How I Learned to See The Worth in My South Asian Beauty

indo-caribbean women

by Parima Kadikar

Kindergarten was the first time I ever felt ugly because I was Indian. During one of our many playdates, somewhere in between organizing a Barbie fashion show and dancing to Kidz Bop’s latest Gwen Stefani cover, my friend Emma took it upon herself to explain that my darker skin and bushy eyebrows meant that I would never be pretty. I didn’t question Emma’s words at the time because, validated by her shiny blonde hair and pale green eyes, how could she have been wrong?

Growing up as the token Indian friend surrounded by Eurocentric beauty standards took quite a toll on my already lacking self-confidence. Emma’s words echoed in my mind like a Kidz Bop chorus that would have once brought me joy, and I was perpetually insecure about all of the facial features that differentiated me from my fair-skinned friends. From my eyebrows to the hair on my arms and legs, from my dark skin to my round nose—anything about my appearance that made me stand out started to feel wrong.

[Read More: Combating Eurocentric Beauty Ideals: A Commentary on Kendall Jenner on Vogue India]

As I grew older, I began to notice subtle yet pervasive differences in the ways the world viewed the brown girls in my life who had always been so beautiful to me. Every time I was offered backhanded compliments like “You’re the prettiest Indian girl I know,” I began to wonder whether I was supposed to feel flattered or begin to question the apparently limited beauty of which my brown body was worthy. Why were compliments to white girls never qualified by race? Were people implying that Indians were somehow inherently less beautiful than non-Indians? In high school I grew accustomed to hearing people say, “I’m not into Indians,” and it became very clear to me that the answer to my previous question was a resounding “yes.”

I’ve seen so many girls reject their Indian culture in an attempt to whitewash their identities, as if blending in with the white kids would earn them the beauty that seemed like a privilege offered only with a pale complexion. I have been guilty of this as well—awkwardly calling my mother “Mom” on the phone instead of “Mumma,” desperately hoping that my parents wouldn’t speak to me in Gujarati in front of my American friends, refusing to wear clothes that remotely represented my culture in public (a difficult task when Indian customs are being increasingly fetishized as “bohemian” or “festival fashion”). I suppose I thought that if I tried hard enough to make other people forget that I was Indian, they would look at me the same way they looked at the taller, blonder, whiter girls surrounding me.

[Read More: Is Beauty An Accomplishment? My Response to Priyanka Chopra Voted “Second Most Beautiful Woman in the World”]

In addition to overwhelming cultural confusion, Indian girls are bombarded with conflicting beauty standards. I was told I should be skinny, but not too skinny because I’d better eat that third roti and a second serving of subzi. My white friends wanted me to tan with them, but my relatives warned me to stay out of the sun and protect my “fair complexion.” Since I had the tragic misfortune of being short, Indian adults were generous enough to offer me home remedies (standing on my toes for 10 minutes a day was always a personal favorite) that would help me grow tall, but not so tall that prospective husbands would feel threatened. Desperately trying to mold to a definition of “beautiful” that simply didn’t accommodate girls like me was damaging in itself, but when it seemed as though every expectation contradicted another, I was left feeling especially hopeless.

Third wave feminism has emphasized self-love and body positivity, but there seems to be a gap in this dialogue within the South Asian diaspora. As an Indian girl raised in America, I have, for the majority of my life, felt suspended between two cultures that are at odds with one another. When looking for inspiration from relatable role models, I was continuously let down by the invisibility of South Asian women in Western media. It seemed as though to American television audiences, an understanding of my identity began and ended with Kelly from The Office.

When South Asian women are so ignored by pop culture, it was no wonder that my appearance felt abnormal and, as a result, inferior. This lack of representation, combined with pressuring beauty standards and relative silence regarding South Asian body image, amplified the confusion I already felt. Perhaps if there had been prominent voices in the media celebrating the strength and complexity of South Asian beauty, I would have spent less time trying to alter my appearance and more time embracing it.

Somewhere along my quest for unapologetic self-love, I realized that I would never be confident in my appearance without appreciating my culture. I eventually stopped looking for role models in Hollywood when it hit me that my own mother had already taught me everything I could ever hope to know about beauty, power, and confidence. It was from her that I learned that if I didn’t respect myself and my identity, no one else would.

Now, as I walk around campus pairing Indian jewelry with old flannels, I can’t believe that my heritage and appearance ever made me feel anything but proud. Having not one but two cultures from which I can seek inspiration has taught me to express myself in unique yet equal ways. While I may have felt weak when Emma’s words crushed me in kindergarten, I have since then found power in my identity as the daughter of Indian immigrants. The same bushy eyebrows that used to make me cringe when I looked in the mirror now serve as a reminder that they, like my identity, refuse to be tamed.

