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