Problematic Road to Beauty

May 1 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew

One of Boonaa Mohammed’s spoken-word pieces of poetry is titled, "Beautiful." The Canadian of Ethiopian descent took up the subject of women and appearances with this poem, discussing how we torture ourselves to appear beautiful.

Most of the time, in dressing the way we do, we only succeed in attracting the wrong sort of attention. This is not to say that women do not have the right to wear whatever they desire and should be judged for wearing revealing clothes. Some women like to flaunt and show off what they have, and to some extent, that is alright.

Recently, I got into an argument with a friend while watching TV. One of the news stories was about how India has the highest rate of sexual violence in the world. The friend, who is male, said that sometimes it is the woman's fault.

"Some women are begging for it with the way they dress," he said.

He was, in fact, taking a line from Dave Chappelle, a famous comedian that thrives on shocking people with the statements he makes. His style of comedy is not for everyone, and some of his comments about women have been problematic.

"If you are in a police uniform, I would assume you are a police officer, so if I come running to you asking for help, you wouldn't say, 'Just because I am in a police uniform, it doesn't mean I am a police officer,'" he said in one of his stand-up routines.

He was implying that women who are dressed a certain way are “asking for it” and are, to some extent, responsible for the men who objectify them sexually.

Indeed, the more revealing a woman's clothing is, the more attention she is seeking. But then again, the desire to be noticed and be called beautiful is not necessarily “asking for it.” Sometimes we just like the outfit. This does not in any way give men permission to make a move or to assault women. It is only human to want to be complimented and be called beautiful. This is not something we should be punished for.

Let us also not forget that it is not only women who are assaulted even when they are dressed modestly. Harassment has much more to do with what is going on in the man’s mind than what a woman is wearing.

Something along these lines occurred to a friend of mine a few months ago. She went to a lounge with her sister and her sister's boyfriend on Valentine's Day. They were sitting there enjoying themselves when, out of the blue, the guys at the next table insisted on joining them. They politely refused.

One of the guys asked, "Why are you here, if you don't want to mingle?"

Matters escalated from there on and the night ended with one of the guy's physically assaulting my friend's sister, who had her teeth knocked out. He later had the audacity to refuse to pay for her dental expenses, and insisted that an apology sufficed to make up for what he had done.

This is all indeed frustrating. But I am not at all naïve about the impact the culture and entertainment industries have had on us women either. Men are entirely culpable for assaulting women regardless of the way we look, but the lengths we go to and the sacrifices we make to look like movie stars and models is problematic as well.

If we were all content with the way we look, the cosmetic industry would have long ago run out of business. Some of us could have bought a car with the money we spend on clothes, hair and makeup if we were more carefree.

I am one of those women who needs to look good to feel good. Most of us women spend more time and energy on our looks than men. There are indeed women that pursue knowledge over looks, but most of us take the societal expectation to be well kept, clean and presentable a little too seriously. It puts pressure on us to act in a certain manner.

There is irony in all of this. On the one hand, the culture and certain industries push us to look a specific way. On the other hand, there is the backward notion that women should be held responsible for the sexual harassment and assaults they experience because of the way they have chosen to dress, which is usually an extension of the way cultures and industries want us to look.

Women are made to come out as losers on both ends.

PUBLISHED ON May 01,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1044]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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