and conversations that either hurt or confused her.
‘I had so much hope in her, but at this rate, I’m worried because she knows she’s beautiful and that is going to waste her,’ One lady spoke in a sombre tone.
‘True, these girls, once they know they are beautiful, it’s tough to manage them. They start thinking they are unique, ‘The second lady added.
While I had no idea who was being referred to, that moment took me back to all the times some of my teachers (often women) had gone out of their way to remind other girls and me that we were not extraordinary. These comments were triggered by the slightest of things ranging from low academic performance to something as petty as an accidental rip in stockings. After a while, we started to believe that self-care and embracing the beauty of our bodies were the beginning of a rabbit hole that ended in disappointment. I often found myself looking down on girls who wore makeup or flaunted their curves confidently.
Luckily, in my late teens, I found myself in a community of rebels. Girls who were willing to question the status quo. We asked ourselves so what if we know we are beautiful? The more we answered that question, the more we realised an untapped power within us.
Beauty in women is connected with a failure, ‘promiscuity’ and ‘rebellion’ among other negative expressions. When a girl has a booming social life and a not so great transcript, one of the reasons thrown is that ‘she knows she is beautiful.’ This type of intrinsic knowledge of beauty is considered harmful for a woman or girl, Resulting in a situation whereby women’s beauty is continuously tied to other people’s opinion. There is a systemic creation of norms where women’s sense of worth and beauty is dependent on other people. In school, the girl who cares about her looks is bound to fail and at home ‘making the family proud’ determines whether one is beautiful or not. In music and movies, the girl always falls in love with that one person who ‘saw her beauty’ there is the cheesy moment when he gently tucks her hair behind her ear and boom ‘he has unearthed her beauty.’ A girl or woman who perceives herself as beautiful and is comfortable with this information is considered harmful, wild and dangerous.
Unfortunately, women’s beauty is often not their own. ‘Real’ beautiful women are those that are quiet, modest, humble, shy, religious and many other non-physical factors tied to social expectations of womanhood. Without realising it, these standards of beauty based on sexist gender norms result in women being denied jurisdiction over their bodies. Outsiders are given the power to determine the rules of a woman’s beauty and decide what happens to women’s bodies ranging from dress codes to reproductive rights.
Notably, schools are significantly responsible for being part of the system that dis-empowers women and building women to be guardians of patriarchy. A position whereby they constantly tramp over other women instead of inspiring them to rise above the status quo. Teachers consistently put female students down by ignoring or shaming their physical growth during their formative years. Instead of being taught to embrace their bodies, school-going girls are taught shame. Shame about their curves, their menstruation, their sexuality and more. Girls who demonstrate the slightest bit of celebration of who they always find themselves under harsh scrutiny. The biggest disappointment is that most of this negativity often comes from female teachers. Female teachers often represent parental or mentor authority which makes this type of messaging far more dangerous. This is because, at that critical stage, teenage girls are significantly impressionable, making then grow up with low self-esteem and with harmful messages which they use to judge and profile other women. It also makes women targets toxic relationships since they do not fully accept who they are and continuously need validation.
Consequently, we need to put effort to change the current situation. One brilliant way is the presence of a code of conduct for educators in all spaces. This code should have comprehensive details on the type of messaging that should be transferred to students. At the same time, it should contain repercussions to educators who break the code as it could be described as character assassination. Enforcing such a system will protect women from harassment and harmful information. This would potentially increase participation rates as the student confidence is boosted and encouraged. Girls need to understand that beauty and self-care are not handicaps. They need to embrace who they are, and this includes their bodies.
“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.”― Simone de Beauvoir
In addition to that, schools should have a branding class which will allow students to explore their identities and how they fit into the overall society at large. Branding is a tool that will bring students, especially female students, clarity on the different identities they have while giving them support in embracing these differences without external influences. Women and girls must understand that beauty is not a weakness.
“The human body is the best work of art.” ― Jess C. Scott