On Being Fair and Not so Lovely

Anyone who has been around Indian and many Asian cultures long enough know that there is an absolute desire to be fair, with bleaching agents part and parcel of many moisturisers and beauty products, and a definite association with fair being better and sought after (this relates in large part to the British and European invaders who had status and wealth and enviable lives).
Not only is there pressure within the Indian culture to be fair (with children often told not to play in the sun too much lest they get dark) there is also pressure particularly for women to be slim and lovely. Slim speaks for itself but in the concept of lovely it would be ‘respectful, adjustable, soft spoken, dutiful’.
Though I am fair (freckly too), I am certainly not slim and I am certainly not lovely by those standards. Coming into a new culture, or being exposed to a new culture it was interesting and sometimes hard to see how frankly and openly people talk about each other’s appearance in India. This is not considered rude in the East as it is in the West, it is just normal conversation which can be hard for a Westerner who is used to not having their insecurities brought up in general conversation.
In fact your size is so often how people judge your age, people thought that I was much older than I am because of my weight due to the expectation that ‘healthy’ or ‘plumpy’ women are housewives with a number of children. Being large (and in charge) people commented on my weight more than I care to remember, they joked when I gained, joked when I lost and generally commented as they liked. I had someone say to my husband in Punjabi (as if I couldn’t understand) that I had gotten fatter. Though comments like this occur in Australia, it was interesting to see how much I was commoditised based on my fairness and weight, as if they were the only things I had to offer my husband and his family.
In terms of fairness most of the pressure is applied to girls, to be fair, stay fair and ultimately use their fairness to gain a ‘better’ or higher ‘status’ husband later in life. Shadeism is rife and everyone is vying to be fairer than they are, even if they end up with a Vitamin D deficiency in doing so. It is an interesting parallel to the West where we try to be tanned and ‘sun kissed’ and avoid sun to avoid damage to our pale, limited melanin skin. I had never even given a thought to my skin tone and pigment in terms of what sort of spouse I would acquire (however my PERSONAL preference was always for tan or darker men).
Even in terms of being lovely – I was never a quiet, dutiful and subservient personality. I was always loud, laughing and I am sure to some people obnoxious, but I never felt the need to remove aspects of my personality to be accepted, whereas in India I definitely was deliberately more subdued.
This is one the aspects of current popular culture in India that I find somewhat absurd, it is disheartening for young girls the world over to be told or made to believe that their appearance and willingness to quieten their inner spirit will get them places in life.
For men that love not so fair, not so slim, and not so lovely girls that love is the first hurdle as it is seen as a step down to marry someone with these traits and with the gossip mill in full swing couples will be talked about.
As they say though, no matter what you do people will talk – those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
Here is to more inclusive and kind standards of beauty of women and men the world over.

One thought on “On Being Fair and Not so Lovely

  1. I like this post because I’ve dealt with this a bit myself. Thankfully, my in-laws love that I’m free spirited and giggly. They love me for me and understood immediately why my husband wanted to be with me. But…whenever I am in India, my weight and appearance is sometimes a topic of conversation amongst friends of the family. It’s definitely something to adjust to being from the west. That’s for certain.


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