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Turns out my insecurities are actually colonial constructs

Why do we “other” ourselves?


Everyone has insecurities. I thought some would go away with age, and some would remain forever. But, the reality is that I needed to decolonise my mind, perception of life, and beauty to accept my own insecurities.


Ski slope nose, white skin, and a hairless body - these are the things I do not have. Ideals upheld by Eurocentric beauty standards have consumed hours of my day in front of the mirror, scrutinising which photos to post on Instagram and uselessly comparing myself to every other girl in my class. These “desirable” features have not only taken my time but become a determiner of my self-worth, my beauty.

 

Body hair

 

My relationship with body hair has become increasingly complex with the popular trend in women growing out their body hair, living “natural and free”. To some extent, it has become a symbol of being a “true feminist”. However, while there are exceptions, most women growing out their body hair are privileged in being accepted by societal standards simply because they are white. While the growth of body hair may still be difficult for them, women of colour, trans women, Black women and Indigenous women face the extra barrier of being the “other”. There is desirability in being “woke”, “white”, and a “true feminist”. For women like myself who are not white and naturally have thicker body hair, we must reach a baseline of acceptance, a performance of whiteness before we are allowed to be “natural”.

 

I spoke to Sukhjit Khalsa, a first-generation Australian Sikh spoken word artist, about her relationship with body hair.

 

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa / Supplied


Sukhjit reflected that many of her South Asian friends have had to change their bodies to be accepted in society, be employed, get ahead, and get married. Sukhjit’s own relationship with body hair has had its ups and downs. 


Raised in a “strong Sikh household”, one of the principles is to “not remove any body hair”. Sukhjit was told to “embrace each and every glistening follicle equally, and without prejudice because “leg hair is just as beautiful as the hair on our head”. However, entering high school, she was “peer-pressured” by names such as “Gorilla Girl”, forcing her to shave.


She doesn’t believe it is just about making a choice. “It’s capitalism, baby! If it truly were a choice, more women would be hairy, and society wouldn't be stigmatising us for being hairy.”


Seeing fellow women rocking body hair has made Sukhjit feel less alone. “One of the pivotal moments in my teens was seeing my (now) sister-in-law with hairy legs and denim shorts, and I felt less alone. She was the only person in my life that had body hair and wasn't afraid to show it,” she remembers.


I always have and honestly still am very conscious of my body hair. Whether it’s when I am tying my hair up or reaching something on a shelf and realise I haven’t shaved in a couple of days, or not getting my eyebrows waxed in lockdown.

  

It has become an integral part of my life, and as much as I diversify my feed with advocates for being “natural”, I know that I would not look like them if I did not shave.

 

Skin

 

As a lighter-skinned South Asian woman, whenever I tanned even slightly, people would constantly barrage me with things like  “you were so fair”, “look at your colour”, or “what happened to your skin?”.


It made me yearn to get my old complexion back - making my internalised colourism find its feet deeper and deeper.

 

Products like sunscreen became a threat at this point rather than a form of protection. 

 

At 9, I remember sitting in the living room scrubbing the sunscreen into my skin with tears down my face. It was something I thought I had the power to change.


Bollywood made it worse. So many women I saw on-screen received skin lightening treatment to continue in the industry. 


At 13, I bought Fair and Lovely when visiting India. The tube of chemicals with false promises lived in my bedroom drawer for years before I finally had the confidence to throw it out.

 

Ruchi Page / Sourced

 

In talking to the Indian-Australian model and advocate Ruchi Page, she said people only warmed up when she spoke in her “Aussie accent”. However, “even so”, Ruchi went on to say, “I would receive backhanded comments on how my skin is “not too dark,” which my internalised colourism would receive as a compliment.”


Reflecting on this, I do not blame myself for “othering” my own self. How can we not when we grow up playing with white barbie dolls with the perfect nose, no body hair and white skin? We are taught to call the peach crayon “skin” colour and contour our noses to make them look smaller and slimmer.

 

I will not lie. I wax my eyebrows, shave my legs, my arms. This does not make my value or belief for feminism any less, but rather a greater need to break down Eurocentric beauty standards.

 

We are sold skin lightening products, razors, lasers, lotions, wax and validation to remove the hair on our skin. We are then told that it’s “our choice”. But it isn’t. As Sukhjit says, it’s capitalism.


It becomes our choice when whether we are employed or not is no longer based on how we look. Through conversations, however, the power these insecurities have over us fades away. Even though not all my insecurities would go away overnight, it is only through talking to fellow South Asians that I can at least begin. 

 

It is not my, nor anyone else’s, responsibility to conform to any standard, let alone a standard created through colonisation. But it is time to decolonise our perceptions so we can find beauty in who we are, not who we had to become.


I am only just getting there.


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About the author

Varsha is a 19-year-old university student, podcaster and advocate for climate justice and mental health awareness. Varsha is a coordinator at Sapna South Asian Climate Solidarity and the host of the podcast Not to be Controversial. She is also a paralegal at Equity Generation Lawyers, which conducts climate change litigation, and has been an organiser for School Strike for Climate and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.



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