The Indian matchmaking process, when presented as a reality show, makes for good entertainment. But for many women, it’s a harsh reality. Yes, even though Indian women have made strides in all walks of life, for a significant chunk of the Indian community, marriage is still considered the ultimate goal. A desi daughter might be at the top of her game in her chosen field, but the first line of enquiry at a family function will be, “So when are you getting married?" What makes matters worse is that the Indian matchmaking space is guided by an unequal, and sometimes sinister, beauty test that makes or breaks rishtas.
A recent research report by Dove states that 9 out of 10 women have faced matrimonial rejection based on their appearance. This ties directly to the stereotypical idea of a ‘beautiful’ woman perpetuated by magazines, television, social media, and of course, Bollywood. The same report also states that 94% of women have been asked to work on their appearance, especially if they want to find a good husband.
And it’s not just society at large, but their immediate family too that plays a major role. The comments can start flying at girls as young as 10, often getting amplified as they go through puberty. The result? A large faction of women are pressured to change in certain ways to fit the bill of the ‘perfect bride’. No one notices this phenomenon better than experts who often work with young women who are either looking for a match or are about to tie the knot. We spoke to a few, and here’s what they had to say about India’s unjust beauty test in the matchmaking process…
Anupama associates the beauty test with reduced confidence in young women. “Social anxiety among women gets accentuated during important moments in life, when they are amongst friends, making career choices, dating, marriage, childbirth, during a midlife crisis and even during menopause,” she revealed. “There has been a barrage of negative comments right since childhood. Children form these impressions at a very young age (read: 6-8 years) and wonder, 'Why am I like this? Why am I this colour?', creating a negative predisposition in everyday life."
“As a cosmetologist, I meet to-be brides on a daily basis, and the pressure is unimaginable. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look beautiful, as long as we understand it's a relative term. Everyone in India wants to have a light skin tone; they seem to forget that nothing in this world can change your genetically-gifted complexion. All aesthetic medicine concentrates on is pushing it to the maximum health potential so that the skin is healthy and glowing! Healthy skin and ‘light’ skin are worlds apart," says Dr Sravya.
Dr. Maitri Chand revealed how insurmountable pressure can affect young women. “Women shut down and retreat into their inner world. They will read a lot, seek safety in innately solitary activities like painting or practising a musical instrument. They avoid social interaction - it manifests as an emptiness; you don't feel whole, or there is a hollowness inside.
"Marriage is seen as this magical thing, like your life is going to bloom after this magical event takes place. This is the Indian version of a fairytale. ”
For an experienced makeup educator like Anu Kaushik, the source of the beauty test is pretty clear. “Brides get influenced by filtered beauty, not realising that it's perfectly normal to have some flaws, they make you unique. The most common demand is to look much lighter than their natural skin tone. As an artist, I like to bring out and enhance every bride’s own beauty and not cover it under thick layers of makeup. I want my brides to look naturally beautiful, not painted beautiful.”
Dr Abhishtita touched upon the physical stress the beauty test puts on young women. “Most women often seek a doctor’s advice for weight loss before their wedding. Brides end up stressed out and undernourished in the run-up to their wedding.”
“Nowhere is the lighter skin preference more ingrained than in newspaper classifieds seeking a spouse. Along with requirements for the prospective bride or groom’s caste, religion, profession and education, physical characteristics are listed too. The mindset is so normalised that many people accept skin lightening treatments as a standard part of wedding preparations – for men as well as women.”
Bianca also made a disheartening revelation. “Brides ask for a base done in the shade as that of their husband’s so that people at the wedding don’t talk about the bride being darker than the groom. Also, girls with beautiful natural curls are asked to get their hair blow-dried or straightened and do away with their natural texture to a so-called accepted look of having the typical Bollywood big soft curls.”
While the above-mentioned experts already paint a grim picture of the Indian matchmaking scene, none is more problematic than what professional matchmakers say about it. The feedback ranges from "moti, kaali, ajeeb (fat, dark, strange)" to vague answers like “Humein ladki ka look samajh nahi aaya” (we didn't understand her 'look').
Some of the pre-requisites for these matches are, “Ladki gori honi chahiye, face gol hona chahiye, naak lambi honi chahiye, lambe baal hone chahiye. V-shaped face bilkul nahi chalega (She should be fair, have a round face, a sharp nose, and long hair. V-shaped face won't do)."
The matchmakers also revealed that the biodatas that are circulated put a lot of pressure on looking good in the picture, or else a rejection is guaranteed. The first meeting is often preceded by extensive preparation done by young girls, like going on diets or getting elaborate skin treatments. The idea of a beautiful ‘trophy wife’ is pretty rampant among the prospective grooms, while the families are on the lookout for a pretty woman whom they can show off to their social circles.
It would be an understatement to say that these ideas and practices need to be booted right away. This is what Dove hopes to achieve with its #StopTheBeautyTest campaign. As a society, we need to collectively put a stop to the rigorous and unjust beauty tests that women are put through in the matchmaking process. If you resonate with the campaign, read up about it here. Then share your story with us on Instagram by tagging @bebeautiful_india and use the hashtags #StopTheBeautyTest #DoveIndia. Let’s help our generation discover a whole new world of beauty!