Category Archives: Beauty

The Many Facets of Beauty: From the Human Body to the Body of Humanity

The question of the objectification of the human body has become an even more sensitive one for me after experiencing pregnancy.  Why is it that the amazing potentialities of the human body to create life are not only limited to only its physical appearance, but that only a limited range of the way a human body can look is considered beautiful—and then it’s not considered beautiful in its fullness, but only because of how well it can gratify sexual appetite?

I don’t think it is wrong to appreciate the physical characteristics of the human body, nor is it wrong to spend time beautifying it further with makeup and carefully chosen clothes.  I actually think that it is showing respect to the human body’s full potentialities when we take care of it.  By the same token, there is nothing wrong with sexual attraction; it is a normal part of the human experience, one that, within the right context, brings great joy.

After all, we are all naturally attracted to beauty, however subjective its perception may be.  Thankfully there is a lot of it all over the place!  Otherwise it would make for a very boring world…

Which brings me to wonder: how do we consciously practice becoming more appreciative of beauty for the right reasons?  When it comes to the human body, how do we teach ourselves to learn to appreciate the beauty in all human forms?  How do we learn to weed out the narrow perception of beauty we have been fed and open up our minds to a broader yet still accept personal differences in opinion?

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

One thing I have found is that using a specific set of questions, or even just using one question as a mantra of sorts, can really help us start our journey towards a broader definition of beauty.  A simple “Why do I find this beautiful?” has helped me and a number of my friends start to understand why we find something beautiful.  Surprisingly enough, without having to do much else, we found ourselves appreciating the same thing in places we never expected to.  So for example, if we found someone beautiful because of the symmetry of their faces, we found ourselves appreciating symmetry on our desks, in buildings, in the way gardens are set up, even in the parking lot on the way to work.

No Bashing Allowed

There is an almost ingrained defensiveness in our opinions related to beauty—or lack thereof.  I think it is very important to let go of this attitude.  If we find something beautiful, that’s fine, even if we don’t understand why—and the same goes for something we don’t find beautiful.  But we have to be completely OK with the fact that not everyone will agree with us.

In the same vein, there is a reason why the narrow conceptions of beauty which society imposes on us has such a hold.  Going around bashing tall, thing, long-legged women goes against the spirit of learning to appreciate beauty in all its forms.  I’ll be the first to admit that models can be absolutely gorgeous.  And thin can definitely be beautiful!  The issue is that models and thin are not the only beautiful bodies around.

Letting Go of Insecurities

I have a feeling that the defensiveness is related to the insecurity that years of being exposed to messages that “anything outside of this narrow range of beauty is not beautiful”.  I know I have it, a number of my friends know they have it.  We have come to understand that us reacting to certain body types extolled as beautiful is a reflection of insecurities further nourished by the fashion and cosmetics industries.  In our journey to broaden our appreciation of beauty, then, we have had to consistently make sure that our insecurities are not keeping us from seeing a certain body type as beautiful for—oh irony—reasons just as superficial as those used to tout them as beautiful in the first place.

Final Thoughts

The idea of figuring out how to appreciate real beauty seems like something superficial to some.  But to me, the implications are huge.  If we can learn to appreciate the diversity of beauty in its physical sense, we can apply those same principles and skills to appreciating the diversity in opinions.  And imagine what we could do in such a world.

The Definition of Beauty: It Can Expand Along with Your Waistline

We are very lucky to be living on planet Earth, because beauty surrounds us. However, it sometimes seems we have forgotten to appreciate it. One of the beautiful things we seem to have forgotten to appreciate is the beauty of the human body.

2013 04 05 - Blog Post - BeautyThe media constantly reminds us of this sad fact. For example, the article 20 Celebs Criticized for Their Curves is a horrifying collection of almost abusive comments about the weight of 20 female celebrities, who rank from pretty to downright gorgeous. These comments include: America Ferrera, a size 6 or 8, being a spokeswoman for curvy women in Hollywood, Kelly Clarkson’s curves being mocked on numerous websites, Mariah Carey being fat or pregnant, Scarlett Johansson’s curves making her look too sexy, Tyra Banks being called fat by Janice Dickinson… Need I add more?

