Saturday, 14 June 2014

Of Appearances and Stereotypes

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  - John Keats

These immortal lines by Keats all but sum up our overwhelming fascination for everything that is beautiful. Although the great poet compares the eternal beauty of an object of art with the transient beauty of mortals, it is amazing how literally we have taken his thoughts.

It is definitely neither my intention, nor do I possess either the authority or audacity to comment on the words penned by one of the greatest poets English Literature has ever known. But these particular lines have always sparked several questions in my mind – questions that I always suppressed – out of loyalty to my love for the poet and awe for the great teachers of literature who were so passionate about their subject that to contradict a verse so lovely almost sounded like blasphemy.

But questions like these can never be contained for too long – as they torment the mind and force it to ponder deeper, to delve into the hidden recesses of our conscious and sub conscious experiences and arrive at a conclusion that is your own – that you can believe in and live by.

Why are we comforted by Keats’ simple logic? Is the answer to that question somehow connected with the fact that in all our beloved fairy tales – across cultures and geographies – the protagonists are always beautiful and the wicked witch is evil and ugly? So does that mean that beauty symbolizes truth and all that is true is beautiful too?

Is that why the world is kinder to people blessed with external beauty, quick to assume that beauty encompasses calibre, intellect and even character? These are the first impressions I am alluding to – but often times the first impression is the only one, if not the most important one.

There is no denying it then. We live in a world that is swayed by good looks – where we base our judgment of people by the colour of their skin, by how tall they are, how beautiful they look and uphold the age old assumption that character and intellect necessarily reside in a beautiful body.The media too plays its role by constantly bombarding us with pretty images that fuel our desire to compare and compete. The old want to look younger, the young want to look prettier (in the case of us Indians – fairer too) so much so that even childhood seems to have fallen prey to the obsession with beauty.

And here's what's most unfortunate - the greatest irony to have shackled our minds and enslaved our thoughts. Despite belonging to a civilisation that dates back more than 5000 years, from where has sprouted one of the finest philosphies considered to be the fountainhead of ageless wisdom for all humankind, we seem to have plummeted to being one of the most racist cultures on the planet.

Our ancient philosophy tells us that the body is a mere covering for the soul – a vehicle in its journey towards salvation. Yet we delude ourselves into believing the body to be paramount and it is this mistake that distances us from our souls, from realizing the core of our being, from knowing who we really are.

 Although I cannot change attitudes, I needed to make peace with my questions, needed to settle the confusion raging within me, accumulated over decades, which has finally manifested in the form of this outpouring.

This brings me back to the lines by Keats. What he really meant was eternal truth – the divine truth – it was this truth that he equated with beauty. And the body can never represent that eternal truth. It’s the soul, the divinity in us that is beautiful. All we need to do is look beyond the confining parameters of physical beauty and stay connected to our real selves.

The peace has finally been made – not only about appearances and assumptions but also with one of my favourite poets as I can now celebrate his famous words with complete honesty, without as much of an iota of doubt that might tarnish their timeless beauty.

So over to the readers now - what's your take on beauty, truth and stereotypes? Is being beautiful an advantage in our super materialistic world? Have your reactions, choices and decisions been influenced by external appearances? Or can you honestly say that you are free of such prejudices?


  1. :) Prejudices will always be there, till eternity, no matter how saint a person is in penning down his or her thoughts or conduct. Beauty has always been on advantage ans will continue to do so; however, truth will stay too as far as people who knows the difference between continue to live. :) :)

    1. True - I suppose somethings will never change - maybe we just need to accept this fact and learn to live with it. Or should we fight to change these prejudices? Difficult to decide!! Anyways Thanks Sheetal for taking the time to read and leave a comment - the best reward for any writer! :)

  2. Dear Meghana, first and foremost let me tell you, you have beautifully expressed your thoughts & I can't agree more with your doubts and questions evoked in your mind.

    Talking of stereotypes, I think this has existed all along & may be will continue to be so for the limited minds. Someone needs brains to understand beauty is but skin deep & to look beyond the five senses.

    I can honestly confess that till some years ago I too was a prey to superficial looks but it only restricted to 'expecting good out of those people.' Means, I believed or should I say was conditioned to believe being from thorough Indian origins that - when you are endowed with good looks, you need to be generous, careful while dealing with others so as to not hurt them TO escape or avoid the stigma of being tagged as - He / she just looks beautiful but only when he / she opens her mouth or interacts with you, can you see the ugliness behind such beautiful appearance.

    1. Yes indeed you have hit the nail on the head - we need to look beyond the external and give people a fair chance instead of judging them on such superficial parameters.
      Thank you so much for reading and conveying your thoughts. Really appreciate it. L)

  3. Your thought process behind writing this piece is what attracted me. Rarely find someone giving such things some serious thought & invest time behind putting it down & most importantly, making peace with it, logically. Much appreciated.

  4. Coming to stereotypes - I would be lying if I said I never fell prey for attractive looks, please note - 'attractive' (not beautiful) BUT it lasted only till I used by brains to judge it different on parameters.

    1. Shashwati - you've truly made this article a success by doing such justice to it. Once again - thanks a ton. Hope you continue to read my efforts at writing with as much enthusiasm. :)