Why do we have ideals of beauty?
British Asian women have always faced beauty issues. Growing up in Britain as a minority, many girls have faced beauty issues such as dark under eyes, being super hairy or being ‘darker-skinned.’
Why do we have ideals of beauty? Why do we want to look like ‘Western’ women?
These questions can be answered by looking back at the caste system originating in 1500 BC, in India. The caste system is a ‘social class’ and hierarchy system which many continue to follow.
For arranged marriages families would look to their ‘caste’ first before education, family, wealth thus meaning it was the major factor in creating the perfect ‘wife.’
The higher castes would have respected work such as priests or teachers, whereas lower castes would be carrying out hard labour work such as street sweepers or cleaners.
The differences in work meant you could tell someone’s caste just by the colour of their skin due to the menial jobs of being outside in the sun, meaning they would be ‘darker.’
The judgement of not only social class but the colour of your skin would be classed as beautiful.
The lighter you were meant that you were more beautiful and wealthy, the darker you were meant that you are ugly and poor.
We have family that have come from India, that judgement of history and generations has been rubbed off onto them in demonstrating what is classed as beauty.
Beauty also directly reflected your ability to find the best ‘husband.’
Have you ever had any of these statements?
- You’re too dark, you’ll never get a husband
- You’re too fat, you’ll never get a husband
- You’ve not good clear skin, you’ll never get a husband
- You’re too tall, you’ll never get a husband
- You’re too small, you’ll never get a husband
- You’re too skinny, you’ll never get a husband
These statements are a common thing in British Asian family households and have been ingrained into our minds, making a lot of women insecure about the features we all have.
South Asian women come in varying shades of brown. Some are darker and some are lighter. In the western world of England, Asian women have struggled with being ‘darker’ to western women.
This has created the highly popular bleaching or face lighting companies that we see especially in India, where Bollywood is very popular and the likes of Aishwarya Rai are on the screens.
These Bollywood actresses’ fair complexion has been an ideal for the industry and it’s very rare that you would see a darker complexion in a big blockbuster hit.
Colourism has been in our generations even before colonialism; coming from the caste system using society pressures of wealth to decide whether you are ‘beautiful’ or not.
It is essential to highlight colourism as it is deeply rooted in our history and culture.
However, it is important we inform British Asian women to be proud of their colour and not look to ‘western’ or even appeal to Indian standards of beauty.
Many women within the same household have different shades of brown, there is nothing wrong with being ‘dark’ skinned. It is beautiful.
Most women and girls struggle with acne at some point in their lives. Whether it might be through teenage years, hormonal spots or just the random ones that pop up – we all get them!
Acne is most commonly linked to puberty but it can arise at any age. Although there are no cures for acne, there are many ways to control it. According to the NHS:
“Acne is very common in teenagers and younger adults. About 95% of people aged 11 to 30 are affected by acne to some extent.
“Acne is most common in girls from the ages of 14 to 17, and in boys from the ages of 16 to 19.
“Most people have acne on and off for several years before their symptoms start to improve as they get older.
“Acne often disappears when a person is in their mid-20s. In some cases, acne can continue into adult life. About 3% of adults have acne over the age of 35.”
Here are some tips to help control acne:
- Oils, creams and treatments you can either prescribe, Acne.org or local pharmacist
- Not to wear too much makeup
- Remove all makeup before going to sleep
- Wash your face regularly
- Avoid harsh/chemical products on your face
- Diet, drink lots of water
It is a trial and error with products, as not all products work for all skin types. Just remember that everyone gets acne so it is completely normal to have it.
There is a need for a massive change in the definition of beauty our South Asian community has.
We caught up with British Asian Influencer, Ish from Loveish. Her Instagram page is dedicated to showing off her acne and she teaches how to embrace your acne and love yourself.
What is the biggest struggle with having acne?
“It’s mentally draining because of the instability of it.
“It’s like you have to learn to love yourself all over again because with each breakout comes a new emotion but I’m learning the importance of loving every version of yourself.
“I think it’s also hard when you know it’s the first thing everyone sees and then you think to yourself ‘can I be more than just the girl with acne?’
“Of course deep down, I know that the condition of my skin doesn’t define me but the attitudes of society do affect how you see yourself so it’s just a case of growing through it.”
How do you deal with acne or treat it?
“Before I would deal with it by trying to cover it and layering it with products to get rid of it.
“It was hard because I think it’s easier to get taken advantage of when you have something like acne because it’s obvious that you want to get rid of it.
