Revolutionising the Beauty Handbook


I present to you, ‘The Intelligence Test’



I am a painfully superficial person. It’s not a confession with the intent to apologism. Nor was this some sort of epiphany that radically changed the way I think. What it is is just the way society has ingrained certain criteria for beauty in me. I look at people and characterise them as ‘pretty’ or ‘fugly’ before getting to know them. It’s my default setting. I don’t really force it. Nor do I try and question my attitude towards the outward appearance of people.

It’s true for most people around me. What compelled me to realise this was an interesting conversation I had with a friend, DD*. DD is a superficial fellow as well (and I don’t blame him). He adheres to the time-tested ‘rank-her-if-you-like-her’ system to gauge how attractive a person is. There is a yardstick and that, considering how people in the subcontinent (Pakistan and India) think, is usually white people. Clichés such as finding Megan Fox and Brat Pitt attractive are considered acceptable, however dull it makes people out to be. Or if you’re more aware of pop culture, the yardstick may include slightly lesser-known celebrities (Jessica Biel and Henry Cavill, let’s say). But the yardstick is white people, essentially. South Asian girls are judged for their skin colour, height, weight, hair colour, eye colour and men for their fat-content, proportionality of facial features, skin colour, eye colour, hair colour, height and so on.

Sadly, this system, however foolproof, instructive, enlightening and accurate, is, I’m afraid, reductive. But then most opinions that we make do employ reduction, induction and deduction, don’t they? So why question a system that objectively evaluates people for the way they look? Well, for one, let’s reconsider how we understand the notion of what’s ‘objective’.

What we are doing is applying standards of beauty rampant in the Western society to ours. Though the society in question is a dynamic one that doesn’t uphold any permanent standards of beauty as such and finds, by the way, Hispanic and Asian people attractive these days.

How is it, then, that they came upon the conclusion that people with a darker skin tone or immensely different features might be considered good looking as well? Are they more aware? Morally and ethically superior to us? More profound? Or have they made more political strides? I just think they are exposed to better and more diverse television and media than us and have acquired tastes that reflect a sort of global consciousness. Pop culture does, in the end, dictate what we consider beautiful. Even if the standard is out of Bollywood, the same rules apply. Also that entire drivel about fairness being a colonial legacy and yada yada could also be applicable here.

That aside, here’s the twist.

In a conversation with DD, he may have opened my eyes towards just how we take our superficiality for granted on a daily basis. Let’s suppose a man, Single D, who has a penchant for this ranking exercise. He’d rate himself first. Then he would rate women he found attractive and would smugly compare them with each other as if he had just concocted a theory with claim to undisputed scientific truth. His theory, although just as significant as discovering the elixir of immortality, would be a harrowingly accurate depiction of our societal attitudes. I’m guessing the reason he rated himself first was to not come across as a douche and superficial misogynist but as a member of some twisted breed feminist cult who treats women just as shittily as he would himself. Yes, the point I’m trying to make is that women are judged for the way they look in our society more than men are. I’d demonstrate this through a personal example.

A dear friend of mine, V, is getting married. V is a very attractive and intelligent young woman with less than five percent body fat, who perceives the world through a very informed lens. Her fiancé weighs 105 kilograms and is considerably older than her. Surprisingly, she accepts him just the way he is. Despite her initial reservations, V did judge the man for being polite and thoughtful rather than just a middle aged blob with fat genes that could be transferred to her children, making life rather difficult for them (probably a train-of-thought that people might have while choosing their life partners). One of the reasons V was convinced was also that her mother dismissively told her she was ‘difficult’ and only a man like him would ‘compromise’ with her.

Now if the sexes were reversed in this case and she was a woman who weighed a 105 kilograms, she wouldn’t even be considered in (the esteemed and accepted without question) rishta market (the marketplace of marriage prospects). Heck, even if she weighed 60 kilograms, her in-laws might have blatantly demanded that she lost weight to look like Kate Middleton for her royal wedding.

Having to look like Kate Middy aside, even finding a suitor is like getting a job during recession and the rishta process (how the marriages of Pakistani women are ‘suitably’ and ‘appropriately’ arranged) is like an unendingly frustrating and demeaning job-hunt — only it’s more of a gamble for both the employer and the employee. One’s CV has a little box with DD’s scale printed on top and that’s the most credible qualification for hiring. Skill-sets include being a Michelin-star chef, being able to talk about pretty hair, clothes and makeup, being able to ‘compromise’ (the most popular word we hear instead of ‘compatibility’ as the prerequisite for a good marriage), being chaste and thoroughly ambitionless and mostly quiet and boring. I’m still glad that my friend transcended her concerns about the man’s weight and considered his person rather than being superficial and dismissing him. But I would say this irked me enough to jokingly suggest that she put him on a diet. Because, I’m superficial.

Now DD’s system gave me the idea that I should formulate a parallel system of ratings. We rate movies, books, hair products, cosmetics, restaurants, food, hotels, basically all luxuries. But we also rate people for the way they look. Why don’t we ever rate people over how intelligent they are? I’m proposing something different from an IQ test, which I think, fails to account for the way people read, retain, understand and cross-apply things to their lives. And I’m suggesting we really perpetuate these ratings.

“On the scale of Kim Kardashian to Naom Chomsky, how intelligent do you think you are?”

There are more chances for us to be objective on this scale. I would like to conduct an intelligence test for my suitors — up the ante on the template of a corporate job application cum an elaborate teleological game show. The test would include:

  1. Questions from books that are essential for every intelligent person to have read. Because a study found that a lot of people lie about having read a book like ‘1984’ even if they really have not.
  2. Ability to be logically consistent, cogent and politically lucid while constructing an opinion, which has to be well-informed and not copied off two news articles and a plethora of news channels.
  3. Reading and comprehension speed. Along with writing prowess and writing speed. The ability to cohere should be important. This will be sort of like a mini-TOEFL.
  4. Talents/skills/interests — just to make sure you aren’t a dullard.
  5. Problem-solving skills — must know you wouldn’t freak out in a maze. Even rats are better than that unless they’re drunk.

On a serious note, if we ever manage to reach that high point in our social lives that we decide to regard intelligence, education, awareness and being well read and considerate as more virtuous qualities in people than superficial standards of beauty, we would have more chances of achieving Utopian happiness, prosperity, peace, freedom and equality. Unless, of course, your Utopia has countless dim witted, chaste houris running around you and coveting even the most profoundly unattractive things about you.


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