Parima Kadikar is a rising sophomore at Columbia University planning to study Middle Eastern Studies and Human Rights. She serves as co-president of the CU South Asian Feminism(s) Alliance and loves dance, photography, the Harry Potter series, and (most importantly) Maggi noodles. 

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

17 Ayurvedic Beauty Brands on our Radar Right Now

Holistic beauty trends are more prevalent than ever — that makes ayurvedic beauty brands incredibly sought-after, as well. Do you find yourself asking what your beauty products are actually made of? A lot of us even resort to food products for a skincare routine such as honey for face wash.

The term “Ayurvedic Beauty” is getting more recognition outside the South Asian world as well.

Ayurvedic beauty is coined upon the term “Ayurveda,” which originated in Hindu culture as the basis of utilizing the five life forms — air, water, ether, fire, and earth — to heal the human body.

[Read Related: The Budget-Friendly Beauty Guide you Need This Spring Season]

Ayurvedic beauty brands focus on using herbs and natural ingredients to create their skincare range and consumers around the world are attracted to these natural products.

Scroll down to see some Ayurvedic beauty brands founded by South Asians.

Soma Ayurvedic

Is your skin feeling a little dry this winter? Nourishing your skin with body oil will lend it the right amount of moisture — Soma Ayurvedic’s jasmine body oil can do that trick! Shop the oil, and their full line of products, here.


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Sama Tea

If you’re familiar with author and podcast Host, Jay Shetty, then you may have heard of his tea line, Sama Tea. Herbal teas provide many natural benefits. Has it been a stressful week? Try their lavender rose chamomile tea for some TLC. Check them out here.


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Sahajan Skincare

Know the Netflix show “Ginny & Georgia?” Loved the actress’ fresh-looking skin? Sahajan Skincare is behind that glow! They’re a must-try, featured in both Vogue and Elle India. See their full range of products here.


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Shaz and Kiks

This unique company showcases its brand with an emphasis on ‘holistic.’ Whether it’s bad hair days or excessive shedding, not only do Shaz and Kiks provide the products to help but also break down the science behind the problem. Go on your very own shopping spree by clicking here!


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Looking for accessible ayurvedic beauty products? Look no further! Ranavat is now in Sephora. With a beauty line that covers both hair and skin, there’s something here for everyone. See for yourself here.


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UMM Skincare

UMM Skincare is known for its brown sugar body scrub, made with natural ingredients, and Bakuchi oil known to improve signs of aging and hyperpigmentation. Try it for yourself by shopping here!


Give your skin the best by adding ZAILA to your daily skincare routine! Click here and start shopping!


This brand is all plant-powered, and we’re here for it — you should be too! Check out their full range of products here.

Inde Wild

Are you looking for brown skin-friendly sunscreen filled with nutrients? Look no further. Inde Wild has its very own SPF 50, with natural substances such as liquorice extract and cica, and it’s a mineral SPF suitable for all skin types. See what the brand is all about and shop it here.


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Mango People

I’m always in the market for brown girl-friendly lipsticks, and ones that are made of natural ingredients are a huge plus. Mango People does just this with their unique lipstick colors that suit all brown skin tones. Try them out here!

Kama Ayurveda

Need to swap out your shampoo for something better? Try Kama Ayurveda’s Ayurvedic Hair cleaner, infused with a variety of herbs and pulses with key ingredients like vetiver, tulsi, rose, moong beans, and shikakai. They have a variety of products to choose from so start with your hair and keep shopping for more here!


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Forest Essentials

According to Forest Essentials, night time is the best time for hydration. Check out their night cream, filled with nutrients to enrich your skin. You can shop their wide variety of products here.


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Koppen Ayurveda

A brand made for modern living, their essentials are all worth a shot! Start shopping here!


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Looking for a new face mask to try? AAVRANI has a variety of face masks and explains in detail when you should apply the mask during the week depending on your skin type. Take a look here!


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Plant-based skincare, anyone? Delhicious has got everyone covered, so click here and fill your baskets!


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Pratima Skincare

Just getting into skincare and don’t know where to start? PRATIMA skincare has starter sets, with basics, that every woman can use such as vitamin C serum, essential oils, and collagen creams. Grab yours now by shopping here!


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Fable & Mane

Struggling with hair care recently? Fable & Mane includes various hair oils in their collection that help grow and nourish your hair. Not only that, they have a scalp detox line as well — definitely worth checking out. See their full range of products here.


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[Read Related: 10 Clean Beauty Products That’ll Have you Winning on Earth Day]

In a world that’s becoming more conscious of holistic living, embracing Ayurvedic beauty in your day-to-day is a step in the right direction, and these brands are here to help you get started.

By Hrishika Muthukrishnan

Raised in North Carolina, Hrishika Muthukrishnan spent 18 years thinking there wasn’t much to the suburbs before she discovered how … Read more ›