Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fairly beautiful I guess...

Coming from an Indian family and growing up in America I was exposed to two different views of beauty.  Indian ideals of beauty can be illustrated, without much disagreement, in Aishwairya Rai Bachan a Bollywood film actress whose fair skin, light-colored almond shaped eyes and hourglass figure captivate audiences in India and around the world.  She is without a doubt gorgeous and beautiful.

Aishwariya Rai Bachan, Image from bollywoodassorti.com

Other ideals of Indian beauty include long, thick dark hair on your head of course but hairless everywhere else.  This ideal drives many Indian women, myself included, to pluck, thread, shave and wax...cause in my experience if you have thick lush hair on your head, you most likely have some on the rest of your body, too.  Probably one of the first ideals of beauty I gave any real thought to.  As a little girl, long black hair especially in a single braid was a symbol of being an Indian women to me.  When I was eight years old I spent the summer in India (had a miserable, sick, lice and mosquito ridden time and swore me off all things Indian for a long time).  At the time I had long brown hair to probably the middle of my back, I had never really cut it because until i was 3 years old I was pretty much bald so my mom didn't bother cutting it when it finally grew in( My nickname for the first years of my life was Anji Ganji which is the feminine cutsy term for bald).  Unfortunately the lice situation was so bad, I had to chop off my hair into a short bob!  I remember how shocked and upset all my relatives were that I cut off my beautiful tresses.  And, to this day my aunt swears that my hair came in black and super thick after that!  I've never grown it long since, its just too heavy and voluminousness to deal with.

Indian Barbie Dolls.  Note the fair skin, long black hair, light-colored almond shaped eyes, long pointed nose, full-lips.  The barbie in the green sari I got as a gift on that same trip to India. Prior to this Barbie, my 80's punk rock barbie looked closest to me.  She had black hair and looked kinda Asian. Found photos here, here and here)

 In India fair skin seems to be desired by women above all other things.  While here in America a healthy beautiful glow is advertised as tan, in India women are told by the media, social pressure and what not that they need to bleach or lighten their skin to achieve a healthy glow.   My aunt sent me an Olay Cream from India called "Natural White: healthy fairness night cream".  Personally, I'm afraid to try it out....how exactly is it going to make me fairer?  I suppose there could be an equally confused woman in India right now who received self-tanner from a relative wondering how it works and why she would want to be tanner.   I've been fed both sides, that tan is beautiful and fair is beautiful.  And that's just it, plain and simple.  They both are.  I like my skin tone. Yes, I was "lucky" enough to inherit light skin from my parents and yes, I'm naturally tan by American standards but I deal with acne and blackheads on a daily basis so really I'm not that thankful for the skin on my face...whatever color it may be.

 The ironic thing is, I fit quite few of the stereotypes of "ideal" Indian beauty (if I do say so myself, you are free to agree or disagree how you like preferably to yourself...i don't need my bubble popped). I'm hardily ever recognized as being Indian.  Many a Desi has asked me if I'm really Indian, if I'm half Indian or how the heck I got green eyes.  Its pretty simple I say, my dad has blue eyes and my mom has brown and according to Mendel I had a chance of getting green eyes and what do know, I did!  People hardly ever guess I'm Indian. I've had people ask if I'm Italian, Greek, French, Mexican, Persian, Jewish (didn't know you could look Jewish!) just to name a few. And maybe this makes sense in the US.  We’re a diverse nation with people of all ethnicities and various mixed heritage.

Aishwariya Rai Bachan on the left, yours truly on the right.

The photo of Aishwariya was taken at Hong Kong International Airport.  Her and her husband were on the same flight to India as my mom once and she clicked a pictured with them.
The problem is, it doesn't just happen in the US. In India they charge extra at tourist attractions if your from out of the country.  Of course, being cheap, my family tries to get away with saying we are from India.  We are all lined up outside Qutab Minar in New Delhi and when it comes my turn to pass through the gate I get stopped by security and they insist I'm not Indian and a foreigner (which is true, but not the point of my story)!  I try my best to respond to them in Hindi and insist I live at my cousin's address.  Eventually they let me pass.  Meanwhile on the other side of the gate past the guards, my sister and my best friend, who is Filipino American by the way, are laughing their "Indian" butts off.

So where does that leave me?  Racially-ambiguous, exotic, American, Indian, foreigner, tourist, citizen?  Beautiful?...

No comments:

Post a Comment