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Existence Beyond Colour and Shape

by Shraddha Singh
(Lucknow, India)

In Indian culture and society, caste, gender, colour, class, religion, nationality, community, language, all play crucial role in not only building the society but also building of identity. The diversity of the country does not only lie in its culture, religion, language and festivals but also in the skin tone and body colour of people, depending on the geographical location and climatic conditions they are exposed to.

Discrimination on the basis of body colour and shape has been prevalent in Indian society since decades. The patriarchal roots of the Indian culture and certain social traditions have further strengthened the notion. There are certain phrases that we hear so much in our few years of existence that they seem to have turned into social discourses.

“uska rang thoda daba hai per vyavhaar ki bahut acchi hai” (She has darker complexion but is good in behavior.) In 2007, Star Plus initiated a talk on this evil practice of the society through a television show Bidai which focused on a journey of a girl with darker skin complexion and struggle of her family in finding a suitable suitor for her.

“vo sundar hai, gori hai, patli hai, per lambaai thodi kam hai.” (She is beautiful, fair, thin but a little short.) In 2010, NDTV Imagine produced a show Baba Aiso Var Dhundo which talked about the issue of height in marriage. Many women are not accepted not only in the arena of marriage but also in jobs of certain kinds because they don’t have particular figure and body shape and size. For example- Modeling.

“moti hoti jaa rhi ho, patli ho jao, vrna shadi mein phir dikkat hogi.” (You are getting fatter, start losing weight otherwise there will be a problems in getting you married.) The issue of weight was beautifully explored in the 2015 film Dum Laga ke Haisha. Here Bhumi Pednekar’s character has to face humiliation and disrespect in the hands of her husband because of her body shape and size. The movie incorporates a beautiful satirical song Sundar Shusheel, which presents the checklist of acceptance required for both boy and girl in marriage.

“ladki sundar hai lekin daant nhi aache hain.” (The girl is beautiful but her teeth are not good.) In 2003, Sony Entertainment produced a serial, Jassi Jaesi Koi Nhi which talks about the life of a girl who did not fit into the socially approved frame of beauty and shape and wore braces to modify her teeth.

Though few attempts to challenge the set norms have been made in the country through these shows and movies but still there are very few of them. And there is need of more and more attempts to be made in order to challenge and subvert the set norms of beauty, size and shape.

Indian women, across the country, irrespective of religion, caste, colour, community, have to endure a lot humiliation because of their colour and body structures. There are certain fixed parameters of beauty in the society which lead to the acceptance of people as beautiful. Since our birth, it is decided whether we fall in the category of beautiful or not. How difficult or easy is it going to be for our parents to find a match for us depends mostly on the shape of every part of our body. We become prey to judgmental eyes of our own family and then of the world.

At present, when the whole world is fighting against the injustice done to blacks after the homicide of George Floyd, I sometimes end up thinking god knows how many people in India, since ages had to end their lives because they were shamed by the society for not bearing the ‘perfect’ body shape and colour. ‘Black Live Matters’, yes it does as people all around the country are writing on their social media platforms but what about the lives of people who are everyday criticized, judged because of their skin tone and shape. ‘I am in love with the shape of you’, but ‘I’ will decide the shape. You, in order to be loved, have to mould yourself in that shape. The cosmetic creams which claim to make you skin tone fairer and drinks and capsules which guarantee the perfect body shape and braces which help in mending the shape of teeth, further reinforce the stereotypical notion of beauty.

Our mythological figures are mostly depicted in fairer colour tone and one frame of body. Even in literature we come across stories like Pride and Prejudice, Emma by Jane Austen which had clear demarcations about the beauty standards of girls of ‘marriageable age’. Alexander Pope in his mock epic, The Rape of the Lock, mocks the practice of women decorating themselves in order to fit in the socially defined parameters of beauty and acceptance. All this again work as reinforcements of the already established notions of beauty. But one thing that has to be understood is that there is involved a lot social pressure that comes from the patriarchal foundation of the society.

Even today we can hear boys around us, saying, ‘bhai biwi to sundar hone chahiye. Bilkul Katrina kaif jaisi gori’( Bro, wife should be beautiful, just like Katrina Kaif). The dearth of actor of different skin tone and body shape in Bollywood also works as a vehicle of further reinforcement. We live in a society which is way too much exposed to the world of cinema and television and these actors work as role models in the lives of common masses. The matrimonial section in the newspaper still comes with requirements for fairer skin and thin shape.

The fight against colourism and body shaming has just started with Hindustan Unilever Ltd renaming its product from ‘Fair & Lovely’ to ‘Glow & Lovely’. When on one hand, even now most of the Bollywood actors don’t shy away from endorsing fairness creams and certain body figure by practicing the concept of thin body and zero figure, on the other hand there are actresses like Vidya Balan, who refused to lose her weight and Kangana Ranaut, refusing to endorse fairness creams. When Kalki’s character in Gully Boy goes on to tamper the Fair and Lovely holding and scribbles over it Black and Lovely, it sends a strong message across the audience. If people not only worship the ‘Shyam Sunder’ but also start to accept real flesh and blood of all colours and shapes, things will change for better.

The society and its people fail to understand that just like flowers have different colours and shades and fragrance, we humans have different colours, shapes and behavior. Each colour has its own individuality and beauty. But the society decides for us what we can put under the criterion of beautiful and what not.

There is still a long and jumpy road ahead. It will take many more generations and eras and many more movements like ‘Black Live Matters’ for the complete eradication of such kinds of social and cultural notions from the face of earth.

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