“Here’s what I would tell my future/potential daughter, if I ever have one.”

Sharing The Wild Child’s response to the previous post – Why this?

Here’s what I would tell my future/potential daughter, if I ever have one. Or a simpler version of this until she’s grown up enough to get the message.

Our idea of what’s beautiful isn’t something we are born with. It is a function of what we see the society around us appreciate as beautiful, as well as the images popular media feeds us all the time. Notice how most of the women on TV (in India) are fair. And innocent looking. Ditto for actresses. Runway models who are dark get no commercial work cos they’re not fair enough. They’re accepted on the runway cos they’re “exotic” looking. Yes, brown skin is considered exotic in a country of brown people, because that’s how messed up we all are.

In the West, similarly, there are lots of people who don’t like the color of their skin because they’re “too pale” or because they “look like a ghost” or “washed out.” Even though most of the women in popular media are Caucasian they ALL use bronzer to get that “warm glow” or get tanned. People pay good money to use tanning beds in order to look tanned. A “healthy” tan is a commonly used expression, because they find pale, untanned skin unhealthy looking.

This goes far deeper than skin color. The entire construct of beauty is socially defined and fed to us, not something we define for ourselves while sitting on an island. For example, when I was a kid, a lot of actresses (Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Urmila Matondkar) had curly hair. Curls were considered pretty. I was told by one and all that my curls were beautiful. The next generation of actresses had straight hair. Suddenly everyone is using a straightener every day because it’s straight hair that looks good to people now. People walk up to me and ask – You do know, don’t you, that you can straighten your hair? As if curly hair was the WRONG kind of hair.

As a kid looking at pictures of my parents from their college going days, I found their bell bottoms very funny looking. I remember looking at Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor wearing them in movies from the 70′s and thinking they looked like clueless buffoons. Fast forward to when I was in college, and I was willing to part with good money for jeans with huge bell bottoms. Suddenly skinny jeans looked so dated and……UGLY. So unfashionable. Uncool. Trashy. Unflattering.

Fast forward to the present. All the “cool” people wear skinny jeans. Curvy jeans / bell bottoms look so sloppy and frumpy. Dated. Uncool. Tacky. They “make you look short and fat.”

Every time I look at pictures of myself from ~5 years ago I “wonder what possessed me to wear those clothes”…..I remember having conversations with people about how terrible 80′s fashion was not too long ago. And suddenly (as of last year) the retro 80′s look is in and THEREFORE looks good to me. Because the media is constantly feeding me images of pretty people in 80′s clothing. All the people I’ve so far considered good looking or stylish or put together are wearing 80′s clothing when they go out. So it starts looking good to me. My brain by now has associated enough good looking, happy people and pleasant words with those clothes that they’ve started looking good to me.

I remember carrying handbags with short straps (the kind of bags that barely managed to reach my boobs) not too long ago and telling my mom her long strapped bags were “so aunty”. Now I have a hard time even FINDING short strapped bags if I want to buy them cos long straps are all the rage. Suddenly they’re “sleek” and have “clean lines” and present a very “modern” look. Notice all the pleasant words.

There are people in the world who find your daughter’s skin warm or glowing or honey colored or sweet like caramel or a shot of espresso. There are others to whom it’s “too dark” or kaali/black which by itself is not a negative word but is often spoken with a negative tone in India. Who knows what problems these people have and what the popular media that they’re exposed to has fed them.

At 30+ I’m still trying to figure out what “loving myself” means. As a child the idea would have certainly been lost on me. But once I figured out how popular media has played a number on me, I stopped paying attention. I can’t spend time or energy thinking about how good looking I am (or am not) when I clearly have little control over my own idea of good looking, let alone other people’s. I wish someone else had figured all of this out for me when I was a teenager and told me.

