Why is it that the world is so keen to judge us most of all?
It’s as if desi society stood in front of a mirror and asked, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who should we criticize most of all?” And the mirror, which is simply another name for the patriarchy/tradition/ignorance replies, “Women and girls. Girls who are not yet old enough to understand, girls who are in too deep and feel they are in an unbreakable cage, mothers, daughters, and don’t forget about the wives.” From the moment we are born and throughout our entire lives, our community keeps a watchful, and judgemental, eye on us.
They look at us at face value and they measure the gold in our skin. If there is too much, you are considered “too dark” and they say it’s a consequence of all the days you rebelled and played in the sun. They whisper in a loud way that aunties do and offer up advice for herbal skin remedies, tell you to buy Fair and Lovely and undo what you were born with.
If there is what society deems to be the right amount of melanin in your skin, then they look at your fair complexion with jealousy. Their eyes ooze of envy and their mouths say “MashAllah” while their minds curse you for having what their daughters do not. They scold their daughters for being as they are, “why can’t you be fairer like so and so’s beti?” We can never win.
Their eyes follow the curves of our bodies. If there are too many, they say no man will marry a woman he can’t wrap his arms around. They taunt you for the way your body is too curved and make jokes that your mother feeds you too much or you need to exercise.
Yet, when we have more angles, then their eyes pierce your small frame. They scrutinize every visible bone and rudely announce, “Bhabhi, her collar bones are out, is she eating enough? She looks sick.” They assume you are on a diet and they all say the same thing, “You’re young, you should eat. Diets are for later.” We can never win.
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They said your hair is too curly, too unruly, too uncontrollable. Or they said your hair is too thin so you must be sick or not using enough Parachute coconut oil. They said your hair is too “modern” with its non-traditional cut and color.
They said your career is nothing compared to so and so’s beti because she’s a doctor/lawyer/engineer. They said someone else’s daughter will get all the good rishtas because she can make her rotis round and her curries have just the right amount of tikka and masala. They pit us against one another. All we hear and experience is being compared to other women and others being compared to us. Life becomes a constant, if sometimes unconscious, battle with each other.
I don’t know about you, but this notion of the perfect desi women makes me feel as if women are all just beds or porridge that Goldilocks needs to try, and only one of us will be “just right.” That’s ridiculous, it’s just an idea, and one deeply rooted in misogyny, sexism, colorism, body shaming, you name it.
What I still have difficulty understanding though, is how women judge other women. Why do we repeat the behavior that is done to us? Is it not enough to experience it ourselves, now that we have stooped so low that we do it to our fellow sisters?
From one woman to another, no one understands our struggle and pain like each other. It is possible to succeed in life without stepping on your fellow sisters. It is possible for there to be more than one beautiful woman in a room with everyone genuinely complimenting each other. The truth is, you are all absolutely extraordinary, just as you are.
Society tries to force us into this cookie cutter shape and because none of us actually fit the mold, every aspect of our physical beings is put under a microscope and picked apart one by one. Sometimes you are too much of something and sometimes you are not enough. You deserve more than to be labeled as dark or fair, thin or curvy, pretty and not pretty. What society needs to understand is that things are not just black and white, contrary to popular belief. Sisters, you all are the whole damn rainbow. Here’s a love letter, from me to you, to prove it.
You are energy. You are what the world desperately aches for after dark times and a rainstorm. Your power is immeasurable and your force is one to be reckoned with.
You are peace and harmony. You are the first sign of spring. You are braver because you are the flowers that have, against all odds, sprouted from the cracks in a sidewalk.
You are both the sky and the sea. You can save humanity or you can drown it. You are so unexpected, you are out of the blue. You are refreshing and you are real.
You are majestic; your skin tone does not dictate your status. No, you were born a queen and always will be. You are strength and courage.
You are the sweetness and charm of life. When others are around you, they are always tickled pink. You are sugar and spice, and everything nice. You are joy and you bring joy.
You are as rich as pure honey. You are a showstopper, dripping in finesse. You are priceless. You are a golden goddess and you always light up the room.
I hope you see how beautiful you truly are, regardless of what desi society says or believes. You are not meant to be average or the “perfect desi girl.” That’s impossible and frankly, it’s degrading because you are meant for so much more. It does not matter what your size or shape is. It does not matter what the texture of your hair is or whether you are fair or sunkissed. So please, instead of competing with one another, let’s collaborate. We are each a movement by ourselves, but we are a force when we’re together. Let’s lift each other up, as women and as a sisterhood. Everything about you is just right, my dear sisters. You all color the world.