“I put a lot of trust in people and it was easy for them to make money off of my insecurities. I’ve learnt the importance of conducting your own research and not overloading your skin with products.
“I’ve been treating my skin with love and kindness and since doing so my skins become a lot more manageable.”
What advice do you have to other girls/women who have acne?
“My advice would be that for so long I didn’t feel like I fit into the standard of beauty in both Western society and the South Asian community because both definitions were everything that I wasn’t.
“I felt invisible but I soon learnt that visibility starts in your heart.”
“We can’t wait for the world to change to see how beautiful we are, we have to show them.
“If we keep hiding our beauty then nothing will change and if people tell you, you don’t fit their definition of beauty then create your own!”
Being British Asian have you had any judgements or comments about your acne?
“South Asians always have this thing when they say stuff to try and help but it’s not really helpful.
“I was struggling with the way I saw myself and when your insecurities are constantly being picked out it just gets really overwhelming.
“I grew tired of trying to explain to people that acne was not my fault. It wasn’t because I wasn’t washing my face, because of the food I was eating.
“It’s a hormonal problem, something that can’t disappear overnight.
“I just wanted people to stop pitying me as if I had an illness on my face because the truth is I never had an insecurity problem with it until people started making me feel like I should.
“Luckily my sister and my family were very supportive but I do feel like there needs to be a massive change in the definition of beauty our South Asian community has.”
Lots of Hair
In the western world, beauty is seen as ‘hairless.’ Due to our dark hair, we are more common to show on our faces, body and places where we don’t want it to be shown!
There is always a pressure to make sure our mooch is waxed, arms are shaved and eyebrows shaped! Going from a girl to a woman a lot of the pressure eases but is still there.
Speaking to Times of India, makeup artist Preetisheel Singh D’Souza said:
“The idea of beauty, which is about being fair, having a hairless body, a size zero figure, is an idea ingrained in our heads from childhood.
“We need to ask ourselves what we believe in. A woman who shaves her body hair is as beautiful as one who doesn’t. It’s all about what floats your boat.”
There are many ways to get rid or hide the hair, many techniques such as shaving, waxing, hair removal or laser. Body hair is completely normal and we should embrace the hair we have.
If you want to remove it then it should be your choice, no pressure to be completely hairless all the time – as Asian women it sometimes feels that this is impossible!
British Asian women have a variety of skins types.
The main ones are either oily skin or dry skin. Oily skin occurs when the body is producing more sebum (oil). This excess sebum can mean skin is prone to breakouts and blackheads.
Here are some tips to help reduce oily skin:
- Always wash your hands before washing your face, to reduce oils or bacteria transferring to your face
- Use a moisturiser suited for oily skin
- Eat foods such as salmon and tuna, helps with the skin’s texture
- Avoid touching your face, this can also cause acne
- Exfoliate to remove dead skin cells – use gentle scrubs
As mentioned above British Asian women have a variety of skins types.
The main ones are either oily skin or dry. The main reason for dry skin is your environment such as weather, sun damage, or any condition where moisture is taken from the air.
Here are some tips to help reduce dry skin:
- Face oils and serums
- Avoid hot showers
- Place a bowl of water by your heater to keep moisture in the air
British Asian women are known for their glossy long locks, widely known from famous Bollywood actresses such as Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
Frizzy hair is more common within the South Asian community due to them having curly or wavy hair.
The frizz comes from combing out natural curls and using hair straighteners or blow dryers to make their hair straight!
They’re also comparing themselves to advertisements in the UK where all women have straight hair, so beauty standards are showing that British Asian women need to straighten their hair and get rid of their frizz.
Frizz comes from a lack of moisture in the hair and genetics.
When the hair is damaged, chemically treated the cuticle becomes raised instead of lying smooth, which causes moisture from the air to enter to cause it to swell and turn to frizz.
To fight the frizzy hair, use a hair care routine and take care of the curls; embrace the luxuriously thick, curly or wavy hair.
Here are some tips to help with your frizzy hair:
- Oils such as ‘Wella Professionals Oil Reflections Luminous Smoothing Oil’ or ‘ OLAPLEX- 7 Bonding Oil by Olaplex’ to control the frizz and the flyaways.
- Hair Masks/conditioners such as ‘Garnier Ultimate Blends Hair Food’, ‘Moroccan Oil Intense Hydrating Mask’ and ‘L’Oréal Professionnel Serié Expert Absolut Repair Gold Mask’ will keep the hair hydrated and will help damaged and dry hair.
