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

EducationSkills

Summer has just started and most of you are probably too busy soaking up the sun to think about your first semester of college. But everyone else? Well, if you’re anything like I was the summer before my freshman year, then every other thought that you have is about college.

Is that a good thing? Yes!

It’s good that you’re thinking about college because, before you know it, you’ll be moving in to your dorm room and your life as a college freshman will begin. But don’t be afraid! While college can seem intimidating, it’s not as scary as you think it is. Once you get settled into your room, explore your campus, and get the hang of where all of your classes are, your university won’t feel like home just yet but it’ll be a lot more familiar.

If you want your campus to start to feel like your home away from home, then getting involved is the best way to go about making that happen. You’re probably wondering how you’re supposed to get involved if you’re the new kid on campus. Well, for starters, don’t think that just because you’re new means you can’t get involved. All of the clubs and organizations at your college will be happy to have you because that’s part of what makes college college. Outside of academics, universities thrive on student-run organizations and activities. So, to make the best of your college experience, put yourself out there and become a part of your collegiate community.

Not sure how to do that? That’s okay!

Here are a few tips on how to get involved on your campus:

Join Clubs

Most colleges dedicate a day or even a whole week to showcasing the different kinds of clubs and organizations on campus. Whether your campus has more than forty clubs or less than twenty, make sure you visit as many club/organization tables during your school’s activities fair as you can. Learn about each club and organization by talking to the people at each station, and if you like what they’re about, sign up! Clubs are a great way to submerge yourself into the community and to make new friends.

Look at the Event Calendar

As I said before, universities thrive on student-run organizations and activities. If there are any events or activities happening, chances are students were behind making them happen. Usually there are event calendars posted around campus and maybe even on the school website. Wherever it may be for you, make a note of when things are happening. Is a local band performing in the student community center? Is there a comedian coming to campus? A lot of college events are fun and more importantly free! Don’t miss out on your chance to attend some of them, or better yet, volunteer to work the event. This brings me to my next tip.

Volunteer

If you volunteered at a nursing home every week or helped clean up your neighborhood while you were in high school, that’s great! If you didn’t do a whole lot of volunteering, don’t fret. You still have a chance to get involved with different volunteering organizations. Penn State has an organization that helps raise money for kids with pediatric cancer called THON. Your campus might have a similar organization so ask around to find out. If you’re not into fundraising, see if your campus is affiliated with Habitat For Humanity or any other non-profit organization. If they are, this is your opportunity to get involved with some of them. Just like clubs, volunteering is a great way to network and to become a part of your campus.

Talk to People

Freshmen Orientation is the perfect time to make connections. Your orientation leaders are there to help you, and the great thing about that is – they’re sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They’ve been where you are and know the ins and outs of college and how to get involved. Ask them questions about their college experience and how they went about making the campus their home away from home.

These are just a few tips to get you started on getting involved on your college campus. Trust me, once you find your place at your university, navigating the collegiate world will get easier and, before you know it, you’ll no longer feel like the new kid.

Photo courtesy of Eric E Johnson