This is not to say that we should never watch our weight. After all, it is one of many indicators of good health. But the line between watching one’s weight for health reasons and watching one’s weight because of societal pressures is a very fine one. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to look good, as long as it does not become the central focus of one’s life. The challenge is in determining what “looking good” means. The current definition of beauty as portrayed in the media is so narrow, that trying to achieve it can – and does – become the source of many physical and emotional ailments.

When one believes that there is a God, and that humans were created to know and worship Him, then concerns about one’s weight should be mainly related to our health, so that we can fulfil this purpose. However, because of the immense pressures exerted by mainstream media (the same that calls the size 6-8 America Ferrera “fat”), it seems like a large part of our day to day life is ruled by concerns about our weight. How interesting that the average human being, a creature endowed with a soul, exerts so much mental energy on maintaining the weight of its body within the limits of an unrealistic definition of beauty.

How can we rid ourselves of the pervasive, unjust influence of this limited-to-the-point-of-cruelty definition of beauty? The first step is awareness. Thankfully there is an ever-increasing amount of that! Next is action at the level of society, a powerful example of which is the recent, successful petition asking Seventeen magazine to stop airbrushing its models. Boycotts are also often called: of tabloids that denigrate women by focusing on size, of fashion magazines that also focus solely on image, of clothing companies that market their wares through models that belong to only one very limited category of beauty.

Society can only advance if change happens at both the level of society and at the level of the individual. What can we do, then, at the level of the individual? We know that we were created in the image of God. We have a right to want to look good, in part by wanting to reach and/or maintain a certain weight. However, we should filter out decisions that have to do with our lower nature from those that have to do with our higher nature. To want to look and feel good by losing weight is not a problem; to forget that the primary way to look and feel good is by achieving emotional and spiritual balance is. To define oneself primarily according to one’s weight is a problem. We should instead primarily define ourselves by our virtues.

We should also remember that man’s reality is his thought. This means that the words we use to talk to others, or even to ourselves, defines our reality. When we greet each other by focusing on how we look physically, it limits our reality to our physical selves. We are telling each other that our physical selves is what deserve the focus of our attention. What if instead, we changed our words to reflect the fact that the focus of our attention is on each other’s souls? Instead of seeing the weight lost, what if we saw the extra bounce in their step, the shine in their eyes, or the way they are holding their heads higher?

So while we should pay attention to our physical well-being and beauty, we should strive to remember that, despite the media’s strong emphasis on the contrary, our main focus should be on our emotional and spiritual well-being. And maybe we should be more interested in the fact that America Ferrera is concerned with the advancement of women and girls, that Kelly Clarkson is involved in the organization “Houses of Hope”, that Mariah Carey donated the royalties to her song “Save the Day” to charities that create awareness to human rights issues, that Scarlett Johansson visited African as a Global Ambassador for Oxfam, and that Tyra Banks founded the TZONE Foundation which aims to empower girls and young women.

Maybe it is time that we focused on the many reasons why these women are beautiful, and not just on their bodies – which are, by the way, beautiful as well, in all the sizes we have seen them in.

Originally Published on Sahar’s Blog on 5 April 2013

The Many Ways of Channelling Beauty

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One of the most beautiful things about humanity is the diversity of the ways we have come up with for doing the same thing. One easy example: cooking. Various parts of the world do completely different things with the same ingredients, and all have the potential to taste excellent.

I for one love having access to all the foods of the world. And most people, while having their own preferences, will not begrudge me for wanting to go to my favourite restaurant. And most amazing is that a majority of people do not seem to begrudge an individual from one ethnic background loving food from another ethnic background. The success of fusion cuisine, which brings together the best from various ethnic cooking techniques, is another sign of people not only accepting differences in cooking, but also learning to build on these differences to make food better. My waistline sometimes suffers from the consequences of this, but that is another story altogether.

It is clear therefore that we have the skills to experiment and learn to create something better out of our differences. How can we apply these skills in arenas of life other than cooking? Perhaps we can move from trying to convince each other of who is right and wrong, to learning to live together in a way that goes beyond tolerance. For example, we could learn to allow divergent lifestyles to cohabit while respecting the differences. Maybe we could even learn to celebrate them, and perhaps one day, learn to build on their respective strengths to create a “fusion lifestyle”.

