Most Indian girls are too young to understand that they are being prepared to fit into society’s definition of ‘beautiful’. Magic potions are rubbed on their skin to lighten its colour, and their hair is combed several times a day to straighten out curls and kinks. What’s more shocking is that they are made to believe that fitting into this narrow idea of beauty makes for an easier life and better marriage prospects in the future. According to Dove’s latest report, 45% of the women interviewed during the research recalled being told, "you are not beautiful enough" when they were young. The same report states that 99% of single women have tried or been asked to take action to conform to beauty stereotypes for the marriage set up.
Neelaskhi was merely 10 years old at the time, serving water to guests at her grandparent’s house, when she first heard a remark about her weight. Instead of a thank you, one of the guests told her grandparents, “Dudh mein paani mila ke pilaya karo. She’s getting too healthy (fat); it will be very difficult for her to get married in the future.”
Today, Neelakshi Singh is a fashion blogger, body positivity influencer, professor, and an inspiration to many. But this childhood memory is so deeply etched in her memory that she can recall every single word exchanged during that conversation. “The biggest shock for me was when my family took this comment as a piece of advice and forced me to work out and exercise. I started skipping ropes, climbing stairs and tried other forms of workouts just because a relative thought I was overweight. I shudder now to think that something like this can be said to a child," says Neelakshi.
As a confident adult, Neelakshi knows all too well how to handle trolls on social media who often comment on her weight or offer unsolicited weight loss advice. However, she was put through another beauty test some years ago in an arranged marriage set-up. The only reason Neelakshi agreed to it was because the request was put forth by a very elderly person, whom she loved and respected a lot.
"The first thing decided was what I should wear in order to look thinner. It came as a shock because I’d never judge a guy based on his appearance. But what was more fascinating is the first comment made by the guy's father: ‘Arre ye toh bilkul Puneet ki mummy jaisi dikhti hai’ [She looks exactly like Puneet’s (the prospect) mom] which kind of referred to how fat I was," recalls Neelakshi.
Because of this incident, Neelakshi never went back to the idea of seeing someone for an arranged marriage proposal. “The whole scrutiny of appearance is ridiculous. You're too short, too educated, too fat, too old, hair is thinning, the list is endless. My education, my talent is on one side, and how I look or how much I weigh is on another, and it always outweighs everything else that I have done for all of these years. Most men find me a little too headstrong for their liking, which I have made my peace with, and someday, hopefully, my parents will too,” she says.
“I think Dove’s #StopTheBeautyTest campaign is a great start to spread the idea among women, especially young girls, that it's okay to like yourself just the way you are and that not everybody needs to look like a photocopy of each other!” And we absolutely agree with Neelakshi. It's time to take actionable steps to put a stop to India’s unjust beauty test that women are put through from a very young age thanks to the belief that it will bring better proposals when they reach marriageable age.
This is what Dove, as a brand, hopes to achieve with its #StopTheBeautyTest campaign. Because why should slim, tall fair be the only things considered beautiful? If you resonate with the campaign, read all about it here. Then go ahead and share your story with us on Instagram by tagging @bebeautiful_india and use the hashtags #StopTheBeautyTest #DoveIndia.
All image courtesy: @plumtopretty