You are Beautiful

 

Image sourced from https://www.womenskorner.com

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.

 

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Project AvidScribbler

(c) Avid Scribbler Logo: All Rights Reserved

(c) Avid Scribbler Logo: All Rights Reserved

Tonight’s post is unconventional, in terms of what I normally discuss. I regularly analyse, critique and dissect aspects of the South Asian Diasporic identity (in all of its glory across the world) as I attempt to make sense of it and do my best to help other South Asians view particular topics in a different light.

Every single week, I feel as though I’m about to go into cardiac arrest, for what I say and I am truly thankful for everyone who reads, supports and comments on my blog. You alleviate that anxiety and give me faith to continue writing about this.

Everywhere that I look on the Internet, everyone (and their mums) are writing out inspirational blogs that are a reflection on 2015, what they’ve learnt, how they’ve grown and what they think will happen in 2016. It’s lovely to see, and read, because they are sharing a part of their story with thousands of people on the Internet that they’ve probably never met or ever will meet.

I admire such people; they truly embody what it means to be a writer and it takes a lot more courage, skill and tenacity to write something than write nothing at all.

Whenever I look back on an AvidScribbler blog, I feel taken aback at how personal some of my posts have been this year. I remember the uncomfortable, swirling feeling in my stomach as it tied itself into knots and the burning sensation I get in my throat before I do something I’m not sure of.

You see writing is, and always will be, an act of defiance in some way shape or form. It’s a part of you which comes out onto paper, or a blog, which you then post onto the Internet at the mercy of the world. The best way that I can describe it is like ripping all of your clothes off and standing in the middle of a terrifying thunderstorm; helpless, frightened and vulnerable.

I understand that I’m probably not selling the craft of writing very well here (but then again I never was a natural salesperson!). But I can make this guarantee to you: it is worth it every single time.

It is worth feeling like my stomach is about to drop out of my body to write. It is worth feeling frozen with nerves as I read and watch people’s comments come in as they tell me how a blog made them feel. And it is worth experiencing that burning sensation, every time I open up my emails and read someone’s story that they have decided to share with me after reading a blog.

The latter doesn’t have to even come from my own blog; the beauty of our stories is that it takes courage to share them and that they will always have the capacity to inspire someone, somewhere in our world.

For the next week, I will be doing a mini series: “Project AvidScribbler” where I talk about aspects of being a blogger, a former journalist and my own personal story of where I come from and what has shaped me.  I welcome you to join me, as I experience that same sense of paralytic fear and show another layer to who and what AvidScribbler is all about.

Mind Your Language!

 

Earlier this year, exam boards AQA and OCR announced plans to scrap a number of community languages from the British curriculum. The list of languages, including modern Hebrew, Panjabi, Polish, Gujarati and more, planned to be scrapped by exam board AQA can be found here.

It has sent shock waves through different communities, with many members of the public, teachers, community leaders and several politicians condemning the action. The decision to scrap the vast majority of community languages follows claims that there are not enough examiners in these languages, a low number of pupil uptake and an overall declining interest in learning foreign languages. Both exam boards also stated that they are making the cuts by 2017 in response to changes in the way that exams are assessed. The shake-up of A-levels and GCSEs comes after a study found that 43% of subjects, including Environmental Sciences, Applied Science, Human Biology and more, are not in ‘ overall demand.’

“They are important qualifications, both for speakers in the community but also for the outward-looking trade in the multicultural country that Britain needs to be in the 21st century.” Tristram Hunt

This comes following statistics showing that, in 2014, 625 students sat a GCSE exam in Gujarati and 19 studied it as an A-level. In the same year, a total of 167 students gained an A-level in Panjabi and 42 students sat an A-level exam in Bengali. In addition, the latest statistics from the English Baccelaurate (EBac) has shown that the numbers of pupils taking up Portuguese has increased by 19%, Arabic by 18% and Polish by 18%. Despite the data, these are the very same community languages that OCR and AQA plan to scrap.

I’m not too sure how I feel about this. A part of me is deeply saddened and angry by these exam boards’ decision, while another part of me feels quite hopeless and hurt. As someone who is of Panjabi descent, was born, grew up and received formal education in the UK, this piece of news has felt like a slap in my face. I also find it ironic that the languages being scrapped are also the ones which represent the largest ethnic minority groups in the UK.

We live in a world that is increasingly shrinking, becoming more and more globalised, the proposed plans to scrap community languages has baffled me. On one hand, there’s the argument that “loads of people speak English, what’s the point of languages” and “well English is pretty much India’s second language” to “It’s a waste of time learning those sorts of languages; we can’t even use them.” Firstly, not everyone in India speaks perfect English despite there being a large middle-class. Secondly, languages are a hugely important part of our lives – it’s basic communication. Thirdly, there is so much competition for jobs and people are constantly jostling to have the edge over other candidates; what better skill to have than a language? Fourthly, it is a talent to be able to learn another language – it has been proven that being bilingual keeps your brain sharp and agile.

Since taking up languages at GCSE level were made optional in 2004, numbers have plummeted.

However, on the other hand, many have dismissed any anxieties and said that this shouldn’t dismay those who wish to learn community languages. Some people have suggested that individuals turn to the Internet, local community centres and places of worship should rise to the challenge and start running after-school classes which will teach these languages. This itself is not a bad idea, but the only setback (that I can think of) is that many employers will want to see an officially recognised qualification to back up fluency in a language.

It is a shame to see the importance of languages, outside of Europe, have been cut due to low pupil-uptake and in an attempt to save money. Growing up and studying in a British school, I wasn’t even aware that I could have sat a GCSE in Hindi or Panjabi – the option had never been considered or brought to my attention. It makes me wonder, how many students actually know that they could have gained an academic qualification in their mother tongue?

It further pains me to see that European languages such as German, French and Spanish haven’t seen such cuts despite statistics showing that less than 40% of students choose to learn these languages. It feels as though we have definitely attached financial value/economic gain to certain languages and discarded those that we ‘cannot make money from.’

Learning another language strengthens your brain and helps to protect it from dementia and Alzheimer’s

As someone who is fluent in several languages, both European and Asian, it feels like I’ve been thrown into a parallel universe where things such as the arts, languages and creativity were not appreciated. I often have to pinch myself, hard, to realise that this is in fact happening to us in this day and age. What saddens me even more is that there are not enough of us speaking up and against this. Too many have forgotten the trouble that immigrants go to in order to study English, learn it, adopt an English accent and show it as a sign of integration. This often comes at the risk of losing their own mother tongue and not encouraging their children to learn it, take pride in their heritage and feel confident when speaking it. I remember how ashamed I felt whenever my grandmother spoke Panjabi to me in public.

I believe that community languages are an inherently important part of our lives, especially for those of BAME heritage. For many of us, including myself, it is the only solid link that we have to our heritages and cultures – which is why it hurts me so much. It almost indirectly says to us that ‘your language isn’t worthy of our time and money’ which further suggests that the ethnic groups behind these languages are also not worthy of public time, money and resources. And, for me, I guess that’s why I suddenly feel hopeless.