By focusing on the positive aspects of various lifestyles, we are also cultivate a way of looking at things that filters out the negative and focuses on the positive. As everyone knows, learning to appreciate beauty makes us so much more aware of it, which brings great joy. What effects on a community would learning to appreciate the beauty in all lifestyles be?

One example that comes to mind are weddings. Guests are usually filled with the same sense of joy and reverence when attending a Hindu wedding, a Buddhist wedding, a Bahá’í wedding, or a Christian wedding. They look very different one from the other, but equal in beauty, joy, and happiness. To learn to see all differences in this way would no doubt be quite conducive to creating communities that are filled with joy. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing to see.

Image credit: Chad MaugerOriginally published on Sahar’s Blog on 9 August 2013

The Beauty Issue: From Symptoms to Root Cause

Sahar's Blog 2015 04 02 The Beauty Issue From Symptoms to Root CauseAs discussed last week, France is considering banning super skinny models from its runways in light of the link between high fashion, body image, and eating disorders. While this conversation is an advance in itself, the proposed solution will cause another problem: the marginalization of super skinny women.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

If one analyses the various solutions to this problem proposed in recent years, one will realise that most of them, if not all, will sooner or later yield its own set of problems. This might be because we try to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause. In this case, the symptom has been identified as body issues, and the root cause as super skinny models. But what it both super skinny models and body issues were symptoms of a deeper root cause?

It is often touted that the root cause is a perversion of the definition of beauty, which, if fixed, would eliminate body image issues and eating disorders. But what would we define beauty as? And how can we do so?

Thankfully, while beauty is subjective, broadening our appreciation of the different forms beauty can take can be a very objective affair. We can for example engage our higher thinking processes when it comes to appreciating that both a tall woman and a short one can be beautiful; similarly, a super skinny woman can be just as beautiful as a fat one.

In an era of globalization and increasing interconnectedness, we are exposed to the full diversity of the human family. But at the same time, there are certain extremes that defy conventional norms of health and hygiene. Again, our higher thinking processes can help us separate subjective appreciation of beauty from objective concerns, mostly related to health.

When one defines life as a temporary opportunity to develop virtues in preparation for the next world, the human body is further released from the narrow definitions of health currently ruling it. For the human body becomes our most important tool in fulfilling our purpose in life. While we would still notice the beauty of a symmetrical face, of a graceful body, or of fluid limbs, we would also notice the beauty of any body enabling its owner to develop its soul.

We would also make a body’s health a priority above that of size, shape, colour, etc. We will go beyond accepting all body types; rather, we will focus body. And we will be able to appreciate all body types, from super skinny to super fat, as vessels of our true nature: our souls.

What would modelling look like in such a society? I would like to believe that current women walking the runway will be joined by models of different sizes, shapes, colours, etc. I would also like to believe that they will all be even more beautiful because of the joy they will be emanating—a joy only those who are fulfilling their life’s purpose can emanate.

First published on 2 April 2015 on Sahar’s Blog.

Product Review: Bioré Baking Soda VoxBox (Part 2 of 2)

It’s been two weeks, and as promised in the first part of this post, I have an update on both the Bioré Baking Soda Scrub and Cleanser.

Now I don’t know if it’s because of winter or because I have been really tired lately, but after a wonderful beginning with this product, it started irritating my skin a little. The irritation is limited enough for me not to want to give up on it in the long-term, but enough for me to reconsider using it at this time. I have also considered the possibility that it is just too harsh for the recommended usage of 2-3 times a week for the scrub and daily for the cleanser.

I have also been thinking a lot about using a product from a large company like Bioré and a smaller one, however great the larger company may be. I have been reading up on companies such as Stowaway Cosmetics which, because they are smaller sized, seem to have a better ability to read their reality and adjust to it. Meaning that a small company is much more agile and able to stick to its original principles. So while I trust that reports that Bioré’s parent company has the desire and the will to be a leader in ethics, I trust that smaller companies like Stowaway Cosmetics to be able to more quickly and efficiently make the necessary changes in remaining at the forefront of ethical practices. There are also a lot of implications at the level of the community that I’m still struggling to sort through. In short, wouldn’t a number of smaller cosmetic companies spread throughout the world be better suited to respond to the needs of the members of the community they are located in? These needs would be both personal—a certain range of skin types within a certain specific climate—as well as community-based—using local ingredients, decreasing pollution, creating local jobs and, with people from the same community working on a home-made product, creating stronger bonds of friendship.

