It hasn’t been long since Dr. Tanaya Narendra, spoke about her personal experiences as a would-be bride. But, what was so unique about her experience, that this subject has gained so much lime light ? Being a curvy bride, Tanaya brought forth the hypocrisy of beauty standards that are imposed on would-be brides in our country. Where, on a daily basis we consume piles and piles of media and news on body shaming, self love, self acceptance, loving all bodies and so on; the wedding market still seems to have missed the memo on , the new age brides who are happy and confident in their achievements, and no longer feel the need to fit the bill of a quintessential beautiful bride.
It is still a common sight in newspapers and matrimonial websites, where people seek brides who are slim and fair, and very often her education and achievements become secondary, when looking for a life partner. In a recent social media survey conducted by two social science researchers, it was found that, still, a large number of men don’t care about what resides inside a girl's brain, or if she has the capability to hold on to a good conversation. All one wants is to marry a hot woman.
This idea of hotness is not limited to the groom’s party. Very often the different elements of society that are faced by the bride, right before her wedding, go on to enforce standards of beauty on a woman.
Skinny girls are expected to put on weight, lest they don’t look fit enough. Curvy girls are expected to lose weight, for each and every one who comes to know about the upcoming wedding, will comment on how you need to look perfect on your wedding day. This kind of expectation comes from relatives, friends, beauticians and even designers who refuse to offer choices for different body types because they have a fixed idea of what a bride should look like on her wedding day.
Many would-be brides undergo extremely regimented diets, to lose weight before their weddings. Others undergo extreme skin and pigmentation treatment, in order to make one’s face look blemish free on their wedding day. This obsession with certain standards of beauty has lasted us long enough, for the women of today to realise that they are so much more than they appear, and a marriage is so much more than the wedding day.
To add to the pre-existing standards of beauty that have been in trend since ages, we have companies like Fair and Lovely, who have built a whole market around the right , and suitable skin tone, as if people with darker skin tones do not have the right to exist in society.
While some of these beauty standards are openly visible to us, many other hidden beauty standards also surfaced in interactions with women , who shared their personal experiences.
Hair is considered to be one of the most important elements of beauty in the Indian tradition. You may have often heard how parents keep forcing women to not cut their hair short, lest it may be a problem in finding a groom at a later age. Another unassuming feature of the hair, that is set as a standard of beauty is the colour of hair. While black hair is considered to be the symbol of youth, grey hair is seen as a result of aging, and not considered to fit the standards of beauty.
In the present age, we have over millions of products that simply cater to the hair colour needs of a person. In our interactions with Sunita, 55 (name changed), we were told that, at the time of her marriage, she had grey hair, due to some hereditary problems. In her family it was a common tradition for women of the neighbourhood to come over and dress up the bride for different occasions. While putting on the hair adornments, one of the women from the neighbourhood remarked that the bride had grey hair, and it made her look ugly.
Such remarks strongly work as experiences that reduce one’s self confidence and make them feel bad about themselves. Though, now, women have the option of covering up their grey hair, in case they have them at a young age, by using various hair colour products, it would still be deemed unacceptable and bizarre for the bride to have grey hair on her wedding.
Just like the issue of grey hair, the issue of eye sight is not very popularly discussed amongst people, but when it comes to the event of a marriage, a lot of people look for women who do not have weak eyesight and thus do not wear spectacles. In our interactions with Rekha,53 (name changed), we found that at the time of her marriage she kept being rejected because she wore spectacles. While talking to one of her friend’s she addressed, “you may have noticed that me and my husband do not appear to be a good match, isn’t?”. In response to this her friend inquired why she felt so, to which , Rekha said, “at the time of my marriage, I would keep on getting rejected, simply because I have a weak eye sight and wear spectacles.According to the groom’s party a woman does not look good enough if she has to adorn spectacles.Which is why I had to settle for a man who finally agreed to marry me despite my spectacles.”
Even till date, most women will choose to wear lenses on their wedding day, simply because spectacles hold you back from the accepted beauty norms set by society for women.
Size of Breasts
One of the things that has seemed to have had a roving obsession with, when it comes to the female body is the size of the breasts. Typically, women with heavier breasts are considered to be more beautiful in Indian society than women with smaller breast size. In interactions with Sonia, aged 29, we found out that very often Sonia was teased about her breast size amongst her friends.And finally when it was the time of her wedding, the female relatives went to the extent of examining the size of her breasts to get a feel of her figure and to see if it fit the norm. The kind of obsession and fetishism that cinema and media has built around the female breasts, has lead to objectification of the mammary organ as a sex symbol. This implies that most people would judge if a girl’s breasts are big enough, before they decide to marry her.
The Indian standard height of a girl is 5’3 to 5’5; while most men range somewhere between the heights of 5’6 to 6’1. It is seen as an improbable pair if a girl is taller than the boy in an Indian marriage. Similarly, if a girl is too short, this too is seen to be unacceptable among prospective suitors. Often women face rejection at the time of marriage solely because they are too tall, or not tall enough. In either case, people don’t care about the attributes possessed by the woman, but only see if she fits the right measurements.
While weight is one of the most pressuring aspects for a bride-to-be in the days leading up to her wedding; the struggles with one’ weight begins long before the wedding is even fixed. In conversation with a doctor from Delhi, Suprada, aged 28 (name changed), we found how she had to survive the taunts of aunties, even before she ever started to think about marriage. Suprada had undergone full body paralysis, and to treat the same she had to have a regular intake of steroids which led to major weight increase. When Suprada’s roommate's wedding got fixed, her friend’s mother came to visit them. Suprada casually shared with the aunty about how there was this boy who was stalking her, and how she was the least bit interested. On hearing this, the roommate’s mother responded “my dear be happy that there is someone stalking you despite your weight. It would be best if you accept his proposal, otherwise, who is ever going to like you, with the way you look”. Suprada was left aghast. She was a child prodigy, having completed her MBBS at the age of 23, Suprada had been a Government doctor, and was very well reputed in the medical circle. Despite having such great achievements, society still saw her as a ‘fat girl’ incapable of finding a suitable match.
Haldi and Ubtan have been a long lived tradition in the Indian wedding customs. Long before the wedding events have approached, the mothers of the brides force them to undergo various beauty treatments, natural and artificial to make their skin appear fair on the wedding day. The obsession with fair complexion is evident in the matrimonial ads that mention that the bride needs to be nothing short of fair, or in some situations, very fair. In fact dozens of women get rejected on a daily basis, simply because they are not fair enough. To add to this we have commercials on television for complexion improvement that reinstate the stereotype that darker skin tones are not beautiful. There is even a dearth of make up options for women with darker skin tone. In a discussion with Manoj, 40 (name changed), we found out that his parents had fixed his arranged marriage and he had barely gotten a chance to meet the girl before the marriage. On the day of the wedding, the bride appeared as beautiful as the groom expected to be, but the next day, when she removed her make-up everyone in the family made fun of the way she looked. The fact that make-up artists go to great lengths to disguise the complexion of the brides on their wedding day, tells us that there is something seriously wrong with our expectations, when it comes to the appearance of an Indian bride.
Issues of standards of beauty related to the bride are often being raised in many films like “Dum Laga ke Haisha”, “Shaandar”, “Bala”; but they still fall short of perfect representation.
It is high time that Brides make a conscious decision and stop giving in to the pressure set by society, and it's high time they break free from the shackles of bridal beauty standards, by embracing their true selves and not giving a damn about what anyone says or thinks.