Every culture has its own concept of beauty and what is permissible and culturally acceptable to beautify oneself. It is complicated as it is and I have been thinking of the concept of beauty that has been fed to me by our culture. It is something indefinable and you just seem to have been indoctrinated with certain values and ideas and it defines the way you have looked at things. I am just trying to put it into words for the first time in my life and a lot of these ideas seems incoherent and messed up in my head. I am sure I may I have missed a couple of important aspects which would another post someday.
- One of the ideas indoctrinated in Indians, especially in rural areas is that a woman who wears make up or dresses up well out of societal contexts is a vamp. You see all those old movies and you can get a clearer idea of the concept. The main actress is always simple, no makeup, shy, docile, humble, a natural beauty while the vamp dresses well, mostly western sexy clothes, lots of makeup, ultimately the girl you will never take home to your mother. Being sexy is not okay, it is being a vamp.
- Girls bothering about their looks or dressing well in school, was generally frowned upon. I know school teachers who used to disprove of and put you down, if they ever saw girls comparing their finger nails or anything like that. The usual comment we heard was “concentrate on your studies, not your looks. You came to school for studies or all these activities?” Also we know how highly humility is valued in our culture compared to vanity. So looking after or enhancing one’s beauty was considered vain and as a consequence bad.
- Usually in colleges, cliques tend to be formed between the so called hip girls and the normal ones (there are a lot more categories) and the hip ones were the ones who wore more western clothes, put on makeup and generally considered bitches and easy women.
- I have often noticed differing and judgmental glances towards women who dressed well. In case of a rape, people would definitely judge you based on your clothes and say you asked for it, wrong as it is.
- People are especially quick to judge, if a married women dress well or widows who wear good clothes. Widows are seen as evil women, who dress well and do not care about their deceased husbands. Married women are put down by statements like their daughters are old enough to get married and one should not be competing with them or try to look good.
- Apart these restrictions, as long as women beautify themselves ‘within their limits’ or to put it bluntly as how our culture and tradition permits it (no sexuality involved), it is considered okay and good. You have to look as fair as possible to be higher in the marriage market. Wearing expensive silk sarees is okay. Decking yourself up with lots of gold jewellery is okay. Wearing jewellery symbolizing marriage is okay.
- On top of that, there is a clash of ideologies in our society along with a transition with import of western beauty ideals and Indian beauty ideals and women are trying to find their ground between these two cultures, which requires a delicate balancing act. A woman needs to jealously guard her reputation after all.
- Beautifying is seen as an attempt to attract men sexually and our society does control women sexually. A woman well aware of her sexuality and who uses it is frowned upon and thus beautifying oneself is seen as immoral.
- A simple girl and someone who is not confident of her looks or herself seems like the one who can be easily bossed over and easily adjust in her in laws place and hence more valuable in the marriage market.
Don’t you think the beauty standards of our culture are again a measure used to repress women and their sexuality? Also women’s confidence is battered consistently to make them feel dependent on marriage as their only salvation. Vanity is frowned upon while humility is encouraged, meaning to say, we never oppose our elders or in laws or anyone else. Just keep listening to people irrespective of what we feel and do what they expect us to do. Is that beautiful?