Who de­cides how you look and what con­sti­tutes beauty?


When I was in Myan­mar with my fam­ily last year, I couldn’t help but no­tice that most of the women and chil­dren had odd­look­ing yel­low patches on their cheeks.

We reck­oned that it was prob­a­bly their ver­sion of the Malaysian bedak se­juk ( cool­ing rice pow­der) and it was amus­ing to see that even some of the men had smeared the yel­low stuff on their cheeks and fore­head.

Later, we found out that this was called “thanaka,” a dis­tinc­tive part of Myanmarese cul­ture dat­ing back some 2,000 years.

The bark or root of the thanaka tree is ground into pow­der, which is then mixed with a mea­sured amount of wa­ter to form a paste.

The scent re­minds one of san­dal­wood, and it sup­pos­edly pro­vides a cool­ing ef­fect and pro­tec­tion from the sun.

Some even go as far as to say it thwarts acne and pro­motes smooth skin.

Come to think of it, I hardly saw any Myanmarese with bad skin, so there may be some truth to it for all we know.

Some­times, the thanaka is drawn on the face in var­i­ous de­signs such as stripes or a leaf.

Ap­par­ently, t his prac­tice of ap­ply­ing thanaka has spread to Thai­land as well.

Wh i le I get how this cul­tural prac­tice is viewed as cos­metic by t he l ocals, I found it a lit­tle com­i­cal t hat t here was a huge bill­board with a model fronting some prod­uct, with the dis­tinc­tive yel­low patches on her cheeks.

We all have our own per­cep­tion of what’s ap­pro­pri­ate for home use and what’s for public con­sump­tion.

And ob­vi­ously, the Myanmarese thought this was per­fectly ac­cept­able and even at­trac­tive.

Bet you’ll never see any ads with pretty women sport­ing bedak se­juk on their faces here!

We also saw the other ex­treme, long-neck Padaung women wear­ing brass rings be­long­ing to the in­dige­nous Karen peo­ple. Story has it that they con­sider the ex­tra-long neck a sign of great beauty and wealth, and that it will at­tract a bet­ter hus­band.

Of course, this bizarre prac­tice is not about to take off any time soon in the mod­ern world as most peo­ple prob­a­bly don’t share their idea of beauty.

The Def­i­ni­tion of Beauty

This got me think­ing about how peo­ple view beauty: how do you de­fine what’s ac­cept­able and what’s not; why are some tem­po­rary fads and oth­ers con­sid­ered clas­sic main­stays?

For in­stance, most of us don’t think twice about get­ting eye­lid surgery to get rid of ag­ing eye­bags.

A lit­tle nip and tuck to lift sag­ging skin, or a nose job to en­hance your fea­tures, are seen as pos­i­tive steps to boost self­con­fi­dence and, un­de­ni­ably, feed our un­quench­able thirst for eter­nal youth.

In fact, plas­tic surgery has be­come so com­mon that sta­tis­tics in 2012 sug­gests that one in five women in South Korea have gone un­der the knife.

Most girls would have done some­thing to their faces once they hit 19 as they don’t want to be left be­hind by their peers.

Ac­cord­ing to newyorker. com, re­marks such as “You would be a lot pret­tier if you just had your jaw ta­pered,” are no more in­sult­ing than “You’d get a lot more for your apart­ment if you re­did the kitchen.” Whoa! That’s mind- bog­gling as it makes me won­der: Where does one draw the line on what’s enough mod­i­fi­ca­tion to our God- given fea­tures be­fore it goes too far?

The cur­rent trend in South Korea that’s spread­ing to other Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore, calls for women to have large eyes, nar­row thin noses, all con­tained within a small V- shaped jaw­line. In 2013, a pic­ture of as­pir­ing Korean beauty queens went vi­ral as ne­ti­zens com­plained that plas­tic surgery made them all look like clones of each other. Whi le I baulk at the how t hese girls brave through painful pro­ce­dures just to con­form to what so­ci­ety thinks is pretty, there are oth­ers who think the look is quite cool and trendy.

My friend May, for in­stance, felt the girls looked beau­ti­ful, and that the fad was cur­rent, dif­fer­ent and in­ter­est­ing.

The latest was a case in China where a 15- year- old un­der­went ma­jor surgery to achieve this cov­eted look.

I find all this wor­ry­ing be­cause as this trend catches on over here and young women get caught up in the pur­suit of su­per­fi­cial beauty, they will no longer rec­og­nize the value of self-worth and other pos­i­tive life skills.

Aes­thet­ics prac­ti­tioner Dr. Anna Hoo made a very per­ti­nent point when I in­ter­viewed her re­cently.

She said that it was im­por­tant for one’s out­look and in­ner self to be aligned.

If some­one changes her en­tire face just to fit the im­age of what other peo­ple con­sider beau­ti­ful, it may not be truly what she wants for her­self.

And what’s worse, there’s no guar­an­tee that one will be happy af­ter that ei­ther.

We’re all in search of that elu­sive blue­bird of hap­pi­ness. But I reckon it’s go­ing to take a long jour­ney of dis­cov­ery, and not just plas­tic surgery, to get there.

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