Why is there an obsession with the way one looks in the South-Asian community?

This blog bost has been inspired by my upset regarding something I experience very regularly within and outside of my own family: body shaming, or perhaps looks shaming all together.

I have always been a bit bigger than everyone else – even when I was younger I can remember having my cheeks pulled, being called “tubs” because I was really chubby and having to get bigger sizes in school trousers and shirts. The fat shaming that I often receive on a weekly, or even day to day basis from people I know is evocative of how many friends and family members have also complained about the body/looks shaming they encounter. The worst part about it is that the person poking comments and remarks aren’t exactly on the level of Ashwyra Rai or Salman Khan, right?! Regardless, I beg the question – why is there a culture obsessed with looks in the British-Asian community?


Please be aware that I am not talking about your mom or dad saying, “you ought to lose a few pounds and eat healthier”, for health benefits – I am talking about regular digs and comments regarding “why are you so fat?”, “look at the size of you”, “Look how dark you are” – or even those compliments which backfire on you, “Oh look how beautiful she is, she has fair skin and is slim”. It’s a shame that we don’t recognise this as bullying because the people who say it do so on a regular basis and are within our closest circles… If you think about it, if anyone you didn’t know said this to you, or even briefly knew you, you would take this offensively.

Currently, I am a size 14-16 – the national average, which I am neither saying is ok or not ok to be. Conclusive research shows that the waistline of people in the United Kingdom is increasing and that treatment for obesity is one of the costliest things to the NHS. For someone who is aware that she is overweight, despite the fact that I am active (up until recently attended the gym, worked out at home and wasn’t as sedentary) the experience of someone, who most definitely isn’t a medical profession, to constantly dig at my appearance is in itself degrading and a big knock to my confidence.

2K16 Me

At the age of 13 I was severely bullied and this led to excessive comfort eating, gaining weight and as a result I stopped doing the one thing I loved, which was swimming. Overtime the fitness I had accumulated and maintained from swimming had disappeared and it was only until an appointment with my GP and a couple of blood tests was I told that I needed to lose weight before I became diabetic. At this point I was already borderline. From then on I made sure to exercise everyday, and I can remember clearly going on the treadmill for an hour to burn 500 calories until I had lost three stones over a year later. Being told that I needed to shed fat and cholesterol this way was, at first a little upsetting, but then I had realised why and was completely fine with it. Now, I am reminded at my appointments to keep eating healthy and active. Although I am nowhere near to the stage of unhealthiness I was at before, I still know I can improve my health and fitness for my own benefit. However, some people – including myself on occasions, have done so for different reasons.

Bulgaria 2014 – after I had  lost lots of weight.

Despite the fact that I know I should not need anyone else’s recognition to feel good other than my own, with the repetitive remarks from those close to me, the idea of needing to look good for them or for someone else to like me based on my looks, is reinforced…This is where the big change in my mind occurred.

Although it will always mean something to me to be healthy and fit, the idea that I have to be what is deemed as “good-looking” in order to fit in with my own culture, is how I feel; I do not think I am alone in this thought – many of my fellow Pakistani, Bengali and Indian friends feel like this too. There is a consensus among many – on blog posts, YouTube videos, Facebook and from conversations I have had face to face with friends being that their self value is determined by someone else’s approval of what they look like. The saddest part of this post is that although we know it is wrong, we (including myself) succumb to the wanting of validation from other people, rather than ourselves first.

I am not solely blaming the people who have clouded widespread perspective on what should be deemed as beautiful, social media is also a cause of this self-hatred phase we all, at least once in life, experience.

I am able to speak from experience in that my mental health issues have been caused by the bombardment of negative comments towards me and in turn have led to states of self loathing. Being told, “Habibah, you are a diligent and kind person and that is all that matters”. Is it really “all that matters”, in a world where there is constant exposure of what should be seen as beautiful, people feeling they have the right to make others feel down and a genuine authority to bound around horrible things online regarding different body types and looks?

This blog post is empathetic with anyone, whether slim, big, dark, light, tall or short who have experienced negativity towards their appearance. I am not just writing about people who experience “fat shaming”, because people of all body types do too.

The one thing I find contradictory is that the beauty standards set today are undoubtedly due to the sexualisation of one body type over another, or through comparing one skin tone to another. Do you remember that period when people would be comparing “light skin” and “dark skin” girls, or saying that “slim-thick” was better than being slim, or calling girls “ironing boards”, because I remember it clearly.  This was a time which led to many thinking it was acceptable to categorise both women and men on their appearance and rank them based on who was better or not. This period was justified through the profiling of appearances being justified by “oh, it’s just my preference”. Preference is not when someone else’s ideal of beauty has become dispersed among others and in turn degrades people who do not match this ideal. These trends made it popular for people to subconsciously tolerate rating people solely based on their looks.  This is yet another factor for why we have this obsession with beauty standards, not just in the Asian community, but on a global scale.

This was meant to be a discussion but it merely turned into a rant.

I hope you take away from this that making negative remarks about the way someone looks, dresses or generally is can be detrimental to their confidence and self esteem.









2 thoughts on “Why is there an obsession with the way one looks in the South-Asian community?

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