The search for beauty can often be ugly and diminishing. A recently conducted survey reveals some unsettling statistics about the pressures and anxieties around conforming to this narrow definition of beauty in the run-up to marriage. An alarming 9 out of 10 single women in India feel that they are judged based on their looks during the matchmaking process. These unpleasant incidents are bound to shatter any young woman’s self-esteem and body confidence. The pressure to adhere to a singular vision of beauty is intense. With an aim to end this #BeautyTest, we spotlight the personal journeys of five women who have faced beauty biases on the basis of body type, skin colour, height, scars, and hair types as they share narratives of how they’ve risen above these and love the skin they are in.
YOUNG AND RESTLESS
The pressure to fit into the societal standard of beauty starts very early on in a woman’s life and she is conditioned into becoming critical about how she looks from her early years. It starts in the form of innocuous advice at a very young age (below 10 years) and intensifies as she becomes an adolescent (10-18 years), dealing with her changing body, peer pressure, and the innate need for acceptance in society. For Noor Zahira, a freelance journalist from Bengaluru, colour-shaming is something she has had to contend, with her family and relatives nudging her to lighten her skin tone. “Because my mother is fair-skinned and my father is of a darker complexion, I’ve grown up being told to scrub my face with turmeric, curd, or multani mitti in order to get fairer skin. When I entered my adolescent years, I was told that I would have to compromise on my choice of men for marriage – I would probably end up with somebody who isn’t well-educated or in a high position at a company, all because of the colour of my skin,” she says.
The result of the negative comments girls hear at a young age is why a large number of them feel less confident about the way they look and are then likely to experience stress, anxiety, and depression due to lower self-esteem.
“I was a chubby child, I was always told that if I lose weight now it won’t create a problem in the future because when you grow up it is harder to lose weight. I never understood the relevance of those few kilos, but I have been subjected to this criticism for several years, many times my relatives pass these comments as a joke, but it still stings,” shares Mahak Wadhwa, an MBBS student based in New Delhi.
Deeksha Singh, a news editor from Etawah, in Uttar Pradesh, recollects how she was treated differently from her peers because of the birthmark on her face, “As a child, I enjoyed dancing but despite being good at it, I was always made to stand at the back of the class on the basis of my appearance. Being young and bogged down by criticism, I used to try all sorts of remedies – I’ve used peel-off masks thinking that would erase my birthmark. People were very insensitive through the years – they would verbally mock me as well as physically pick and poke the spot asking me what had happened to my face. These were questions I was not ready to answer. I spent many moments crying alone in the bathroom.”
The experiences faced in these impressionable years are known to have a deep impact on self-image and self-esteem for years to come, “There is a barrage of negative comments right since childhood. Children form these impressions at a very young age, from 6-8 years, and wonder, ‘Why am I like this? Why was I given this colour?’ This creates a negative predisposition in everyday life,” explains Dr Anupama Kapoor, a psychologist. It is no surprise that 45 per cent of women interviewed recall being told: “You are not beautiful enough” and “Who will want to marry you” when they were young.
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