As a child of the 90s, Bollywood was a popular source of entertainment for Nepali girls. The leading actors of that time had established 36-24-36 as the ideal body size, and girls like us aspired to fit that mould.
As time passed, beauty standards and fashion models have become slimmer with smaller measurements for busts, waists, hips, and dress sizes while their waist-to-hip ratios have remained consistent. However, the average woman’s waist and dress size have increased.
Then, the portrayal of beauty in media is problematic as it focuses on unrealistic beauty standards, which has played a negative role in the life of everyday men and women. The beauty standards seriously need a makeover.
Imposed beauty standards: A personal experience
The idealised beauty standards that are imposed on us can cause aesthetic trauma, a type of distress related to one’s appearance. Such standards can make one feel inadequate simply because they do not adapt to a particular appearance.
Aesthetic trauma can be evident in women of any ethnicity through various behaviours, such as wearing body shapers daily, frequently dyeing or styling their hair, or going on and off diets for years. These actions often persist even if they have detrimental effects as women prioritise achieving certain beauty standards over their health and well-being.
Although having grey hair in my late 20s has never been a concern for me, I have noticed that when visiting relatives or meeting new people, they tend to focus on my hair before making eye contact. “Kapal kina colour nagareko?” (Why haven’t you dyed your hair?) and “Oho kasto chadai phulecha hai?” (Oh! Your hair seems to have greyed quite early) have been an ice breaker to many conversations lately. It is exhausting to repeatedly explain that the colour of my hair is natural and that I have no desire to modify it.
Fake beauty standards
We have been conditioned, as a society, to expect of people what the media dictates as beautiful. According to the media, having skin as smooth as porcelain is beautiful. However, in reality, skin is such an organ that has diverse textures and colours.
Then, beauty means having lustrous locks that never get frizzy or greasy and having black or coloured hair to complete the look.
Recently, many kids on social media are seen with full makeup during their school’s annual day. What is even bothering me is that parents seem to have no problem with their kids as small as three-year-olds wearing makeup. It makes me wonder why these innocent kids should try to meet the standards.
In early 2020, Unilever dropped the word “fair” from the brand Fair & Lovely, in response to a global backlash against racial prejudice. The fairness cream market in India is worth IRs 10 trillion and Fair & Lovely has an over 80 per cent market share. The demand for such fairness creams is unlikely to go down anytime soon in South Asian countries like Nepal and India, where there is a cultural bias for fair skin.
The notion of beauty standards is deeply rooted in patriarchy and it reinforces the objectification of the female body according to male stereotypes. It is essential to break free from these set criteria and stop striving to fit into them to satisfy men’s expectations.
South Korea has a strong obsession with plastic surgery. According to a 2015 study, around 31 per cent of women in their twenties have opted for cosmetic procedures. In South Korea, both men and women using makeup are socially acceptable while K-pop stars appear in advertisements with unattainably perfect skin. South Korea’s society places a significant emphasis on image, which has given rise to the globally renowned K-beauty industry. However, there is a growing #FreeTheCorset movement that challenges South Korea’s oppressive beauty standards and advocates for change.
The growth of social media has been a key contributor to increasing the importance of looks, body image and hygiene. Makeup is used differently in different situations because it makes women feel more self-confident.
Need for authentic beauty
It cannot be denied that every woman’s relationship with the concept of beauty is deep, personal and one that will most likely last a lifetime. But, in today’s world, beauty is just not about the look, it is about being kind, confident and authentic to oneself.
When a woman puts on makeup or applies cream on her face before going out, it is no secret that she is making an effort to enhance her features, look perfect and make her prepared for a certain occasion.
In our modern world, where the air quality is less than ideal as well as our diets do not necessarily give us all of the nutrients we need, it is essential to have a quality skin care regimen to keep our skin radiant and luscious for years to come.
However, we must remove traumatising beauty language from our vocabulary and replace it with confidence building instead. So, when our future daughters look into the mirror, they can see themselves with love and acceptance and know that true beauty is how they choose to define it. It is time for beauty standards to get a makeover.