No beauty without cruelty

In the Hollywood movie, Shallow Hal, Jack Black’s perception is altered and he begins seeing people for what they are inside and not for what they appear to be on the outside. As a result Jack sees a 300-pound woman as Gwyneth Paltrow and of course, falls in love with her. Towards the end of the movie, Jack’s perception is re-altered to normal and he sees the ‘real’ body of his lady love. Of course, he is put off and after the usual twists and turns in a Hollywood romantic comedy, returns to his senses and realizes the folly of judging people (and his lover), by their appearances. He reaches the conclusion that a she-elephant with a heart of gold is any day superior to a b* with a black heart.

What a load of bull.

I had watched the movie in bits and pieces on TV and decided to find out the name of the actress who played the 300-pounder. My search threw up (no puns intended), a number of web sites. But guess what – the weighty actress’s name didn’t show up in the cast. Here’s a link to the imdb web site; check it out for yourself. The sites list three names – Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jason Alexander. Period.

That made me wonder about the motivation behind the making of the movie. Maybe the directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly are fat and hence. But no. They aren’t. What about the writer, Sean Moynihan? Not him either. So what? Jack Black? He is plump, sure, but nowhere near the size of the Kung Fu Panda he lends his voice to.

So I sit back and imagine the discussion between the Studio Executives:

Studio Exec 1: It’s a thin plot.
SE 2: That’s a bad joke.
SE: Sorry, unintended. But who’d want to see Jack romance a mammoth?
SE 2: Now you are talking sense. But the beauty is, no one sees her, not even Jack, until the very end!
SE: Agreed, but listen up dude. I know it’s a romantic comedy and research has proven again and again that the average movie-goer is a moron – but with practically all industries and all media in the world spending billions of dollars promoting the toothpick figure as the ideal beauty, what chance do we have? I mean ask a man in the street if he is heard of Gandhi and he will say, ‘No’. But ask about Kate Moss… You know what I mean.
SE 2: All I know is you are talking like an intellectual and if the Board hears you, you will be fired. But wait. You said a relevant thing there.
SE: I did? What?
SE 2: Research. Let’s call in the research guy.
Researh Guy: Hmm. According to the last figures, 34% of the US population is obese. US has the highest obesity ratio in the world.
SE 2: That means, we have a captive audience of 34% Americans. Plus, if we cast a hot toothpick as the chick this guy sees with this altered perception, we have 100% men wanting to see the movie. We are doing this film.

But that’s my imagination so you can discount it. However what you cannot discount is the fact that our ideas of beauty are shaped by our environment and we are not born with them. Yeah, we don’t cry when we are born because we find the doctor or the mid-wife or the nurse ugly; we cry because the doctor slaps us on our bottom. I wish other professions had the luxury of slapping their sources of income; I know more than a few clients who could do with some butt-slapping.

Let's admit it. Every culture, every region and every society has its own definition of beauty. Like certain African tribes believed that the darker you were, the more beautiful you were. Which is also a prejudice of sorts because it implies that lighter complexions are not beautiful. Or in Burma, as it was called then, a tribe believed that longer a woman's neck the more attractive she was. Today, with the power of western money, corporations and media has led us to believe that beauty is thin, fair and young. Yeah, young too - ask the makers of Botox. Though I know men who find older women more attractive - they are usually described as kinky. I know women who find older men attractive too – they are described as bounty hunters.

So it is really this: Whether it is media, opinion leaders, the village elders or just some king with a kink (imagine the chaos if a Burmese tribal found his way to Africa and saw a giraffe!), it is always someone with power who decides what is good, what is bad, what is beautiful and what is not.

To bring this post to a quick conclusion (before I start a long rant on fairness and anti-ageing creams, weight loss clinics, gyms, silicone or a graphic description about the Burmese who saw a giraffe), here’s the problem with ‘Real’ beauty:

Every concept of beauty is inherently exclusive. When you define something as beautiful, you automatically condemn those who don't fit into the definition as ugly. And therein hides the tragedy.


  1. The Himalayas, the beaches of Pacific ocean, the rain forest of East Asia, The Taj Mahal wud be universally considered beautiful as wud be the infamous slums of Dharavi or rich man's abode Antilla, considered ugly.
    Most view points are subjective, yes I agree with you, but then there are some which universally cannot be denied e.g. Kishoreda is a great singer.

  2. When something isn't beautiful, doesn't mean it is ugly. Its like saying that if its not black, then it has to be white. There is grey. And like the old saying goes 'Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder'.. It is possible to find a talk dark woman beautiful as well as a young petit one, by the same person.

  3. ooh... lots to talk about this blog. wish we could meet up over a pint or two, or a pitcher perhaps because it'd be a long discussion.

    loved the blog btw.

    one comment on 'fair' being used to indicate light(skinned). that's a baggage from our colonial past and a word only used in the indian sub-continent to mean light.

    and dharavi, or any slum or shanty per say isn't ugly, unless the arguement is that poverty is ugly. it would be an argument, but not a good one.

  4. Kishore: Yes, beauty definitions do tend to be subjective like most views in the world.
    As far as universal agreement about anything is concerned, I am not so sure. As a teenager, I found it strange that my uncles actually liked the voice and singing of K.L. Saigal. Today, my daughter feels the same about Kishorda! That's another factor - definitions of beauty change with time as well...

    Ritika, Anita: The trouble with definitions is that they imply that what doesn't fit it, is not good. It might just be implied, but there it is.

    Anita: Pint, pitcher, the whole draught drum - sounds good. When you are here... Chances of me being there are slim - since I am broke most of the time and the UK is getting increasingly anal about granting visas to their erstwhile subjects...

  5. Hi Deven
    love your blogs.. and am an ardent follower!

    Beauty lies in the eyes of the beer-holder..
    There is a pun in this statement somehow

  6. Thanks Sabira!

    Is there a pun or the cocktail called mixed metaphor?

    I think I should get that beer. These literary figures of speech, no pun on figure, make me thirsty as Café Ideal from good ol' college neighbourhood will vouch for!


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