Beauty For All


Harleen Singh is associate professor of women’s studies and South Asian literature at Brandeis University. Harnaaz Sandhu (in featured photo above) was crowned Miss Universe in December.

Both Sandhu and Singh say they see change on the horizon in regards to darker skinned Indians winning pageants. Sandhu’s win is hopefully an opening, they say, for darker-skinned women to enter the mainstream. Here they talk to NBC News:

“In the last 10 to 15 years, more women who are reflective of brown women and brown colored skin have made it to the fore,” she said.

Though Sandhu isn’t dark-skinned, she says she never grew up imagining herself as a beauty queen. It took her time to find the confidence to enter her first beauty pageant at 17 years old. Patriarchal standards hold women back across skintones, she said, and it’s what she wants to dedicate her life to breaking down.

“Everyone is being shamed, whether you’re fairer, whether you’re brown, whether you have dark skin, we are all being shaded. That’s because they have this belief that a beauty pageant is all about looking pretty. It’s all about having that one particular skin. But now, I think people are changing their perspective.”

There’s a way to go, Singh said. She still doesn’t think the beauty industry makes space for women who don’t meet certain guidelines, even beyond skin tone.

“What constitutes a beautiful woman?” she said. “The fixation we’ve had on fair skin, particular height parameters, bodies. Have we had anyone who doesn’t fit this precise, cookie-cutter image of wha ‘good figures’ are all about?”

But standards change, she said, and they’re more reflective of money and power than anything else.

“The idea of beauty is so interesting,” Singh said. “What we find beautiful as individuals cannot be codified or classified. But we have to acknowledge the fact that as communities, as cultures and as markets, we do have a vision of beauty, which greatly flattens out the individual.”

Sandhu says that for large-scale change to happen, it’s important for young women to push against the norms in their own communities.

“You have your own voice,” she said. “Speak for yourself.”