How do we make sure that the beauty we strive for is real?

I read a quote in an article the other day that said something along the lines of: “Humans have become an epidermis with no soul.” How true do you find this statement?

The idea of beauty has been awfully distorted by the media – images everywhere of women flawless from every aspect. Sure, lowering the gaze may protect us greatly, but unless Muslims consciously ponder this matter, nobody is immune to the pressure of being “drop-dead-gorgeous.” So I thought it would be a good idea to bring up this discussion from a couple of different aspects.

Perfectionism and Lies

Much of the dillema surrounding this topic stems from unhealthy perfectionism. I myself can be idealistic sometimes, which is why this aspect intrigues me most.

A model: A little thinner and taller than the average woman is taken “captive” by makeup “artists”. She is painted and colored and designed and molded. She poses. Then the picture is handed over to the masters of photoshop. She is airbrushed, stretched, squeezed, and fixed so that every single aspect of her body is “perfect.” Eerily perfect. And this product is now a nonverbal lie. That is not what she actually looks like, but that is what the masses are told she looks like, and implied that they should also look like, to be happy. And to be perfect. And, well, perfectly happy of course. Many other “perfect nonverbal lies” are made in this manner, and the spread of lies results in a spread of self-doubt and insecurity.

The Deal with Perfection

Humans are far from perfect – in fact our continuous mistakes and sins are what make us in such dire need for Allah’s mercy and forgiveness. Our physical creation, however, is perfect as Allah almighty says in the Quran: “We have indeed created man in the best shape” [95:4]. Thus, we should be content and pleased with the way Allah has created us, so that in turn Allah will be content and pleased with us.

As a general rule, perfection should not be our aim in anything, because perfection is attributed to Allah azza wa jal alone. Rather, we should aim for “Ihsaan” or “excellence” in everything we have control over from our spirituality to schoolwork. Our outward appearance is nothing different. Practically speaking, eating healthy and exercising frequently should suffice. Otherwise, time spent in this arena should only be proportionate to its importance. And considering all the many duties and responsibilities we have as Muslims, this does not score very high on the importance level. Again, the key is balance. We should not neglect our appearance, but it should not be an issue that consumes our time, emotions, and efforts.

Seeking perfection in this manner is not only destructive regarding the ideals they spread, but it is also a flat out lie. And although lies are everywhere in our world, that does not lessen the magnitude of this sin. Lying is one of the “Major Sins,” and truthfulness is one of the most important qualities a Muslim should be beautified with.

Looking Deeper

If you happen to see one of these images, engage your heart and look deeper into the picture. Behind the smooth complexion, huge eyes, and subtle smile what do you see? Chances are… nothing. What has this airbrushed woman accomplished?

Think of it this way: for what niyah (intention) is this woman trying to beautify herself? Compare it to the noble intentions suggested for beautifying ourselves in Islam. For example, a woman may beautify herself for her spouse, and thus get ajar (reward) for it, and the time in front of the mirror is not a loss. Allah is the Greatest and Most Gracious. When we beautify ourselves at home, we may be getting rewarded for not doing so in public.

Look deeper into the picture, how much time has this same woman spent beautifying her innerself? When you look at it this way, you may make du’aa for Allah to grant her hidaya (guidance) and pity how lost this “perfect-looking” woman really is.

What Really Deserves our Attention?

We were created to be tested. Our focus in life should be what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala expects and commands us to do. Our worry should be how we present ourself before Allah subahanahu wa ta’ala and nobody else. I think the best summary for what really deserves our attention in this short life is this hadeeth:

“Verily Allah does not look to your faces (shapes) or your wealth, but He looks to your hearts and to your deeds” [Muslim].

So if that is how Allah will judge us, that is what we should focus on. How do our hearts look? How are our hearts “shaped” and “colored”? Are they “even”? Are they consistent? Instead of questioning our appearance at the mirror, more often than not, we should be questioning our interior.