Beauty. I find it amazing how one word is enough to send scores of women around the world into a flurry of anxiety, open up the floodgates to insecurities and be willing to do anything to be considered ‘beautiful.’
Our collective desire to look and be considered as ‘beautiful’is one which transcends labels such as race, background, ethnicity and nationality. Everyone everywhere wants to be ‘beautiful’ yet we don’t even have a solid definition of who/what is considered to be ‘beautiful.’
So if looks fade eventually and all we’re left with is our soul, our character and our personality, why do we place such an emphasis on something which is as interchangeable as the leaves on the ground in Autumn?
As a South Asian woman I, like many others, grew up with two views on what is considered to be ‘beautiful.’ The first is a South Asian (in particular Panjabi) lens on beauty and the second is a more Eurocentric view which I’ve grown up in.
However, I don’t believe that the two views are necessarily in conflict with each other. I believe that it’s the merge of both views which is producing conflict in many South Asian women.
Pick between the two: one which doesn’t exist anymore/isn’t as strong or one which you are surrounded by.
South Asian beauty varies, depending on what region you’re from. So for example what is considered to be beautiful in northern states (such Panjab) is probably very different to other regions.
Yet there are some defining commonalities that exist across the board: fair skin, large brown (or lightly coloured) eyes, full lips, long, thick dark hair, full eyebrows and a slim or shapely physique.
Now, there’s a far more stronger European influence as to what constitutes a South Asian woman who is ‘beautiful’ – hence the use of skin bleaching products, lightening your hair and physically altering facial features (such as Roman noses seen in Panjab and sculpting jawlines).
It’s the merge of both views which is producing conflict in many South Asian women.
I’ve seen – and certainly felt – the effects of South Asians moving from wanting to be ‘beautiful’ by their own ethnic groups’ standards to now wanting to be considered as universally ‘beautiful’ by all standards. This impossible to achieve because it’s also where this inner awful conflict begins.
A new fear rises up: I want to be universally ‘beautiful’ but I don’t know where to begin or what to do. Many South Asian women feel as though they’ve been put in a precarious position where they neither fit into a traditional lens of South Asian beauty, which they used to fall back on, yet they do not adhere to this new universal idea of being ‘beautiful’ for which there is no social safety net for them to fall into.
So many find themselves pushed to pick between the two: one which doesn’t exist anymore/isn’t as strong or one which you are surrounded by. And it’s pretty obvious which one they will prefer – yet there has been a recent revival to components of South Asian cultures (including beauty) which have been cast aside in favour of a Eurocentric look.
Granted, when it comes to discussing ideas of racial identiy crises or the remnants of colonial thought rearing its ugly head, this new blurred merge of Eurocentric and South Asian beauty standards isn’t the first thing which springs to mind.
However, I believe that it is a reality which we aren’t paying enough attention to.
It is coming at the cost of thousands of South Asian women’s self-esteem, self-confidence, self-belief and erodes at the value they once instilled in how they view themselves as South Asian women living in a Western society.