Unrealistic Beauty Standards for ‘Beautiful’ Kashmiri Women?

Women can wear makeup but not too much, they should look ‘natural’, should be slim but not too slim, almost everything a woman does, criticism is instantly derived

By Sarah Koul

TYPICALLY, Kashmiri women are perceived to have a fair white complexion and bright red cheeks, the perfect example of standard beauty. But what we mostly don’t realize is that Kashmir is situated in the South-Asian geographical belt, which implies that naturally, people have an inherent tendency to have more melanin, which is the main component in brown skin. Here in Kashmir, if you are slightly brown skinned, you will be constantly asked if you’re Kashmiri or not, because god forbid a Kashmiri woman be brown skinned. Kashmiris use the word ‘gyeshoum’ meaning ‘brown skinned’, as a slur to describe someone as undesirable.

Kashmiris fret brown skin so much that it is impossible to find skin products as a brown skinned person here, for example- while buying a concealer, even at one of the best supermarkets in Kashmir, the only option you have is white — as if brown skin does not exist. Moreover, the salespersons have the audacity to tell you that brown products will make you look wheatish and ask you to opt for white products to conceal your skin colour.

“Don’t be out in the sun for too long”, “Don’t play outdoor sports too often, you will catch a tan”, “Don’t eat too much of your favorite dessert, you could gain some pounds”, are some statements that most of us often get to hear, in some instances on a daily basis. From a very young age, women are exposed to a variety of unrealistic beauty standards imposed upon them by society. Throughout history, women have felt the pressure to measure up to these standards which are lauded and labeled as beautiful.

In the early years of our childhood, we mostly looked at an ice cream as a source of utmost delight and happiness but as we grow older, we only come to think of it as a source of few calories that could make us look fat. This constant worry of gaining a few pounds eventually eradicates every such sense of joy which we earlier related to food that made us happy.

Although it is significantly important to have a healthy lifestyle, it is important for us to understand that a flat stomach is not an indication of good health and that body toning is simply an aesthetic practice.

In innumerable instances, the idea of a toned body emphasizes more on appearance rather than health and physical well-being. In Kashmiri society, it is inherently impossible to live in peace in your body. People are constantly fat shamed and if not, then shamed for being too skinny or dark-skinned. The list just goes on.

In 21st century, with easily accessible social media platforms these unrealistic ‘ideal’ body types have consumed more and more of young women’s minds. Social media has also provided a stage for ceaseless body shaming and criticizing people for their appearance has become an overlooked evil for society.

Body shaming is a phenomenon that almost everyone has to face, in many instances from their family and friends. “You are too heavy for a young girl”, “You are too skinny, men should be more muscular”, “You are so skinny you could get carried away by the wind”, “Young women shouldn’t be so fat, stop eating that!”, are some of the very common phrases we hear daily, even from people who are close to us.

We mostly tend to confuse self-hate with self-care pertaining to the ideals set by the society, which require us to shun every other practice of self-care except the ones that make us look more attractive. This materialistic idea of self-care is a silent mental assault- seeing oneself as just as an entity that needs to be constantly spruced up becomes a significant predictor of substandard mental health. These unrealistic body standards create an extreme sense of pressure among teenage girls to achieve a ‘perfect’ body, the idea of which is perpetuated through impractical photos of women portrayed in the media. Underweight and photoshopped- models or ‘ideals of beauty’ are everywhere, acting as examples of what young girls should aspire to look like.

While growing up young girls often find themselves in an amalgam of various standards they feel they need to measure up to in order to look ‘prettier’ and ‘perfect’- small waist, clear skin, silky hair- the quintessential perfect woman. But it is clearly evident that these standards are very utopian, unrealistic and unachievable- having clear skin is a myth, real skin is textured has pimples, scars, pigmentation and facial hair- contrary to the made up and photo-shopped looks of otherwise ‘beauty’ and ‘fashion’ icons. Not just body type and weight, young girls face criticism for the color of their skin too- colourism exists in almost every sphere of the society, there is a rigid sense of perception that correlates lighter skin tone with beauty and femininity – even in the 21st century. Colourism is widely prevalent in Indian society, where fairer skinned women are considered to be beautiful and brown skinned women mostly have to hear unsolicited advice on skin whitening procedures. It is humorously ironic that in a country colonized and tortured upon by white people, the standard of beauty is white skin, while most of its population is brown skinned.

Western beauty ideals, including fair skin, dominate the world, while it is clearly factual that people belonging to different races have different skin and hair. Colourism is so deeply imprinted on people’s minds that they knowingly or unknowingly pass it on to the next generation.

For instance, cartoon and animation is the very first interaction a child has with media, and media has unrequited power to deeply influence a human’s mind, it is mostly observed that animations feature ‘fairies’ and ‘princesses’ as fair skinned and ‘villains’ as dark skinned. This representation makes a child recognize white skin to beauty and positivity and dark skin to ugliness and negativity. Although in the contemporary time, media has adopted a more liberal approach which gives representation to skin of all colours, but the ratio of non-white skin depiction is fairly unequal. This sense of relating white skin to ‘beauty’ and ‘superiority’ roots back to the colonial era where white people had an unspoken privilege over people of colour, the phenomenon has a very dark history that we are all aware of. Yet for Indian society, white skin is somehow essential, as if the effects of colonization are still prevailing.

Having a normalized yet unrealistic societal standard drilled into your mind as soon as you start to grow, can have serious mental and physical consequences, which is quite prevalent in young girls. Social media, magazines, and the entertainment industry keep introducing high and unachievable standards, making people think that they need to look a certain way for society or the masses to perceive them as beautiful or desirable. Even if they try to achieve these, there is always criticism behind everything.

Women can wear makeup but not too much, they should look ‘natural’, should be slim but not too slim, almost everything a woman does, criticism is instantly derived.

While makeup is very popular among young girls, it has unhealthy implications too- more often, they feel the need to wear makeup to hide their ‘flaws’ which are inherently normal but not acceptable by the society, it becomes more of a mask for them behind which they hide their insecure self- they never get to admire who they really are. Having to mask up almost every day, to hide their real skin makes them think low of themselves, as if there is something wrong with who they really are and end up with extremely low self-esteem, low confidence and often body dysmorphia. Young girls mostly end up hating their normal features like scars, discolouration , body shape and push them to the edge of mental crises.

Why are these images slammed and forced upon women? The society leaves no stone unturned to burden women with stereotypes and expectations, which mostly put women under constant pressure. Human civilization should have been past these ignorant notions of treating another human differently owing to how the person looks, way long ago.

These standards are not just mere standards but chains imprisoning women from being able to express themselves freely, to be comfortable in their own skin, these standards strip women off the very basic right of existing unfiltered. Women and young girls need to realize that there is no harm in not accepting these standards, they don’t stand for beauty or grace but are yet another societal norm made up to hold back and put women down.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is an intern at Kashmir Observer

Follow this link to join our WhatsApp group: Join Now

Be Part of Quality Journalism

Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.