What did you want to be when you were a child?
At thirteen, I was determined to be beautiful, a resolution I penned in a recently excavated diary at my family home. The steps toward this goal were clear: lose 10 kilograms, get a smaller waist, and develop six-pack abs. As a result of the environment I grew up in, my thoughts were consumed solely by the relentless pursuit of what I perceived as beauty, having little consideration for my health and well-being. The success of this endeavour hinged primarily on my appeal to a male audience.
Over a decade later, my perception of beauty has evolved; I now recognise it as a social construct. Yet, I still find myself an occasional prisoner of these oppressive, toxic thoughts and ideals deeply ingrained in my psyche – and our systems: a struggle explored by the current exhibition at Wellcome Collection in London, titled The Cult of Beauty (26 October 2023 – 28 April 2024). Accompanied by the book I wish I could present to my younger self, Disobedient Bodies: Reclaim Your Unruly Beauty by writer and broadcaster Emma Dabiri, the show offers an alternative perspective, prompting introspection on the very essence of what it means to be beautiful and how we can do it differently.
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