The unobtainable ‘beauty’

Let me start off with a little bit of a history lesson for you: The British invaded India in the 17th century, they came-they saw- they conquered… and eventually, they left…leaving behind many legacies, some good and some not so much. The one that has plagued my life for as early as I can remember is an incredibly unrealistic (and quite westernized) view of beauty. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘what a vain thing to obsess about’, so please, allow me to explain. Growing up in the South Asian community can be very difficult for girls. From a very early age you are surrounded by unreasonable expectations of what a ‘pretty Pakistani girl’ should look like. You must be thin, but not too thin (so that child bearing doesn’t become a problem), tall, but not too tall (otherwise how will you ever find a husband), fair skinned (really fair), have thick hair, perfect white teeth, dainty hands, a thin nose…and the list continues.

I remember early on, I didn’t really pay much attention to the comments, I felt pretty confident…that didn’t last long. Once I became a teenager, everything changed. I started to avoid mirrors, I hated what I saw staring back and popular opinion agreed with me. I started starving myself, bleaching my skin on a daily basis (thanks to the creators of the fair and lovely products), applying make up to thin out my features and so much more. I was completely obsessed with reaching that unrealistic idea of beauty. It worked for the most part, I was thin, fair, make up perfected and even started to look a bit taller…my exterior started to match others expectations, but what about all the stuff on the inside. I was always unhappy with the way I looked, something could always be better…I could never reach my goals, because they never existed. My goal was always to be better than where I was. I was never able to walk into a room late, out of fear that I would draw attention to myself, hated taking pictures and couldn’t even sit without wrapping a shawl around my waist. I felt alone…but I wasn’t…low self esteem was something that was prevalent in South Asian females across the community; my friends, my cousins and even my aunts. Everyone was going through the same obsession of reaching that unrealistic beauty.  

As I grew older, got married and had kids, those unrealistic expectations started to fade slightly, but never really disappeared. To this day I can’t walk confidently through a crowd, I still find myself shying away from the sun, and am always draping myself in a shawled distraction of some sort. I try really hard not to let my insecurities shadow over my daughter…but while I may have grown somewhat, societies expectations of beauty have not changed. When working with young girls in the community (including my daughter and nieces) I am always trying to push positive self image, and why it’s important to ignore societies expectations of us…but it’s hard at times, because deep down inside, I know that I am still avoiding that person looking back at me in the mirror.

4 thoughts on “The unobtainable ‘beauty’

  1. bonniehunter1 says:

    This is something so many women deal with…thank you for talking about it so openly. Very powerful words from one of the most beautiful women I know, inside and out.

  2. Sheba Siddiqui says:

    Great blog post Rabia! The norm of what is considered to be beautiful in South Asian culture can often be unattainable and like you write, we can spend our whole lives chasing after it. Sites like have detailed descriptions of fair skin, thick long hair and slender figures that need be required to be considered a suitable bride. The more we keep talking about this, the more we can change this mentality!

  3. Elene says:

    Oh my gosh. First, I would never have thought you felt that way about yourself. You have always looked so confident to me and beautiful….but then doesn’t confidence give you beauty? I wish I had your confidence. It makes you successful in life and beautiful to others. I’ve always thought I was fat. Can you believe my tall beautiful daughter can’t even fit into my 80’s jeans! I was skinny and couldn’t see it! Why are so many females blind to their own beauty and have no problem seeing the beauty in others? I still can’t stand photos being taken of me. Can you believe I have very few photos of myself with my kids? When I die they will have difficulty finding any of me. Sad I know. Self image is very difficult to repair, especially if it’s not addressed at a young age. My opinion, beauty has to start from within before it can be reflected in a mirror. Feel good about yourself on the inside and don’t let anyone’s judgment or expectations be a guide on how you see yourself. It makes me so happy to see my daughter grow into a very confident person, who is so motivated to become so many things in life, the sky and beyond is her limit…… I’m still a work in progress but like most women I’m getting there 🙂

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