The beautiful woman in the West, and across the wider world has come to be a very specific, defined image – A woman who is tall, a size zero, has symmetrical facial features with the right sized nose, ‘bee stung’ lips and glossy hair is often held up as the ideal.
This standard of the ‘beautiful woman’ was initially defined by Western Capitalist nations where women who fit this image have been hugely associated with success, confidence and being valued and respected in society. Germaine Greer, the Western feminist and writer, further explains the link between beauty and achievement in her book, The Whole Woman: “Every woman knows that, regardless of all her other achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful” Muslim women too have set out on the quest to attain this ideal image of beauty to feel valued.
However it is important to understand that the image that a woman seeks to adopt represents not only how she wishes to present herself to the world physically but it also represents her identity – how she views life and how she wishes to live her life.
The Western woman prides herself on being strong and independent, holding the belief that she is free to define the image that she wishes to adopt in life – as is claimed under secular liberal societies. But the reality is far removed from this naïve view. The Western capitalist society which values profit over principle has set the ‘standard’ of what constitutes beauty and it is this specific look which is glamorized in fashion and lifestyle magazines and through the multibillion dollar beauty and cosmetics industries.
Is the Western ideal of beauty achievable?
The success of the beauty and cosmetic industries largely depends upon the very fact that the image of a beautiful woman is unattainable as both industries thrive on the insecurities of women – forcing them to buy beauty product after product or undergo painful cosmetic surgeries in order to keep racing towards this image.
It is irrational to expect that women of a single community let alone the entire world should measure up to a certain height, a certain weight, a certain shade of skin and hair color, a certain look and a certain age. The fact that this thinking does not fit the reality of life is further reflected in the well-known fact that the advertisement industry routinely resorts to artificial measures such as airbrushing and digital re-touching to project the ideal beauty image.
In Islam there is no fixed concept of beauty. Islam does not set up unrealistic standards and then expect to meet these rather it tells us what image we need to adopt in various circumstances. Beauty for the Muslim women is to follow the ahkaaam shariah and ugliness is to leave these and follow our own desires.
To adopt this kind of attitude is within everyone’s capability and rescues us from the pressure to be ‘in’ and changing our skin color, waist size etc beyond realistic standards.
The Muslim woman has a fixed basis to judge herself and others. The basis does not change according to the latest trends. She values obedience to Allah(Swt) and knows this is the correct measure of success.
“The most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has most Taqwa” [TMQ Al-Hujrat 13]
Therefore the main concern we should have is not what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’ but are we a whole Islamic Personality, who thinks about all things with the glasses of Islam.
We should realize that there is a billion dollar fraud going on. No one really looks like the pictures in magazines which are always airbrushed and distorted. The ideals we seek should come from Islam alone as this is the correct viewpoint for everything. Let us become thinking Muslim women who value the correct things and not become obsessed by what the top models are wearing, which cream will make us look whiter and which diet we should try next. Ultimately, the Dominant Capitalist system, focuses only on making money, it is the root cause that imposes these standards so it needs to be challenged and changed.