The Wild Child added:

Came back to say that I would refrain from going the compensatory route. By all means, lets teach our kids to be kind, empathetic, intelligent, socially conscious model citizens or whatever else. Because those are good and desirable qualities on their own. But let’s not tell them that they need to aspire to those qualities by way of making up for their dark skin. Lets not tell them that they will be loved and appreciated and thought of as beautiful IN SPITE OF their dark skin. They ARE beautiful, regardless of the color of their skin. They just are.

Lets not tell them that fat people can also look good! Short people can also look good! Dark people can also look good! Bald people can also look good! Because that’s like telling them that looking good doesn’t normally mean short or dark or fat or bald, but if you’re smart about it, you can game the system and trick people into thinking you’re better looking than you ACTUALLY are.

I can appreciate the benefits of high melanin, sure, but a kid who’s got the dark = ugly equation running brought her mind won’t. But LOOK!!!! Dark also = side benefits yay!!! Won’t do it for her.

How about we forget about the beautiful/ ugly concern and focus on other things instead? I highly doubt that other thing will be more than a temporary distraction. Because media and society will throw beautiful = physically beautiful, and beautiful = better at her every step of the way. I’ve spent most of my life thinking I was the smart girl, so what if I wasn’t the beautiful/pretty girl? And I now realize at some level I’d internalized that I was never going to be beautiful, so being smart was my consolation prize / all I had. That people were telling me to “focus on my strengths” instead, the way you do in a job interview. I’d been told to define my self worth by my accomplishments instead of my physical beauty. Sure, it’s the better one of the two alternatives. But there are times I don’t feel particularly accomplished either. And then I have to remember that I have some worth because I AM. Every person does. I can choose to not be an accomplished person. I can choose to not let my accomplishments define me. I don’t have to constantly be hard on myself because I’m compensating.

Lets address the beauty concern head on instead of brushing it off or telling kids it’s not important. They’ll figure out that it IS important when it refuses to go away. It’s important to other people if not to their family and friends. They have to learn to not care. And to know that it says something about the beholder and what they’ve been exposed to. There is no such thing as an objective standard of beauty. So they shouldn’t aspire to one cos it doesn’t exist

Related Posts:

How would life be different if you never had to give a thought to how you looked?

An email: If you can’t change something and you can’t change attitudes, what can you do?

You don’t owe prettiness to anyone.

Does beauty really lie in the eyes of the beholder?

Beauty Without Cruelty

Sending a girl a text that says “good morning beautiful” can change her attitude for the whole day.

What makes a woman look beautiful?

Why this?

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s body and Willow Smith’s hair.

A double mastectomy in a world where a woman is seen as ‘packet of behinds, thighs, hair and lips’.

How do you celebrate yourself?

26 thoughts on ““Here’s what I would tell my future/potential daughter, if I ever have one.”

    • “We have to change the concept of how we bring up our children at home. We need to teach boys how to be gentle, good and respectful to women,” Shah Rukh Khan told reporters when asked to comment on the rising crime graph against women.

      The superstar said when he talks about girls to his teenage son, he tells him to never break a girl’s heart.

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  1. Loved this.
    Also wanted to add- the point about bringing it up head on is so important!
    Children are much more perceptive than we give credit for, and are getting harmful social messages ALL the time, from birth actually, and they begin to understand things far earlier than they let on.

    When I was Brat 3’s age, I was in school play of some sort, and they needed 5 girls to be “butterflies” (and the rest of the kids to be the ‘scenery’, as consolation)
    And how did they pick the butterfly girls? By lining us up and picking out the fairest 4🙂 Of course nothing was SAID, but I guess every 9 year old there knew exactly what was going on!
    Hopefully, school teachers these days are more sensitive, but one can never know what one’s children are being exposed to, so it’s better to start talking about these things when you feel they are ready, even before they bring it up.

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  2. Good job. @IHM previous post reminded me of last year when my four year old started asking for blond locks, she is the only colored child in a all white kindergarten. And the same year she heard her mother’s friend talking “girl is beautiful” and she was repeating word for word, “everyone says girl is beautiful.” If you asked her what girl is beautiful, she did not know how to tell but she definitely knew they were talking about her. There went all the hard work of cultivating qualities of kindness and pick up after your self… The messages children get are so subtle and yet so clear at the same time.

