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How Our Ideas Of Indian Beauty Changed From Yesteryear To Today’s Uniform ‘Fair & Size Zero’

It is undeniably true that society's beauty and body standards have an adverse effect on people. For years now, the 'perfect Indian woman' has been portrayed by the media as fair-skinned with Eurocentric features.

It is undeniably true that society’s beauty and body standards have an adverse effect on people, as for years, perfect Indian women has been portrayed by the media as fair-skinned with Eurocentric features.

But the irony is that almost every day on social media we see people being fat-shamed, skinny-shamed, and even fit-shamed, so many of these women and men have labeled themselves, ‘ugly’, ‘abnormal’, ‘freaks’, ‘monstrous’, just because they don’t look like how the world has stated them to be. These restrictive beauties and body standards have emerged and stayed influencing women and men for ages now. 

People around the world are still debating on how darker shades of skin tone should be acknowledged and how body neutral clothing is needed and on why sellers and buyers are still running towards these age-old body standards and not caring what people need. While body positivity is highly advocated, a country like India still has a long way to go.

History and emergence of beauty and body standards in India

Many centuries ago, the idea of beauty in India was not fair skin or a perfect shaped body – there wasn’t much obsession with these factors themselves. Some several historical references and sculptures explain the historical renowned beauties of a woman as a curvy, well-nourished, and healthy enough body that was able to reproduce. To answer what went wrong, it started with colonization and then came westernization, which has contributed a lot to people’s thoughts of the stereotypical thinking of beauty and body images.

The major impact of this was in 1991 when the govt. of India restructured the economy allowing foreign companies to invest inside India. This paved the way for all the major international companies to have a major impact on various aspects of daily lives: From entertainment, food, finance, technology to even women’s body standards. 

People were very much convinced with these unrealistic yet high standards offered by the western media, and after that Post-liberalisation India got its first wave of beauty products. Slowly, these seemingly new age ideas from the western culture were also used to monopolize people, and their fascination and the necessity to fulfill this whole concept of the stereotyped body standards began.

The commercialization of Body image post-liberalization 

Early Bollywood actors were all appreciated for their beauty and talent, but the standards right in the cinema industry also seem to have very much changed. In 2008’s famous release, Making Miss India Miss World, the author Susan Dewey mentions how in 1993 the Miss India pageant introduced a program that trained women contestants to become Miss India or Miss Universe so that it allows Indian women to inspire the global beauty standards too.

While during this training program they taught about etiquette and style, but what they majorly emphasized was intense weight loss training, fairness, and various other western forms of beauty standards. 

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To everyone’s surprise in 1994, we had Sushmitha Sen and Aishwarya Rai consecutively become Miss Universe and Miss World and these wins were enough to convince the Indian audience.

This enabled women in India to know that they could look like women in the west, the women who were leading their magazines, and people wanted it, further confirming in people’s minds that these restrictive beauty standards were gold standard.

Due to these regressive beauty and body standards things that were considered normal are now deemed not enough

Due to these restrictive conditions and ideals, people suffer through various symptoms of depression, eating disorders and also hold very low self-esteem. Especially, in a country like India, a person’s body standard is something that is fulfilled for the people around them; Family, social media, friends, and even partners they choose to try to push these thoughts. This peer pressure also affects an individual’s mental health highly

The people are so used to these body and beauty standards that in 2014, when Nina Davulri won the Miss America pageant, being the first Indian-American and having a skin shade darker than what we Indians consider ‘beautiful’, she received so many racist comments for her ethnicity. News articles also mentioned how Nina couldn’t ever have won a pageant in India, as all the previous pageant winners were all fair-skinned.

Various researches in India have shown that all these body image-related problems are more in urban parts of the country than the rural, as the urban people were exposed to more of the mainstream media.

India has global industries that are worth billions of US dollars and has sold and fed in these ideas of stereotyped beauty standards for decades. This obsession and standards are also not just restrained to its female audience but slowly became a very dominant factor for men too. It was not just these products and models that propagated this idea of standards, but so did the entertainment industry and mainstream media. 

Body Positivity and the change

The concept of body positivity is about viewing our bodies as something that is not only perfectly acceptable by society but yet acknowledging that it is entirely wonderful. Individuals are encouraged to challenge beauty ideals and welcome diversity in appearance and body size. Unique physical features are regarded in a positive light, not as deviations from what is considered attractive.

The philosophy underlying this movement is that society’s messages about beauty are oppressive and unobtainable. In a world where the overriding mentality is that we should be ashamed of our bodies just because we don’t have an ideal body type, is what the body positivity movements try to encourage. 

Tables have started turning as the industry that brought in the restrictive schemes are slowly changing as people don’t hold back to call them out on it. But it has been an industry that has been held up for years and even though the changes aren’t loud and clear, it surely is known that people don’t appreciate restrictive thoughts being pushed into them anymore, and that is the start of something bigger.

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