More thinking needs to be done about this…

Where does this leave me? I will reduce the frequency with which I use both cleanser and scrub to see if it helps my skin feel less irritated and, instead, just as soft as the first times I used it. If I see no change in my skin, I’ll put them both away until summertime and test them then again.

Recommend? Yes, for now.

Important: I am not an expert when it comes to the environmental effects of products on the environment; I am just a concerned consumer trying to have the least negative impact on the global community. I received these two products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.

The Next Step in Increasing Diversity in Media Aimed at Women

The whole idea of appreciating real beauty is about broadening our understanding of what beauty is. Vertically speaking, it means appreciating physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beauty in each individual. Horizontally speaking, it means appreciating various shades of skin, the various hair types and colors, and the various body shapes and sizes that exist amongst individuals.

Media aimed at women have a strong influence on our perception of beauty. By celebrating only one type of person, either vertically or horizontally speaking, it is implied that others are not worth the while. A broadening of the type of women—both vertically or horizontally—celebrated in the media will, in turn, contribute quite meaningfully to our appreciation of real beauty.

Based on nothing more than my perception and experience, there does seem to be an increase in diversity portrayed in the media. However, there also seems to be quite a few obstacles still ahead of us, one of which hit me recently like Thor’s hammer.

Real or Perceived Diversity?

I was grocery shopping a couple of days ago and passed the magazine aisle on my way to the cash. There I was, casually strolling by. I always glance at magazine covers—they are so glossy and pretty and shiny!—and so I did just that, noting with joy that there were women from different backgrounds on the covers—including Latin American, African-American, and Caucasian—before stepping in line.

As it advanced, a sudden thought hit me. Was it me, or were the faces looking back at me from the magazine rack less diverse than they should have been?

Surprising Revelation

The list of the women on the February 2016 covers I glimpsed and their ethnic background, as per their Wikipedia page, are: Ana Ortiz (Puerto Rican and Irish); Ashley Callingbull (Enoch Cree); Jennifer Lawrence (Caucasian); Katie Holmes (Caucasian); Megyn Kelly (Caucasian); Oprah Winfrey (not pictured; African-American); Penelope Cruz (Spanish); Priyanka Chopra (Indian); Reese Witherspoon (Caucasian); and Rita Ora (Albanian).

One would expect, then, that quite a rainbow of skin colors, facial features, and body types to be gracing us from the magazine stand, no?

That’s what I was expecting, especially when comparing the magazine covers with candid shots of these ladies. But I found myself staring at women’s whose bodies had been thinned out and skin colors had been lightened—women who seem to have been digitally altered to look more like the commonly accepted narrow definition of what beauty is.

The Benefit of the Doubt

Let me be completely fair; there is a fair chance that, as someone who hasn’t done extensive research in this phenomena, I simply got caught in a bad month. That usually there is, indeed, a wide diversity of women that do not look both thinned out and lightened up. This is only one person’s one-time experience.

But what if this is, indeed, the norm? What if my cynicism—honed through years of reading posts and articles and watching denouncing the practices of the beauty and fashion industry—is actually based on reality rather than only my perception of it? I’m going to have to do more research into this, but at this point in time, I feel comfortable in my belief that there is a homogenisation of physical traits on magazine covers.

Unfortunately Unsurprising

We’ve been hearing for quite some time about how the media is manipulating women’s images to fit a certain narrow aesthetic. While there have been some great developments in recent years, such a big problem is not just going to disappear overnight.

Which brings me to my biggest realisation: we shouldn’t lose sight of these challenges that plague our society just because there is no big, breaking news about it anymore. Diversity in the media, the over-retouching of women’s bodies to fit a narrow aesthetic, the gender gap in movies, the gender gap in general—and every single other thing in society—we need to remember that just because there isn’t a big bad story about it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.

