An Ugly Perspective on Beauty

Claire Amsden - Senegal


February 27, 2013

I walk into the small beauty boutique with my sister and as she starts to bargain with the storekeeper for better prices my mind begins to wander. I look around, and I start comparing this store to beauty shops back home. I’m not talking about the differences like concrete floor to impressive sparkling tiles or single bare bulb to back-lit mirrors galore. I’m asking myself what can I find out about different standards of beauty as I look at the products sold.

We’ve got nail polishes, jewelry and perfume in both stores, but where there was a row of tanning creams or extremely low SPF sunscreen there are shelves upon shelves of skin-lightening lotions. Hair dyes and straighteners are replaced with hair extensions and wigs. Products in both stores claim to be natural and healthy, and now I’m starting to wonder how much I can believe that – even in stores back home. Besides, how can a product that tells you your body isn’t pretty without it be healthy for the state of your soul?

It’s not fair that we subject our bodies to limited criteria of what’s beautiful and what’s not. We torture ourselves, standing in front of the mirror and picking out our flaws. We aspire to look like something that’s often unattainable.

Why? Why does appearance have so much to do with our identity?

We feel so bad about our own bodies that we turn around and judge the bodies of others, even our friends. People are stereotyped, categorized, judged, and discriminated against because of what their bodies look like – often before someone takes the time to find out what their name is.

As a foreigner who will never fit in completely because of the color of my skin I’ve found the criteria I compare my body to has changed dramatically. I used to think my skin had a healthy glow but now all I can see is pasty whiteness.

And as I watch my sister lather on her skin-lightening cream for the second time today, I have to wonder what characteristics of my body do I judge too harshly? We are our own harshest critics when it comes to what we look like.

I feel like, at least I hope, that most people would say they value who people are more than how they look. But how often do we act in ways that contradict that statement?

What I’m trying to challenge you to do with these words is to change our ugly perspective on beauty into a beautiful perspective on what was once considered ugly. Because each person I’ve met here, whether they have cataracts in their eyes, rotting teeth, unevenly colored skin from bleaching, or a glowing complexion and a brilliant smile, I’ve found to be beautiful especially the more I get to know them.

Claire Amsden