Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

Body and Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholder

Tarang Taswir

Peering behind the camera lens, I watch the bright colors splash across my model’s round face, mimicking a slender chameleon full of color. We are undoubtedly sensorial creatures yet the amount of attention we give to our bodily perception overrides the inherent spirits and talents we possess. While body positive movements remind us to love and cherish our bodies no matter what size or shape they may happen to be, the scientific laws of attraction still taint the remarkable woman within us. The big advertising machines and movie industries of Bollywood and Hollywood are definitely to blame in strengthening the perception of beauty from a male gaze.

Men too are not spared from the judgments of how their bodies look. With the rise of male salons and spas the male appearance too has long entered the arena of beauty and fashion. Yet the gender differences remain, where women are more likely to be on the receiving end. I observe how people perceive women who have put on weight in their later years.

You are 40 years old and the long hours of desk work have made you gain quite a lot of weight. With great enthusiasm you reach out to old friends who saw you in your 20’s when you were skinny and 132 pounds and in the middle of the conversation, they happen to tell you “You’ve changed a lot!” You quickly notice them pointing to your being overweight, and you ignore it and try to sound normal, “So tell me what have you been doing?” Yes, you have steered far away from the warmth of chatting with your old friend and are now feeling the strangeness of it all.

It’s hard to imagine that it really does not matter how much you have progressed in your career or grown as a person or the places you have travelled to with the exception of the big change of now being plus size.

In our inner world beauty has a dark side as we question the peripheries where our body becomes an element of culture and social scrutiny. Time changes our bodies as they metamorphose into new dimensions and textures and we should accept this as normal and acceptable, but social norms and beauty measurements make this change contentious. The overemphasis of the human body and its objectification has its implications.

The human body described by Virginia Woolf, in her novel The Waves (1931), is a spine made of wax that melts near the flame of the candle, making the entire body lose its solidity, reducing it to a softness and then making it transparent. The change in body shape in Virginia Woolf’s literary prose is the result of the devastating impact of social norms affecting both mind and soul. While the change in our bodies may be due to various aspects related to health, stress etc., the reasons are immaterial. Our identity and confidence can evaporate if we do not match up to or are constantly under pressure to meet the ideal beauty benchmark.

I would like the body to be seen as Virginia Woolf described it, “a body without limits,” one that can depict feelings and psychological states and is not only a yard stick of looks and beauty.

A study by Arizona State University Psychology professor Douglas T. Kenrick shows how overexposure to beauty affects our perceptions. He writes, for instance, “The harmful side effect for guys is real. Women do not look as attractive once the mind has been calibrated to assume the centerfolds are normal. And for guys in relationships, exposure to beautiful photos undermines their feelings about the real flesh-and-blood women with whom their lives are actually intertwined.”.

The boundaries between the imaginary body and the real body are hard to maneuver in a culture saturated with media images of hourglass figures yet it is not completely impossible. Just like we control our diet to maintain proper cholesterol levels, a balanced society and a beautiful mind can pave the way to shattering the manufactured body image.

Getting back to where I began, my model who weighs about 190 pounds, is now ready for the next shot and she’s oozing with confidence and sharp eyes. Hopefully, she’s way better at handling old friends!


Kenrick, D.T. (1980) Contrast Effects and Judgments of Physical Attractiveness: When Beauty Becomes a Social Problem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(1): 131–140.

Woolf, V. (1931). The Waves. Hogarth Press.

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