- Use natural ingredients such as ‘Henna’ which hydrates, detangles and makes frizzy hair more manageable and ‘Saffron’ which gives the hair vitamins and nutrients to keep the hair healthier. Using the natural ingredients to create a hair mask and keep it in your hair for 20 minutes will help hydrate and smooth the hair.
- Don’t comb the curls out!
- Use a diffuser when drying your hair this will help in keeping the curls, so you don’t need to comb them out as they will be set.
In the Indian diet, it is typically seen that people of Indian heritage are more likely to get health problems such as diabetes, heart problems, high cholesterol and high blood pressure to name a few.
Due to high sugar and high fat in Indian foods, British Asians have seen to be overweight about 56.2% of the UK population according to GOV.UK.
Although obesity is an issue of all ethnic heritages, it is common to see these health issues in Asian heritage.
In the British Asian community, if you are seen to be overweight you can be seen as ‘not beautiful’ or not ‘wife’ material.
This again stems to the imagery we see from Bollywood actresses, models and singers which are plastered all over the country and internet – and feel that weight is desirable and ideal.
However, if you are healthy and keeping active and eating the right food then the extra weight is normal.
The average woman or girl is not ‘stick’ thin or has an ‘hourglass’ body – the average size in the UK is a 10/12.
It is important to look after our health but don’t pressure yourself to look a certain way as everyone’s body is different.
Stretch marks are very common within women, and, in fact, a lot of women and girls have them. The causes of stretch marks are from pregnancy, puberty, gain or lose weight, female, overweight or genetics.
If you have got them, then there are ways to make them less visible or even remove them. However, this doesn’t always work.
Here are some tips to help reduce stretch marks:
- Creams/oils such as a retinoid or hyaluronic acid – use only on new stretch marks but never if you are pregnant
- Light or laser treatments
- Microdermabrasion – which removes a thin layer of skin
If you want to prevent stretch marks, the only way is to maintain your health by eating well and exercising regularly. However, if you do have stretch marks, don’t worry most women get them!
How many times have you been asked if you are carrying Vaseline? As British Asian women, we have been programmed to keep our skin or lips moist due to our dry skin.
This can be a very common problem; the causes of dry lips are from your environment such as dry weather. It can even be caused by an allergic reaction, spicy foods, sun damage or common cold.
Here are some tips to keep your lips not dry:
- Castor seed oil
- Petroleum Jelly
- Shea Butter
- Hemp seed oil
- Mineral oil
- Sun-protective ingredients, such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide
Dark Eye Circles/Skin Pigmentation
Dark circles are very common amongst Indian women because darker skin is richer in melanin.
This leaves dark circles and other pigmentation more visible and harder to treat than with Caucasian skin. According to Vogue:
“Colour correcting is a makeup trick used to camouflage skin issues such as pigmentation, dark circles, acne and redness.
“Colour correcting is especially important for Indian skin because most of us have dark circles that are either cool or warm-toned.
“Colour correcting neutralises and cancels out the undesired hues and neutralises the skin tone.”
According to Soni, “people with deeper skin tones should use a brighter, orange-tinted corrector, whereas those with paler skin tones would be better off using a lighter, pink-tinted corrector.”
British Asian Influencer, Pam from P&A Lifestyle struggles with dark circles and uses natural ways to conceal them:
“Having dark circles, makes me lose my confidence and can make me look older than I am.”
“Since I was a young girl I have always struggled, and it’s got worse as I got older – it gets hard to hide them!
“I do get Aunties commenting ‘if I am tired’ or if had enough sleep, which can make you insecure.
“As they are genetical, the only way to improve them is by using natural masks to reduce dark circles and puffiness and also a good quality concealer and use of colour correction to help with pigmentation.”
Having dark circles, makes me lose my confidence and can make me look older than I am. Since I was a young girl, I have always struggled, and it’s got worse when I got older – it gets hard to hide them!
In conclusion, all beauty issues faced by British Asian women are ones we can overcome. We all have experienced at least one in our lives.
It is important to embrace our natural beauty and not have the ‘idealistic’ views of what beauty is or outdated aspirations of beauty.
Beauty comes in many different shapes, sizes and complexations.
In the Indian culture, we can have a ‘perfect’ look or feel judged or pressured to look a certain way, as in fair -skinned, clear-skinned, slim, long not frizzy hair.
However, times have changed from this and the more we see ‘normal’ girls, we realise that this is beauty.
Our beauty issues may cause us problems but we all go through them. The most important thing is to love all your flaws and ‘issues’ as that is what makes us unique.