Resisting Doing the Ostrich

But there are so many problems going on in the world that, well… I know I have played the ostrich quite a few times in my life. It’s just too much, you know? And I often feel like I’m just one person and I can’t possibly do anything about it. I’m no leader, I’m no public speaker, I’m no [insert whatever position you think I must hold to change the world].

So how can I not forget about all the problems in the world while avoiding becoming so overwhelmed that I would stick my head back in the ground?

Focusing on the Root Cause

As mentioned many times before on this blog, the solutions to big problems are oftentimes quite simple, but are difficult to put in place as they take the consistent efforts of a large number of people. In the case of learning to appreciate the broad range of beauty, the solution is, indeed, simple if we identify the root cause of the problem.

Personally, I think this root cause has to do with a lack of appreciation for the nobility all human beings are born with, a nobility related to their spiritual nature.

The current situation is:

  • Cover pictures are digitally manipulated so that all women, whatever their ethnic background, fit a narrow aesthetic of beauty;
  • This implies that the natural physical characteristics of these women is unworthy of being on a magazine cover;
  • Which further implies that these women’s other sides are not worthy enough to “make up” for being outside this narrow definition of beauty.

My understanding is that:

  • All human beings have souls, therefore they are all noble;
  • Their bodies are a temple to their souls;
  • Temples are spiritual places where the higher nature can commune with its Maker;
  • If a temple is well taken care of it will fulfill its intended purpose;
  • If a temple is fulfilling its intended, higher purpose, can it ever not be beautiful?

When the Vertical and the Horizontal Align

It seems, therefore, that to broaden one’s horizontal appreciation of beauty, one has to broaden one’s vertical appreciation of the same concept; that it is normal, if we deny the spiritual side of human beings, not to be able to appreciate the beauty of the full range of its physical manifestation.

Again, a simple solution, but a complex one.

Barbie has Three New Body Shapes: A Step Forward Well Worth Exploring

You might have heard that Barbie now comes in four different body types. On top of the original body type she is known for (tall, thin, busty, and blond), she also comes in tall, curvy, and petite. The top secret project apparently took years to take shape (ha) and even came with a code name. The Times’ cover story about this development is well worth a read and includes a great video about it to boot.

In it, the author states how Mattel “hopes that the new dolls, with their diverse body types, along with the new skin tones and hair textures introduced last year, will more closely reflect their young owners’ world.” I understood this as meaning that the toy company hopes its new line of Barbie dolls will better reflect an increasingly small world in which diversity seems to be multiplying daily.

The original Barbie had quite a few dedicated haters, to say the least. And while indeed having access to only one kind of doll could imply that other body types and hair and skin colours are not worth being modeled, having access to a whole array of them does not inherently mean that we will learn to appreciate beauty in its full diversity.

I’m glad that there are new body types for Barbie, but I feel like we need to be careful not to go overboard. More specifically, we don’t want the pendulum go completely the other way and have a tall, thin, blond girl be labelled as ugly—which would be a reflection of what happened not long ago with the ban on super skinny models.

The release of Barbie in four body types and so many skin and hair colors is a great step in the direction of broadening our definition of what is beautiful. And just like with the original Barbie, it provides for a great discussion tool. Material things are for the most part not inherently bad; the original Barbie in a home of women who are secure in their bodied, whatever it may look like, wouldn’t cause body image issues.

Similarly, the new dolls in a home of women who are constantly verbalising how unhappy they are with how they look will not solve the body image issue just like that. I hope that we will challenge ourselves to use both the original Barbie and it’s three new body types as a teaching tool for both ourselves and our children to learn what real beauty is all about. Or, conceptually speaking, how can we solve the root cause of this challenge: to look not just at the body, but at the entire person, body, mind, soul, and spirit, when we discuss the concept of beauty?

Header image from Times Magazine.

Blog Review: ‘kate in the classroom’ by Kate

kate in the classroom on Sahar's ReviewsName: Kate Akhtar-Khavari
Blog: kate in the classroom
Her favorite post: tbd

There are a lot of girls out there who are trying to break into the style blogging world that is has become important for bloggers to create a brand that is both broad enough to appeal to a wide audience while at the same time having a unique twist that will keep readers coming. In kate in the classroom, teacher-to-be Kate is all about style within the unique context of the career she is pursuing—yes, education.  You might already be able to tell why I enjoyed writing this blog review!

