A panel comprising actress Manisha Koirala, writers Germaine Greer and Madhavi Menon, along with classical dancer Sonal Mansingh on the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival here questioned the age-old paradigms of female beauty, while challenging stereotypes and ideals of beauty spread by popular media.

Moderator Sharad P. Paul, a skin cancer specialist and Adjunct Professor at the Auckland University of Technology, questioned whether “women today are under pressure to please others, or try conforming to others’ concept of beauty as compared to a few decades ago”.

The indulgence in regards to beauty has grown “too much for outer appearance”, said Sonal Mansingh, who is also an MP, choreographer and author.

“Everyone has some quality, which has to be nourished to feel beautiful,” but we also have these flimsy ephemeral role models in the media who tell us how to feel beautiful, she said.

Young people today “feel they are not good enough”, commented Koirala, who promotes social causes such as women’s rights, prevention of human trafficking and cancer awareness.

She elucidated that the illusionary idea of what their appearances should be, governs young people to the extent that many opt for cosmetic surgeries, even before their own physical features gets time to form.

As an actor, the demand to look pretty and beautiful all the time “is a huge burden for me”, she said, before observing that today’s standards of beauty focusing on size zero is a result of media and marketing.

“Something that shines from within, your kindness and knowledge and wisdom, that is far more attractive and beautiful,” Koirala said.

Madhavi Menon, author and professor of English and Director of the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality at Ashoka University, said that the ideal for beauty used to be an “absolutely hairless body with long hair on the head”, whereas, today it is something else.

She emphasised that capitalism, thriving on the concept of “divide and rule to make more distinctive markets”, sells “illusionary ideals of beauty”. Menon pointed the worldwide phenomenon, that in general, men can grow older but a woman has to remain a ‘baby’ in a heterosexual relationship”.

She urged the mostly young audience, to “stop for a second and think before what you are doing, before you pierce your lips”.

“We have assumed that the woman is the object because the woman buys make-up products and the boy does not have to put on any make-up,” said Germaine Greer, writer, academic, and one of the most significant feminist voices of our time.

Greer shared that rather than the beauty that is derived from one’s “mitochondrial DNA”, the aura of one’s inner beauty is of much more significance.

“Being proud of what you are” and living and leading with confidence, without the requirement of the reassurance resulting from artificial physical customization, is something that young people today must adore, Greer added.