Beauty beyond Bollywood – Ishpree Kaur

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Beauty beyond Bollywood – Ishpree Kaur

Bollywood, one of the most influential platforms known within South Asian culture.

From fashion to beauty, Bollywood films and celebrities have contributed a considerable amount to the definition South Asian’s have of what is beautiful.If you are a woman especially with South Asian heritage, you know the standards are exceptionally narrow-minded and with this we require a great amount of courage to push past it.

One question on my mind is how much Bollywood has had an impact on these attitudes that are so prevalent today?

In a generation that revolves around media, the constant exposure to ‘perfection’ can take its toll on you. As a young girl, it was drilled into me through society that the only asset I could have, would be my looks. But when the standard of beauty is clear skin, fair and slim it seems like the odds are stacked against you. I am a 21-year-old, size 12/14 woman with acne, who most of the time has been taught the importance of covering it. Family events would terrify me because I knew people could not separate me from the condition of my skin and so I started to believe that it defined me. With all these opinions, you come across this question…
Can I be more than just the “girl with acne?”
Women in Bollywood have always had clear, fair skin however, it never occurred to me that this was part of the problem, until now. As a fan of Bollywood, I never saw myself in any of the actresses, in fact I was anything but. It is human behaviour to become envious towards a person or a group of people that are deemed as perfection. We want so hard to strive for it even though it is an unrealistic ideology but instead we end up hurting ourselves, entering a cycle of self-loathing.

Diversity and inclusivity have always been a problem in all industries, especially Bollywood and this lack of representation contributes to how men and women grow up to see themselves. To be honest in Western society, South Asian’s and other minorities are very rarely ‘trending’ within beauty so in an age that revolves around what is ‘popular’ or the ‘norm’ this can affect the way you perceive yourself. Me? I relied heavily on popular trends, it was the only way I could try to make myself seem visible, but the harsh reality is, it never worked. The more girls like me were alienated from being represented, the more I lost myself. If you don’t fit the trends in not only the Western society but also your own community, where do you fit in? Bollywood stars have a habit of promoting products and ideas that encourage you to change who you are rather than embrace it and they’re not the only ones. As a minority it becomes increasingly frustrating to see this narrative, especially coming from your own community who are supposed to uplift you and so I believe it’s time to rewrite it.

In the year 2020, a South Asian woman was featured in Beyonce’ music video “Brown skin girl.” A move in the right direction which highlighted the beauty of melanin so profoundly. How did Bollywood react? By glorifying fairer skin in a song, featured in the movie ‘Khaali Peeli’, again alienating many South Asians and women from other minorities for the colour of their skin. South Asians are very rarely portrayed as beautiful in the western world so for our community it was a big win to finally be appreciated however it’s time that we start being appreciated in our own community. Colourism is a deep-rooted problem within South Asian culture, and this is especially carried throughout Bollywood. There is very little diversity in our film’s and music videos however, when they do feature darker-skinned actors/actresses, they are usually portrayed as poor, uneducated lower-class citizens. This creates a negative stereotype for darker skinned men and women which allows for discriminatory and prejudice attitudes to take place, not only in general but in dating too. This is this detrimental to the way darker skinned kings and queens are viewed in society but also to the way in which they view themselves. Well, it’s a marketing gimic which worked because I can name you a number of women that I know personally who brought these ‘fair and lovely’ creams to look like the Bollywood stars promoting them.
When it comes to dating, a lot of the times ‘fair’ skinned girls are favoured over darker skinned girls. There are unrealistic expectations already set for both men but more so women due to how the media portrays us. In my experience, I have seen a lot of colourist attitudes that have been implemented in our society, especially when it comes to women’s looks. There are some men within our community that put white/fairer skinned women on a pedestal and if I’m honest is part of this due to the portrayal of skin colours? Yes, because people aren’t born to favour a certain skin colour, they are taught to by the surroundings of environment they are in.

The solution is simple, we must critic our own ideology in order to make change. What I’ve learnt is, in order to make a difference, we have to choose to see what everyone else refuses to see and be brave enough to stand out. South Asian culture is powerfully rich in beauty, but the boundaries in Bollywood are yet to be broken.

Not only as a South Asian but also as a woman I urge you that if society tells you, you don’t fit their standard of beauty, create your own because for so long I was waiting for the world to change so that I could finally feel invisible but visibility starts in your heart.

By Ishpree Kaur

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