    @desidaaru12, reminded me of my primary school, the music teacher sent a student to every class to as the teacher in the class to send few fair girls for the English dance. Four fair one’s were sent and DG just stood up and asked, “may I go too” and teacher let her. Her sun tan was considered very ungirly, all those battle scars from fights with boys and climbing trees and running in the sun just nailed it for her. Thanks for taking her down the memory lane.

    Personally, DG has felt ugliest when she was unhappy beautiful are the times and feelings when you are happy in your heart and not making so called adjustments that cost your integrity.
    How do I teach my five year old do what her heart says and careless about what media and well wishers say, is a constant struggle.

    The amount of energy and attention is focused on young girls’ appearances and socialization only if an iota was diverted towards boys and men world will be so much easier to live in.
    http://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/1079/#comment-1146
    http://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/1079/#comment-1143

    @Wild child, good job, congratulations!
    Peace,
    Desi Girl

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    • GGTS, “only if an iota was diverted towards boys and men” – You make it sound like boys grow up to be murderers and rapists, and nobody’s ever told them to behave. That isn’t true, is it?

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      • How often are boys told, ‘What she wears is her business.’ ‘When she goes out or comes back home is not for you to decide.’ ‘She has a mind of her own, and she will use that, you can advice – only if it is requested, but you can’t expect that advice to be taken as a command.’ ‘She loves her parents, freedom, happiness, aspirations, comfort, food, life etc the way you love yours.’ ‘She has a right to say No.’

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  3. So beautifully expressed! (no pun intended)

    Fashion, just like everything else, is an industry. There are only so many permutations and combinations possible. Big bag, small bag, long straps, short straps, structured, unstructured, that’s it! What next? Advertising! The same works for beauty too. How many themes can you invent? Sparkly, gloss, matte, pastel, earthy, bold, thin, thick, distinct, blended. That’s it! Every trend will come around a few times in your life because unless there’s a major revolution, our options are pretty limited.

    It’s ok for a child to be confused, I think. I know I always was. And only now at the grand age of thirty do I realize that beauty is very subjective.It’s not wrong to want to be beautiful. We’re all hard-wired that way. It’s not wrong to want to look our best. What’s wrong is when we lose our sense of perspective. When we start wanting to starve ourselves or undergo plastic surgery, we have to ask ourselves why. If we understand that the tummy flab needs to go for the sake of the arteries and not the LBD, we’re good. And if we decide to shop to indulge ourselves and not to try and fit in, life’s perfect.

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  4. Well, I used to be dark skinned as a child, and overweight, and was quite convinced that I was not beautiful. I did not care too much, either. I had my books. But one day I started to care, stopped eating pizza, started a daily exercise regime, lost some weight. I got a job which involved staying indoors all the time and my skin colour lightened to what is called wheatish.
    And then I discovered makeup.
    Today, beautiful is what I call myself when I am wearing expensive, super-natural foundation, contacts, mascara, and pay attention to hair and clothes. Not beautiful is when I can’t be bothered.
    What I want to say is that, beauty is not what my mom taught me. It is not skin deep. It is like math, if you practice it, you would get better at it. There will always be people who are better at you at math, of course, but it doesn’t matter, as long as you are not trying to do a PhD in it.
    Also, In college, I met girls who were super charming, and I was not. But I practiced it, got good at it. As far as my in-laws are concerned (who have only seen my new, improved version) I am the most charming person they have met. I was surprised when my MIL first called me pretty, because no one else had said that to me before that. ( Before anyone misinterprets this, It was NOT important in our relationship, arranged marriage, fixed before mil met me, hubby was more interested in my qualifications).
    I realize that ‘there is always makeup ‘ is a problematic message to give a young girl. I am not a mom, and frankly, have no idea what I will tell my child if she ever asks this. To say that beauty doesn’t matter is a lie, to say that it is just skin deep is problematic, because the women I have thought as beautiful-beyond-words have all been kind and sweet and charming, and above all strong. But I hope I can convince her that skin colour has got little to do with beauty. As long as you match your foundation correctly.🙂

