"Eis fine girl, how now?" or its more bourgeois cousin "Excuse me. You're a very pretty girl, can we be friends?" are two phrases most Nigerian females have heard by the time they're 16. And not necessarily from teenagers or people around their age grade. It's something we're expected to deal with so much so that you find some men explaining that most females want attention for their looks and without said attention, most females feel like they wasted the time they spent getting ready for the day. That, to be absolutely honest, is crap. But that is not why rice must be eaten this Sunday, or my focus today.
What makes a person beautiful? Is there such a thing as universal beauty or do we all look for features that are somewhat close to the first faces we gazed upon as children (our parents), do we take our cues from the media or is there an aggregation of the values and personal standards of beauty which we all hold? In which case someone please point me to the website. It's confusing, because if our personal standards or beauty are what was formed in our childhood by looking at our parents, then we shouldn't all agree that Beyonce for example is gorgeous. (Do NOT come after me BeyHive, I admit that Beyonce is an exceptionally stunning, good looking woman). So the conclusion here seems to be that as a society we take our cues from the media.
With the power of the media to shape and mold views, opinions and values in mind; issues of representation and stereotypes take on a deeper meaning. If we all accept what we see on TV or in movies or the Internet as what beauty ought to be, then we're all accepting one person or a narrow group of people's standards of beauty. If I say beauty is xyz and I make enough media content to prove it is, some people just might agree that xyz works and in the next couple of years, xyz is considered THE definition of pretty. What happens to the other 23 letters of the Alphabet, who am I (who is anyone really) to say that they are somehow lacking in attractiveness?
You should know that this isn't a random exercise in philosophy. Your looks, and how they are perceived, go a long way in determining a lot of things. Obviously, you can't walk into a bank and demand money just because you're good looking (okay, you can, but you'll probably end up someplace for the mentally unstable) but studies have shown that people considered more attractive tend to get better grades, more friends and more teacher attention while in school. It's even entirely likely that attractive people will get better jobs or be compensated better than their supposedly less attractive colleagues. Attractive people are generally considered more intelligent, friendly, charming and trustworthy by others and they take advantage of this (intentionally or unconsciously) to live better lives.
So what's my point? In the bad old days before the television and internet rescued up from the grips of doldrums and boredom so intense we actually had to read and *gasp* talk to people, we shaped our values both individually and collectively through other spheres of influence, sociologists and media students like to call them 'socializing agents'. They are the people or groups of people that help us figure out who we are and our place in society. They include the family, the school, your religious center, peer group and neighbors. Of all these, the most important is the family, so do your job. All of them have to just as strong as (if not stronger than) the media because leaving it to the media to ensure that you (and probably your kids if you're so inclined) have the right view on beauty and other important issues is setting up society for a bout of narcissism and cruelty to those 'less' attractive ones.
Oh wait, we're already there. Right, but you can make things better by just being aware of the fact that someone's looks are just that - 'looks'.