The ‘it’ factor for this blog is reflected in its categories: seasonal capsule, classroom approved, beauty, in my future classroom, and reflections. Just like last week’s blog, Elle is for Love, Kate is clearly striving to be more than just another fashion blogger. She is trying to tie in her love for fashion with her love for teaching, and infusing all of it with a sense of dedication to the betterment of the world. Her future classroom feature makes me want to send her all the children I know and love to be educated (world citizen? Yes, please!) especially after taking a look at all the resources she has put together in a series of six Pinterest boards.

Kate’s endeavor is still a relatively new one—she has only been blogging since January of this year. But the space she has created since then as well as the content she has been generating make this blog well worth keeping an eye on.

First published on Sahar’s Reviews on 14 August 2015.

Blog Review: ‘Elle is for Love’ by Sépideh Sabati

Elle is for Love on Sahar's ReviewsName: Sépideh Sabati
Blog: Elle is for Love
Her favorite post: http://elleisforlove.com/fashion/fashion-basic-tee

What better blog to launch a new featureon than that of my sister? Elle is for Love is, indeed, a labor of love, and I have been watching Sépideh work hard on putting together a blog that would combine her passions: fashion, beauty, health, and making the world a better place. That she managed to do just that is the major strength of her blog. She isn’t as much interested in making herself look good as much as she is about helping others feel as good as she does, either through inspiration or through practical, easily applicable tips.

Although at first glance, our blogs are completely different, this endeavor of hers has brought us closer together because we are both attempting to break through in the blogosphere with relatively untested formulas. How many blogs look at using fashion and beauty not as a way to enhance oneself, but rather, to ready oneself to enhance the community?  What a way to start a blog review feature!

The website’s design is simple and sleek. Four colours make regular appearances: white, black, grey, and fuchsia. On the landing page can be found the most recent posts; the website’s five sections—beauty, fashion, food, lifestyle, and the mysterious, upcoming “Lovebox”—allow for quick navigation and finding an old post on a specific topic.

It’s not easy putting yourself out there, especially in a hypercritical world. I am proud of my sister for having the courage to not just put herself out there, but being authentic and true to herself, even if it means straying away from mainstream fashion and beauty blogs, the ultimate reason why everyone should give Elle is for Love a try.

First published on Sahar’s Reviews on 7 August 2015.

Blog Review: ‘Rosiemay’ by Rosie Pert

Name: Rosie Pert
Blog: Rosiemay
Her favourite post: http://www.rosiemay.co.nz/2015/05/29/why-is-skinny-a-compliment-and-fat-an-insult/

Sahar's Reviews 2015 09 25 Blog Review RosiemayBlogging since early last year on her website Rosiemay, Rosie Pert has put together since then “a collection of thoughts in respect to fashion, beauty and lifestyle.” She states that she is “all about health and happiness” and that she “love[s] to portray this through writing.” The blog boasts a crisp, clean, modern black and white minimalist look that features five sections: fashion, beauty, lifestyle, food, and one titled “My Project Diary”.

The fashion section includes a really practical series of posts on how to shop for quality items, the first one of which can be found here. There are also some great posts that, instead of feeding fashion advice blindly to readers, seeks to increase their capacity to enjoy fashion. For example, here is a thought-provoking post that challenges readers to ask themselves some really important questions about their look.

The beauty section features some of the usual stuff like hairdos and makeup tips, but also shares with readers easy natural skin care recipes they can do at home. One of my favourite posts in the lifestyle section is one about the Southeast Asian Night Market she attended—there is something about her shots that made me want to reach into the screen and pop into the market. The food section is mostly composed of yummy looking “Weekly Eats” posts

Not everything is rosy and peppy in this blog, as the author admits to having some difficult times with university as well as with her body image (which happens to also be her favourite post). All in all, this blog started strongly and has a lot of potential to grow into a strong voice of things both uplifting and challenging. You can also find Rosie on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.