Beauty Standards

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Let’s talk about beauty. Specifically, standards of beauty. Something happened recently that prompted me to write this. My family were sitting around the dining table and they were looking at a picture of a baby that someone had sent to them. They were all cooing over how beautiful the baby was. The very very fair and blue eyed Indian baby. So I said - I guarantee you’re only reacting like this because of the colour of this baby’s skin and eyes. They said - no, it was because of how unusual the baby looked. I called BS. Of course the baby was beautiful. All babies are beautiful. But would all babies prompt this reaction? Would they have been swooning over this baby if the baby was unusually DARK skinned for an Indian baby? I’m thinking no. And here is the problem.

Speaking from an Indian perspective, skin colour, to a large extent, determines the way one is treated. The way family members tell you to stay out of the sun for fear of a tan, ‘don’t wear that colour, it makes your skin look darker’, or they suggest skin masks with chickpea flour apparently known to lighten the skin 😂. I laugh because it’s hilarious but so tragic how indoctrinated we are with these narrow standards of beauty - and I haven’t escaped. Did I used to wear fake light grey contact lenses when I was 14 years old because I believed light eyes were more beautiful? Yes I did 🤦🏽‍♀️. Did I often think I looked better in filters that lightened my skin? If I were telling you the God’s honest truth, yes, I did. And I hate that.

Dark skin is not just not beautiful. It is considered downright ugly.

My skin is an in between kind of brown and I have experienced this my whole life, the difference in treatment being particularly evident having grown up with a considerably lighter skinned, green-eyed sister. People would stop me at school and say wow your sister’s eyes are so beautiful. Extended family were constantly commenting on her eyes and skin colour. Going down to the shop on the corner and knowing the shop keeper would comment on how beautiful my sister was and then would look over me and not say anything 😂🙄 It’s not that she’s not - of course she is - but her beauty has to do with so many things apart from her skin and eye colour. These occurrences were pretty much daily and each one hurt. This isn’t an ‘oh poor me’ thing - I honestly look back on these occasions and laugh at the awkwardness of the situation and have since learnt to fall in love with the rich tone of my skin, but when I was young, even up until I went to uni, it affected me so much. Because growing up everything around us tells us that outward appearance is everything. It never once occurred to me that these people might be narrow-minded in their outlook - I just assumed that I was less than. An easy assumption to make as a child when you hear fair-skinned, light-eyed, slim people being called beautiful and not you.

I’m not too sure about the point I’m trying to make. Maybe it’s about how people who look different are treated so very differently. Or how people should take a moment and think before they say or intentionally don’t say something to children - especially siblings when they are both standing right there 😂. I actually don’t think we should comment on a child’s appearance at all. Positive or negative (obviously). It just tells the child that appearance is something to be praised about - something important - when the fact of the matter is that not one of us has done anything to earn the face or eye colour we are born with. We haven’t worked for it - it just is. So I don’t understand the worship of the so-called ‘beautiful’. In fact, in my experience, the people who have been praised for their beauty as a child grow up to have many more self-esteem and image issues - they have been taught that their appearance is their greatest quality - which is terrible. It happened when Arjun was born. His skin is lighter than both Sand and mine and when he was born it was way lighter - and people commented on it all the time as if it was a positive thing - even people our own age - and I would sit there thinking ‘what the hell is going on’. To some extent with older generations I just think OK you’ve spent your whole life thinking a certain way - it might be hard for you to change your perspective now however misguided it is. But people of my parents’ generation and my generation. There really is no excuse.

Going forward it is our job as parents of a new generation to call people out on this behaviour. If it is directed towards anyone but especially towards children. If one child is called beautiful and another is not - interject and say - I’m so lucky to have two such wonderful children. I like the word ‘lovely’. I use it a lot about babies and children. Because all babies are lovely aren’t they? And to me, this word encompasses the baby’s nature and vibe and doesn’t focus on his/her appearance. Let family know that you don’t appreciate comments on your child’s appearance even if the positive ones are I’m sure all well-intentioned. Don’t make appearance a big deal at home. Don’t talk about your appearance in a positive or negative way, whether it’s a ‘how do I look?’ or ‘I’ve lost 5 pounds waheyy!’ or ‘oh god I look terrible today’ ‘urgh I’ve put on so much weight’ etc. Set the tone in your home so that even if people do make thoughtless comments you have reinforced the notion that every person is born with beautiful external and internal qualities and these qualities will be appreciated differently by different people but what matters most is that they themselves know their own worth.

Deepa Devlukia1 Comment