Unpretty: Beating the Beauty Myth

Tahreen Dewan
3 min readNov 10, 2020

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I used to pray every night in the hope that I’d wake up beautiful. And of course, each morning only brought another day of disappointment. There were times it got so bad that I’d avoid windows and mirrors in case I caught a glimpse of my reflection. Who wants a reminder that they’re not perfect?

Such impossible and narrow beauty standards are forced onto us. As well as toxic ideas of what it means to be masculine or feminine. We don’t realise that too many of us have insecurities and self hatred. We inspect each inch and aspect of our physical self, finding faults but failing to see the good others see in us. Not even supermodels are exempt from these impossible ideals. What’s worse is the systemic discrimination of fat people and those who don’t fit society’s beauty standards. This kind of discrimination leads to health and income inequalities, as well as physical and verbal abuse. As a society we have not even come close to shattering these harmful ideals and inequalities.

I can only speak from my experience on this and how these ideals have affected my own life.

Being a South Asian woman means you often get a double dose of beauty standards shoved in your face; from the mainstream media and from the community. There is a much higher level of scrutiny towards young South Asian women than South Asian men. An attractive man is a bonus, an attractive woman is a must. She must be slim and fair in order to be pretty.

My own experience was that people in my family and community couldn’t help but criticise my appearance. And when there wasn’t criticism, there was either silence or a back handed compliment. “Hmm. You’ve lost weight. Good! You need to lose some more.”

I’m not surprised that this feeling of not being beautiful or good enough was a source of depression and unworthiness in my life. Added to the other wounds and past trauma that I had struggled to heal. I’d been starving for affection and validation, when someone came along and filled my emptiness with love and adoration. I felt beautiful. Extraordinary. Valuable. I know now, that this was just love bombing.

My wedding day was the first time I felt people saw me as beautiful. When I walked into the hotel foyer that evening looking like a Bollywood queen, I heard the other guests gasp. Was this the validation I’d searched for my whole life?

Not long after, I began to plunge into a kind of self loathing and despair worse than before. The same person who made me beautiful, now made me ugly. I could not stop myself from envying everyone because each of them had something I didn’t. I wasted my energy thinking of ways I could become perfect. What if I got liposuction? A nose job? The answer was never in losing weight but ridding myself of the bad thoughts and people poisoning my mind.

I can’t help wonder if I’d been given more compliments than criticism, would it have saved me some pain? I think of how much time I wasted when I could have been focusing on my interests and goals or just enjoying my life. How many people did I push away or opportunities did I turn down because I felt unworthy?

I think back to the prayers of a young girl begging to be beautiful. It is only now that I realise, each morning I woke, my prayers had been answered.

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Tahreen Dewan

Trade union organiser. Interests in travel, culture, self development, politics. Twitter @TahreenDewan https://tahreendewan.wixsite.com/tdewan