CultureHealth

“Beauty comes at a price.” There’s a sentence we have all heard, without doubt. Physical beauty, especially, comes at such a price. Waxing, bleaching, plucking, shaving, and threading…things all us ladies (and some men) have spent countless hours at the salon doing.  But as Americans, what’s our take on beauty? What’s physically attractive, and what’s not physically attractive? Who decides these rules? How do American standards of pulchritude compare to those of the Eastern world?

I am currently in India, and I had the chance to interview several people about what they believe is beautiful in a woman.  Here are a few perspectives from the East:

“When I marry the girl of my dreams, I want her to be as fair as the moon…lips as red as cherries, and very black hair. I think a girl like that would be very attractive.”

“Milky white skin. Like Kareena Kapoor and Tammanah Bhatia, the Bollywood actresses. Intellect would be a great addition to those looks, though.”

“As a girl, I’ve always been told to use fairness products. They’re supposed to elicit the true beauty out of me or something. I don’t know though, they don’t really work. But that’s what everyone wants: whiteness.”

I interviewed 12 people, but I had to stop because everyone said the same thing: fairness, whiteness, and lightness. Everybody seemed to be in love with the concept of being light-skinned. In fact, what I like to call the “Fairness Industry,” is booming not only in India, but in Asia as well. Take a look at these creams and their purpose:

beauty cream

Phrases like “healthy white” and “fair and lovely” capsize the mind at first glance. It almost seems as though being white and fair is associated with being “healthy” and “lovely.” Is this a social stigma? Do young Asian girls have to be fair-skinned to be beautiful? Skin bleaching products such as creams and gels certainly do exist in the USA, but they are nowhere near as popular there as they are in Asia as a whole. Where does the idea of equating attractiveness to fairness stem from?

Back in the day, those who toiled in the fields and struggled in blistering heat possessed a darker skin tone than those who remained indoors, living in luxury and royalty. Having darker pigmentation became easily associated with being poor or part of the working class. Skin color became associated with wealth, and those who were more affluent were also seen as more desirable.

Let’s zoom forward to present-day Bollywood. Recently, the Hindi film “Gori Tere Pyaar Mein” came out. The title literally translates to “In your love, fair-skinned girl.” Why not make a film called “Kali Tere Pyaar Mein,” or “In your love, dark-skinned girl?” Once again, movies in India emphasize the glowing fairness of girl as beautiful, leaving no room for the majority of the olive to tan to dark-complexioned people. With subliminal messages like this, those of us who are not fair are almost forced to believe that we are not as attractive to our white counterparts. I can provide a personal example of this, as one of my North Indian friends (who is quite fair in complexion) teased me for being a dark-toned South Indian (we inhabit areas closer to the equator, so what do you expect?) once. Since when is being more pigmented a sin? Why are fair people automatically deemed beautiful, while darker skinned girls struggle to earn that title?

What about America? What do American girls believe will make them look beautiful? The answer is essentially the opposite of Asia’s: America wants tan girls. The tanning industry prospers in America: fake tans, tanning beds, and other “tan-in-a-can” products are quite the profitable investment. When summer comes around, millions of girls rush to the beach to bronze themselves. I’ve seen girls from my high school spend their paychecks on tanning beds in the winter…yes, in the winter, when there’s barely any sun and being slightly pale is a commonplace occurrence. It’s ludicrous to see what our young girls do their skin…whether they want to bleach it or bronze it. I had several Caucasian friends tell me “Wow, I wish I was tan like you. Your tan lasts year-round.” It feels weird to be castigated by one community for being tan, and complimented by another for the same thing. Why can’t we all just be proud of our original skin color?

However, there is one characteristic of beauty that seemed to be popular in India and America: skinniness. Perhaps the struggle to be slim is a global epidemic, as well. Dieting pills, weight-loss programs, V-shapers…they’re everywhere. Magazines, movies, retweets made by several of my guy friends that I follow on Twitter all depict skinny actresses and models. As girls, we are constantly surrounded by sources that tell us that skinny is right and that people need to see our collarbones…or else we are just not beautiful.

