If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder surely women should not need to keep looking in the mirror
"Ten ways to look thinner, how to get a guy to notice you, remove unwanted hair, how to be beautiful--" The tabloids' bold print pulls in every desperate housewife longing for a body like Eva Longoria.
Everyone's done it. Peruse the magazines while waiting to buy his/her Mom's twenty boxes of Ramen noodles and ten bags of frozen chicken. Yet when I see the weight-obsessed women draped across the covers, the rising rates of teenage anorexia and suicide come to my mind.
Up to 35 million Americans suffer from some type of eating disorder according to the National Eating Disorders Association (cited in Prah). But why so many, I wondered, and how does the definition of beauty by the individual and society factor into it? I can't answer for the American people or even Pacific Islanders.
However, I can define beauty for myself by deconstructing or supporting definitions I was given during my childhood.
As a pre-teen I would let my hair down believing it looked beautiful, until one day at school my friend told me, "You're hair is so thick and frizzy.
Did you brush it?" She chuckled. I never left my hair down again. Accompanying that memory are those of older Tongan women telling me, "Stay out of the sun, you'll get darker than you already are." Then I would cover my face in envy of those who possessed the "correct" qualities. At times I would sit and wish my dark skin would turn fair, my near black eyes turn hazel, and my frizzy black hair-kelo and straight. Of course this had to be beautiful. This was the accepted definition.
But my struggle for self-acceptance was silent. My mom would tell me, "Keep your head in the books and out of the mirror. Intelligence is beauty." So I received the accolades of academia and pushed everything else aside.
However, the biting remarks of my past wouldn't allow me to forget the bitterness of ugliness. This ugliness genetically imposed upon my countenance. I would avoid mirrors knowing I'd see an image of which the world and I disapproved. Because that inner critic would say, "Tuck
this. Straighten that. Minimize this.
Remove that." After another pity session in front of the mirror, I had an 'AHA' moment, a paradigm shift, an epiphany. Whatever it was I realized-I wanted to remove everything that made me Tongan. The gallons of gel to tame my mangled black locks; the long-sleeved, hooded shirts in summer months to cover my arms and
face; the turn-to-the-side-stance in pictures for the illusion of a thin
nose and frame-what was I really masking?
My Tonganess, my inheritance.
I, then, saw for first time the beauty in my Tonganess. I recognized beautiful Pacific Islander young women stripping themselves of their inherited ethnic characteristics and eagerly adopting the majority ideals of beauty: light skin, light hair, light eyes, thin noses, thin
bodies, and straight hair.
And I was disappointed in myself and others for buying into materialism, imperialism, and capitalism.
Immediately, I thought of Hitler and the published documents on the genetically superior Aryan race and how biologically Jews were inferior. This "proof" from science, therefore, gave Nazi's and others the right to systematically exterminate an entire people.
Six million Jews later, the world had a Holocaust. Granted this example is an extreme and I'm not calling the media, fascism, yet extremes can originate from a drop of ignorance. Women should be informed that the motive of tabloids and media similar to it is to make profit.
So what do I deem worthy of my front page Vogue? My mother and grandmothers. Real women without a lick of make-up, dark brown skin and unruly hair.
My grandma in her twenty-year-old pink muumuu paired with patched-up polka dot pants and a hand-woven hat. With the headline reading "Real Women, Real Beauty" and none of this touched-up,
romanticized ideal of women, just reality.
Ironically and fortunately, my definition of beauty cannot be reflected in any mirror.
Beauty /'byu-te/ a noun: A woman who knows who she is and where she's going; who is conscious and selective in decision making, yet teachable; who serves others and lives life with intention and
Now I've been contemplating this conflict between being affected and infected by the society in which I live. To be affected is unavoidable yet to be infected is preventable. I decide the definition of beauty; the definition does not decide me. Yes, society creates standards for
beauty but that doesn't mean I accept them blindly.
There is a separation between my forty dollar shoes and my individual worth.
There are days when I comb my hair and days I just don't care. I realized something no matter how much I wish I will always look Tongan. I have come to revel in that reality. Why? Because I want my children to look Tongan and their children and their children's children, like their
I want to be comfortable in my own skin. And I'm going to rave in the beauty of Tonga that ripples across my demeanor and declares my heritage.
(The author is the first Tongan, to be selected as a winner of Oprah Winfrey's National High School Essay Competition and a recipient of the Bill Gates Millenium Scholarship to the United States.)