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    • I just thought of something appropriate for a young girl. Look at Michelle Obama. Hollywood, celebrity watchers, fashion blogs, news media- everyone fawns over her. The only people who complain that she is ugly are rightwing weirdos, and who cares about rightwing weirdos?
      Even truly beautiful women like Carla Bruni ( i don’t mean skin colour, Bruni would have been equally stunning if she was black) _fail_ to live up to her fashion standards.
      She is more than just a fashionista, she gave a great speech at the Democratic Convention, and the speech was as well recieved as her dress and nail polish.
      Michelle Obama is an icon. A fashion icon, trendsetter for beauty kind of stuff. And she isn’t conventionally beautiful, by western standards or ours. If she can pull it off, we can too.

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      • Iva ! In your reply, you have summed up lives of at least 2 girls I know from my class. Good in studies, confident, smart, intellectual, not very fair, not beautiful (acc to the prevailing fashion standards). Once they started earning well, took voyage to this unknown terrain called beauty. Learnt to make themselves look good. Practiced putting on the correct foundation like 2nd derivative math (Not that I know about foundations but you can spot a drastic change in skin tone and color). Eventually learnt the skills. They admit life is far easier now than it was in college. So I can relate to what you say. Kids should definitely not be bothered about how they look, its the adults I am confused about.
        I do agree that appearance (real or fake) matters in this world. Not only for girls, but boys too. The good thing is that while you cannot fake the grey matter inside you, looks can be faked. So should we ?
        Do you think that this is good an advice we should give to someone we care about. Would it not be unfair to ask our loved ones put more emphasis on beauty than many other qualities that they have? Or would it be just practical and help them live a better life?

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        • Glad you liked my post, Pallav. The way I see it, grooming and makeup are life skills, like cooking or driving. I cannot drive, and maybe a world in which no one drove cars would be a better place, but that is no excuse for not learning driving.
          There are people out there who look good every second of their lives without trying, but we are not all born so fortunate. would you rather we spent our lives crying about that, or actually doing something about it?
          I think calling that effort shallow and praising “natural beauty” ( I know a few people who say that) is unfair to the rest of us.

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        • @Iva- I’d respectfully disagree. I don’t think it’s a life skill like cooking or driving or swimming. One half of the population seems to manage just fine without it.
          Anyway, in my post above, I didn’t mean to pass judgement on those who use makeup or otherwise put effort into their appearance. My point was about feeling like you’re not good enough, or like your body is not good enough. Unfortunately, no amount of makeup can make up for negative body image or low self esteem caused by negative body image. I agree that wearing makeup is a skill like any other, and one can get better at it with practice. But, again, one half if the population is NOT constantly told by the media or by society that they’re not good enough in their skin(s), so they don’t see any reason to acquire this skill.

          Like

        • @ The Wild Child(cannot find the reply button below your post)
          I suppose we must agree to disagree then?🙂

          Like

  5. There is no getting away from the fact that women who do not use make up/ do not put time and energy into look conventionally attractive are classified either as-
    -old
    -boring/frumpy
    -“backward”/unsophisticated
    -“lucky”-are attractive enough so as to not need it,
    – hardcore feminist.

    I guess that’s just the way it is and will be. There is always a (changing) definition of attractive in every human society and people will be judged by that standard. Human nature et al.

    And that’s why I find it hard to accept the choice to wear make-up as a free choice. It’s not. We are just playing by society’s rules that are found under the heading of women.
    I say this as a person who uses make-up.
    I use it but am not going to delude myself about my motivations for being a user. If I did use it for myself, I would be wearing it right now, in my pyjamas on my day off. But I’m not.

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  6. Loved your post, Wild Child! Self worth, self respect and self confidence – things I will teach my lil girl. Then she will be comfortable in her own skin, regardless its color.

    Like

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