And once we gain that skinny body through hours at gym and spent dieting, we need to show it off, don’t we? Let’s take a detour and play the skin game. The more skin you reveal, the sexier you are. That sentence should’ve made most of us feel somewhat uncomfortable. We live in a society where the female body is such a weird object: people want to see girls naked, but once they do, certain girls who exposed their bodies are slut-shamed. Girls are heavily imposed with a double standard in this sense. What do you want her to do? Take her clothes off? Will you still respect her after? These are the relevant questions that you should ask yourself if you’re interested in a particular girl. Find those answers and don’t dive into a cesspool of hypocrisy.

So girls, what makes you beautiful? Your complexion? Your weight? The amount of clothes you wear? Truly, there is no right answer. Society tries to oppress you with what it believes to be beautiful. Certain people assume that there is only one ideal look for beauty, whereas in reality, that’s just not that case. We need to celebrate our diversity. We can do so by not succumbing to a certain weight and pigmentation. If you want to wear a religious veil and cover your body, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to keep your original skin color, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to eat that juicy sandwich from McDonald’s, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to embrace your originality and the looks you were born with, you should be allowed to do so.

Your youth shouldn’t be spent on altering yourself physically to gain acceptance from society. It should be more about educating yourself and being happy. Society will always say one thing or the other, but it’s up to us to choose what we want to listen to.

Image: The Resurgence

CultureEducation

What does it mean to be a girl? That is the opening question presented in Always’ new “Run Like A Girl” campaign. According to the subjects in the commercial, to run or throw like a girl is an insult; it is a sign of weaknesses or inferiority. But when the directors asked girls who had not yet reached puberty what it meant to run like a girl, these young girls ran and threw invisible balls like any normal human being would: with all of their strength and effort available.

Somewhere along the years, the overtly sexual and male-dominant media saturates the minds of young boys and girls with images teaching them that boys need to be powerful and better than girls. Thus, as a culture, young girls are raised to be insecure. “…like a girl” has now become a means of humiliating another person rather than representing a gender’s capabilities.

In the documentary Miss Representation, the filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores how the media’s obsession with women’s appearances and the lack of strong female role models in media has affected girls today. Some of the adolescent girls interviewed for the film expounded upon their own stories of their struggle with body image, showing how this shift to harmful media has damaged the young female psyche. The film also explains how if you were to ask boys and girls who had not yet gone through puberty if they would like to be president, most would raise their hand. But by the age of 15, there becomes a large gap between the number of boys and the number of girls who wish to run the country one day.

The media exploits the female body in sexual, demeaning, or violent manners in order sell products with little thought of how this alters the mind of children. The media sources claim that these actions are done to please the public’s wants, which is a complete fallacy. They are satisfying the needs of other media and advertisement companies in exchange for dollar signs six-figure salaries. All the while, this is done at the expense of our young girls’ confidence.

Media and film outlets have attempted to lift this burden of off girls before with films such as Million Dollar Baby or A League of Their Own, presenting how women can do just as well as men, can be just a tough, powerful, and in-control as men. However, these films are drowned out by advertisements of stick-thin scantily-clad girls being pinned down by husky male models and by television shows that glorify the female body over the mind (i.e. Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars). And don’t forget about the video games that portray women as objects rather than subjects- when you play Tomb Raider or Mortal Combat you don’t naturally project yourself into the character’s shoes, you feel as though you play alongside Lara Croft and need to protect her.

So what does this mean for young girls today? It means that they’ve become the universal punch-line of boys’ locker rooms and sports fields alike. By teaching young people today that physicality is a trait of masculinity, the media is reserving those actions for the male demographic, reducing the role of women in another category. What young and old alike need now is to become consciously aware of this so as to not pass these notions on to future generations and teach them to be aware of the control of media.

Image: Always #LikeAGirl