“Don’t stay out in the sun, you’ll become dark. Kaun shaadi karega.”
“Height kum hai. Hard to find a match for her.”
“Why don’t you straighten your hair? Boys like long, straight hair more.”
These are just some of the many comments that we, as Indian women, are subjected to from a very young age.
You could be a topper in your class or be at the pinnacle of your career, and yet, the only thing the society really cares about is ‘shaadi kaise hogi’. Needless to say, these comments leave deep scars, affect your self-confidence and can take years to heal.
According to recent research by Dove, 99% (yes, you read that right) of women have tried or been asked to take action to conform to beauty stereotypes for the marriage process. Additionally, 9 out of 10 single women in India feel that they are judged and rejected based on their looks during the marriage process.
But where do these outrageous beauty standards stem from? Unsurprisingly, a majority of this has to do with how women are portrayed in the Indian media. Bollywood movies, magazines and television shows showcase only tall, slim and fair women as truly desirable. This is the standard that society sets for their women, in turn, making them feel like they are not good enough.
To make these stats relatable, we reached out to five women who’ve been shamed for years based on their looks, especially in relation to marital prospects. Read on as they share their stories about India’s unjust beauty test and how they learnt to embrace their true selves over time.
Deeksha, Etawah, Uttar Pradesh
“‘Ajeeb dikhta hai... Shaadi nahi hogi.’” (It [the birthmark] looks strange. She won't be able to get married.) At the age of 5, I remember hearing this from one of my dad's friends. She recommended surgery to get rid of the birthmark on my face.”
Deeksha was made to feel that the birthmark on her face was ‘wrong’ since the tender age of 5. “Over time, I became so conscious that I would constantly focus on who was saying what to me, where their eye was moving, whether they were looking at my face. In school, I remember older students used to come to play with us; however, nobody would play with me.”
While Deeksha’s thinking has evolved over time, and she’s stopped focusing on it, she revealed that when it comes to the matchmaking process, prospects still raise concerns over her birthmark. “The first proposal I received for marriage came through a relative. The boy’s mom told me she would like it if I got my birthmark removed after marriage. I instantly refused, and she backtracked. Then there was another guy, we spoke for about 10-20 days, and then he asked me if I can use makeup to hide this mark during the wedding. I refused. I don’t like to hide it, and in fact, I often remove makeup from that part of my face.”
Here’s to more women like Deeksha who refuse to give in to society’s narrow definition of what a ‘beautiful’ woman should look like. Stand up, speak up and let no one define your worth!
“I was a chubby kid. Everyone used to say, ‘Lose weight now, or else you might have to face problems.’ Even though they would say it with concern, it would pinch me.Why did they need to point out this issue?”
Indian media has made society believe that anyone who doesn’t have the perfect hourglass body isn’t good enough, and Mahak has been grappling with this unjust beauty stereotype since she was a little girl. “I have been fat-shamed by my classmates. At that age, you are already insecure about yourself. So I found it harder to make friends.” She reveals that it took years to learn to ignore nasty comments and feel confident in her own body.
And as far as marriage is concerned, Mahak is very clear on what she wants. “ I am not willing to compromise with someone who makes this [her weight] an issue.”
We can’t agree enough with Mahak on this one. Beauty comes in different shapes and sizes, and it’s high time, we as a society, realise that every body is beautiful.
“Growing up, there was a lot of talk about friends. People would judge and ask—why are you friends with dark people. Being friends with fair people was coveted, as they were considered well-educated and elite.“
“My dad is on the darker side; my mom is quite fair. People used to often tell me, ‘If only you had taken after your mom instead of dad.’ I heard this very often.” Like most of us, Noor has been a victim of unsolicited advice on how to achieve fairer skin. “They recommended using sandalwood, turmeric as if that would make a difference. These are so-called age-old remedies that have no scientific bearing.” Even today, “People keep brainwashing my mom, and she gets emotional and worried.” So how does Noor deal with these nasty comments and unsolicited advice? “I decided that my education and talent should speak for themselves”.
And we say kudos to her! If colour makes everything beautiful, then why is it that darker skin tones are frowned upon?
Rajeshwari, Nagaon, Assam
“‘Chotu’, ‘4’9’, ‘Kotiyani.’ I have had people refer to me by my height right since childhood. Sometimes people my grandmom’s age would say ‘ladka nai milega’ (she won’t find a suitable boy to marry). The bullying I have experienced has been horrific, and I cannot think of a good day in college.”
Rajeshwari was bullied for height ever since her childhood. “As I grew older, it only got worse, with people asking me how old I was and whether I really had finished my degree,” she says. These factors significantly impacted her mental health as they triggered self-doubt, anxiety, and brain fog. To add fuel to the fire, she has been rejected by prospective alliances, simply based on her height. “There was this guy, earlier he liked my face, but then he saw my full-length picture and directly refused, saying I was too short,” she says. “Men want to date you but not marry you—they don’t want their wife to look like a kid. ‘Photo achchi nai ayegi’ (she might not look good in photographs).”
However, over time, Rajeshwari has learned to accept herself. “I realised that if I don’t, nobody else will accept me. Today, I am very comfortable with my height, body type and skin. And I never wear heels as I don’t feel comfortable in them.” And when it comes to the right guy, “I will only marry a like-minded person. Not only this, but his family should also accept me—in India, marriage is as much about two families as it is about the bride and the groom,” she says. More power to you, girl! We say keep your ambitions TALL, ladies! The right man will rise to the occasion and take every opportunity to see you eye to eye.
“I have grown up feeling different from other kids in my school because of my curly hair. “Bhook lagi hai, noodles khaate hain (I’m hungry, let’s have noodles),” they would often say. It was only when people started saying stuff that I looked in the mirror and looked at myself differently.”
Ever since she was a little girl, Hemali was made to feel ‘different’ because of her curly hair. “Everyone around me in my family and school had straight hair. By the time I was in Class X, I had my hair permanently straightened [my hair].” The comments continued pouring in once the matchmaking process began. “Nobody else in my family has curly hair. And the subject of hair would always come up during meetings. The guy after a couple of meetings would jokingly say ‘You must be adopted’. Or the guy’s mother would ask me if my curls were real.” This deeply affected Hemali’s confidence; so much so that she stopped keeping her open and would only tie it in a bun. “I used to get irritated because of the hair conversation and wonder: are they coming here to see me or my hair? You feel awkward, when there are 10 people, other families around, looking at you and discussing your hair!”
But this is a thing of the past because Hemali is a changed person now. She has come to realise that constant self-doubt is worthless and now takes on these trolls with confidence. Her mantra is to deal with any situation, be it at an interview or meeting men, with confidence, and insists "that's how you will conquer the world".
Way to go, girl! The world is your runway, so sashay around with confidence.
While women in India are breaking out of the chaar deewari and making remarkable progress in various fields, it’s sad to see that beauty norms in the country have remained unchanged and unchallenged for decades. But not anymore!
It is time that we raise our voices against the unjust beauty stereotypes that have been crushing the confidence of so many women for generations. And this is precisely what Dove is trying to achieve with its #StopTheBeautyTest campaign. The objective of the campaign is to promote an inclusive definition of beauty, both at a personal and societal level.
If you resonate with this campaign, we encourage you to read all about it here and share your story with us on Instagram. Tag @bebeautiful_india and use #StopTheBeautyTest #DoveIndia. Let’s put an end to these unjust beauty tests and help our generation discover a whole new world of beautiful.