A Price for Beauty

Is India adopting alien aesthetic standards in terms of beauty?


India is being bombarded by Western standards of beauty. Photograph Credits: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images

G Sai Prashanth

The definition of beauty is changing as globalization continues to bring together various cultures and societies. India has experienced tremendous cultural influence from other countries as a result of foreign rulers, trade ties, and cultural exchanges. Traditional beauty standards, which were once exclusive to particular ethnic groups are increasingly affected by a wider range of cultural influences. This has highlighted significant concerns about globalization affecting how we view and value physical attractiveness. Additionally, this gives rise to an important question, is India adopting alien aesthetic standards in terms of beauty?

The contemporary era of globalization

The contemporary era's increased globalization has made it easier for ideas from different cultures to travel to other regions of the globe. One set of cultural norms that have migrated to India is that of beauty. On television, increasing Western media influence coexists with commercials for foreign-based enterprises. Despite the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, several recent studies have attempted to develop objective criteria to standardize beauty and categorize precisely what makes someone beautiful in the eyes of others.

Beauty and its standards

Standards of beauty are not just an academic issue; they are influenced by culture and have an impact on the individuals who are held up to them. Beauty standards are dynamic, therefore, it is important to look at the causes and outcomes of any changes, both good and bad. Therefore, it is necessary to answer the questions of why these changes are taking place and what impact they are having. In the case of beauty standards, we can see how some developments may not have entirely positive consequences for Indian society. When considering the impact of globalization on beauty, it is important to consider the potential health and psychological impacts of modern beauty standards.

Beauty in the traditional Indian context

Comprehending contemporary ideals of beauty will require a clearer grasp of the historical background of beauty in India. The first depictions of women in India date to the Mauryan period, which lasted from the fourth to the second century BCE. Here, women are depicted as having big breasts, wide hips, exquisitely plaited hair and tapering legs. The Shunga Empire, which was founded by Pushyamitra during the 1st century BCE in Magadha in present-day Bihar, depicts women with bodies twisted into an S-shaped curve. By the Kushan period in the first century CE, centred at Purushapura (currently known as Peshawar), the S-curve and many other bodily proportions had been standardized, including the height of a woman's eyes and the ratio of her head to her total height.

It is illuminating to consider how particular goddesses are portrayed, especially goddess Parvati, who is referred to as the grand incarnation of the concept of beauty. Goddess Parvathi is depicted as having a moon-like face, golden skin, and the body of a slender-bodied maiden with comely hips. Indian poets also delve into greater detail about their idea of attractive hair as the darkness of black full tresses.

Current perception of beauty in India

The Indian beauty market is currently worth over $10 billion and is poised for much bigger growth. The popularity of western beauty standards in the nation has been aided by the growing influence of western media and social media platforms. As a result, many Indian women are now seeking out cosmetic treatments and products that will help them achieve a more westernized appearance.

Although the notion of fairness as beauty is not new in India, it does appear that the media's influence has cemented it as a basic requirement for beauty. The shift can be seen in the increasing popularity of skin-lightening products in India. These products are marketed as a way to achieve a fairer complexion, which is traditionally thought of as a desirable trait in India. One of the key moments in the development of this standard was the launch of Fair and Lovely in 1975, a product created to improve skin complexion in India. However, the marketing methods used to promote these products have come under fire for perpetuating stereotypes and the idea that lighter skin is more attractive.

Another illustration would be the rising practice of plastic surgery in India. Breast augmentation, liposuction, and nose jobs are among the cosmetic procedures promoted as ways to achieve a more Westernized appearance. These procedures carry significant risks, and the desired outcomes aren't always guaranteed. While curvy hourglass figures and even the occasional trace of additional fat in the stomach area predominate in historical depictions of Indian women, the present ideal is all about thin figures.

Health, Psychological risks: The negative impact of India's current beauty standards

The use of beauty treatments and products, which can have serious health risks, has increased as a result of India's current perception of beauty. The fact that products to lighten skin tone frequently contain hazardous chemicals like hydroquinone, mercury, and corticosteroids can cause serious health issues, such as skin rashes, allergic reactions, and even cancer. Additionally, the use of harsh hair dyes and treatments can harm the hair and scalp, resulting in hair loss and other issues with the hair. Likewise, using cosmetics that are unsuitable for the skin type can irritate the skin and result in rashes and allergic reactions.

India's current beauty standards can result in various psychological problems, including low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, especially in young people who are constantly exposed to social media. The relentless pursuit of perfection can also cause anxiety and depression and have a detrimental effect on one's general mental health. Additionally, the pressure to meet certain standards of beauty can result in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a condition in which a person becomes preoccupied with perceived flaws in their appearance, as well as eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Inference and the effects

There is ample proof that India is gradually acquiring Western conceptions of beauty, particularly through its entertainment sector, and that these foreign ideas of beauty are changing how Indians define beauty. Despite these shifts in perception, traditional standards of beauty are still very much a part of Indian culture. Many Indian women still place a lot of importance on conventional physical characteristics, like a beautiful face, long hair, and a slim waist. Additionally, there is an increasing movement in India to embrace one's natural beauty and individuality. People in India need to be aware of the chemicals and products they are using and the potential health risks. It can be said that Western beauty standards are increasingly influencing Indian perceptions of beauty, which coexist with traditional ones. While some people accept the Westernized norm, others are pushing back and advocating for greater acceptance of individuality and natural beauty.

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