This Is How I Understood the Concept of Beauty in India

A fictional model, dark skinned but high cheekbones, long neck, sharp jawline, fuller eyes.
Only Beauties Allowed! Did you miss — full lips, sharp jawline, long neck, big eyes, high cheekbones. Need I say more…

1. You must be fair

I remember having a conversation with my brother, who was studying in London. “Are the British racist?” I excitedly asked him. He laughed and replied, “Not more than us.” He paused for a bit and then added, “At least, they don’t say ‘Looking for a fair, beautiful wife’ in matrimonial advertisements.

Bollywood actor Siddhartha Malhotra for popular cosmetic brand ‘Fair & Lovely’ ad by HUL Hindustan Unilever
Be fair, Be lovely! No confusion

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I want to claim and support that beauty is truly in the minds of the beholder. A mind that is culturally conditioned to cultivate conventional ideals of beauty extracted from the Internet, television, and mainstream cinema. There are complicated ways in which our experiences drawn from our education and careers, to the structure of modern society, can influence what one regards as attractive.

Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone endorsing Neutrogena new fairness cream
Neutrogena promises Fine Fairness

In our perception of beauty, there are no binaries. Several aspects intermingle together to color our perception. I have been a direct witness of the true meaning of colorism. It is rather strange that in a country where almost every person is ‘brown,’ we are a community intrinsically committed to creating a culture of colorism. Perhaps it was my mental conditioning that a ‘fair complexion’ on the packaging of a Neutrogena serum attracted me to the product to such an extent.

2. Beauty comes before Brain

This perception has been with since centuries. English novelist, George Eliot raises a compelling question about the qualifier for the feminine standards through the central character ‘Maggie Tulliver’ in ‘Mill on The Floss.’ Soon into the novel, the reader realizes that beauty occupies a massive share of the overall discourse on feminism in Eliot’s narration. Maggie Tulliver is extremely intelligent. At a time when women barely afforded the luxury of primary education, she was reading Holy Grail and Monty Python. She was a prodigy, a master of her own mind, a true bibliophile, and an active supporter of her family. Notwithstanding, she was an element of scorn owing to her unconventional ways and complete antipathy towards her outward appearance. The plot trajectory, in service of Eliot’s values, affirms for the reader, this trope of ideal beauty.

The Greek God of Bollywood Hritik Roshan portrayed a teacher in a movie Super 30
The Greek God of Bollywood Hritik Roshan portrayed a teacher in a movie.

British literary critic Terry Eagleton discerns beauty’s use as a tool of political hegemony with the power of beauty’s influence on the mind. Perhaps, that’s the reason, there are a series of look tests for protagonists of a Bollywood film playing a cop, a spy, a teacher, a bureaucrat, or even a political agent, even though looks are the last attribute of importance in these professions. I guess beauty is the first and foremost qualifier for anything that can be adjudged acceptable.

3. Everyday means beautiful

L — Deepika Padukone in Vogue US cover. R— Deepika Padukone at a cover of Vogue India. She is regular face in India for entertainment and fashion & lifestyle magazine covers.

There is a world saturated with images meant to attract and impress. During my work assignment, a renowned photographer, having stressed the importance of having an ensemble cast, asked for the team to recruit the requested models. They had to represent different ethnicities. Without wasting much time, we began to shortlist a few faces. Curiously, they were regular models with regular faces seen on fashion ramps and magazines. I asked the photographer about what he really meant by ‘ensemble’ and ‘everyday features,’ to which the photographer quickly replied, “The idea is to take beautiful faces and make them look ordinary.” This didn’t take me by surprise. It takes iron mettle and solid clarity of mind to discard theories we are conditioned with and adopt inclusivity in exactitude. For a movie that carries a strong message about acid victims, India’s most renowned and beautiful Bollywood celebrity face is chosen to act the character. Still, she succumbs to be placed in the second spot in a global magazine cover alongside her international Caucasian peers. Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “I’ve not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty.”

Human beauty, in particular, operates ubiquitously, fortunately, or unfortunately, through the dominant discourse on ideas of beauty.

4. Only Beauties Allowed

Today, there are millions of conversations about inclusivity and sponge trend where everything exists; it is heart-rending to see how the very torchbearers of these conversations are utterly unsure about their actual intentions. Amidst the global culture of inclusivity, pop culture leaders they have started questioning their belief system and begun participating in trending conversation. Still, in most cases, these actions are not quite convincing. Maybe that’s why the model who is selected to walk in the regular model pool as representatives of transgender, gender-neutral, dark, has vitiligo, plus size, or having Down’s syndrome is only one or two is only far and few supplemented with some long-legged models who arrest the spectator with their body and expressions.

American supermodel Bella Hadid posing for Victoria Secret. The Beauty Bias!
American supermodel Bella Hadid posing for Victoria Secret.

Netflix has come up with an interesting series of ‘100 Humans’, and one of the episodes is dedicated to understanding beauty. The episode infers that the person relatively good looking received a lesser degree of prosecution than the fellow who was unfortunately not so better looking.

Same crime, same circumstance, but different judgments.

The beauty bias
The beauty bias

So, why do we unconsciously give so much precedence to something we don’t have much control over and admittedly fail to acknowledge that we are all victims of societal constructs of beauty, or perhaps, even a victim of our senses.

Studies show that beauty can activate our opioid systems.

The same systems that are activated by cannabis or opioids. They seem to be the core experience of pleasure. We feel like using the apps that make us look nicer, we feel like touching up our hair a few more times, and on all public platforms, everyone is trying hard to look their best, and what is wrong with that?

5. Shhh! Its only legacy and hardwork

The stigma around plastic surgery in India is enormous. However, India has the fifth-highest number of plastic surgeons in the world. According to Netflix series ‘Follow This’ episode Bollywood Beauty, In 2016 alone, over 400,000 plastic surgeries were performed in the country. A famous Indian celebrity cosmetologist had once remarked that every celebrity can swear by their lifestyle or regimental attitude, but will never mention the hands of a professional working hard to make it their shared goal.

A cosmetic procedure for beauty treatments
Attainable beauty attributes. Beauty at the time of Botox.

We know that the beauty we see on big screens and on billboards is unnatural, artificial, paid-for, and produced but still continue to chase the dream of fuller lips, sharper jawline, higher cheekbones, longer and more prominent noses.

In a perfect world, we’d all be happy with the faces and bodies that we’re born with but still try to meet those unrealistic beauty standards.

For whatever one’s purpose is, at the very least, we can let people do what they want to their bodies and unapologetically accept them in whatever form they want to present themselves.

Can we just be honest?

Let’s call a spade a spade. Would you believe in a concept of lottery of acceptable beauty attributes and legacy of good features.

So, today, when my friend who is a news anchor in reputed electronic channel quips that why she would never leave television because her face is meant to be on an electronic medium, I don’t despise her and get filled with contempt like before, In fact, there’s perhaps great credit in her sheer transparency.

This is rather refreshing, where pure honesty about people’s belief system regarding the accepted and contested concepts of beauty is so hard to come by.

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Bhaskar Ravi

Bhaskar Ravi

Publicist I Idealist I Equalist Ultra-(un)Orthodox I I pick and choose from both Left and Right I King of random thoughts I Solo-traveller I World is one place