I heard a story from a friend that both saddened and frustrated me. This friend has a cousin who is in her early twenties, which in Indian Pakistani culture is considered just the right age range for courtship and marriage. As soon as a girl nears twenty, the pings, similar to the beeps of a dying battery in a smoke alarm, start going off in her parents brain. Apparently the dreaded age is thirty. If you’re past that and you are a female of southeast Asian descent, shame on you for not settling!
Of course I’m exaggerating. Not the shame and settling part but the stereotyping part. Not all Indian Pakistani families treat their daughters like heifers competing for first prize at the state fair, the prize being a husband. An education and a career is what is prioritized, especially here in the good old USA. However, I don’t have to tell you what kind of treatment women receive in terms of education, marriage, and procreation in parts of India, Pakistan, and other developing countries. You can grab a newspaper from those countries and read it for yourself. Sometimes that stone age mentality finds its way into society here as well.
The cousin of this friend has an aunt. This woman has been living and working in this country for the past thirty odd years, but apparently back in the old country, she was the village idiot. This aunt raved on and on about a neighbor of hers who she thought would be perfect for her niece. The only problem was that he was twice divorced. What’s the problem, the aunt asked. You know ——- won’t find anyone better. She isn’t thin or light skinned. Mind you, this was all said directly to the girl’s mother. I’m sure you’re thinking the mom must have gone ape shit, right? Unfortunately, no, and I’ll tell you why.
There are some backward ideas floating around in Indian/Pakistani culture, similar in annoyance to the common cold. There’s no cure for them, they’re annoying as hell when you’ve been afflicted, but they usually won’t kill you. Only a small minority thinks this way, but it’s that minority that ruins it for the rest of us. Backward idea numero uno is the obsession with light skin. Light colored skin is prized. Now, light skin is beautiful. My sister is light-skinned and she’s gorgeous. But we’re talking light skinned, as in Dracula just fed off you light. You need to look like a fresh bulb. The paler, the better. Don’t ask me why. I have no idea, especially since majority of Indians are of the darker, wheatish hue. Some people say it’s an inferiority complex left over from British colonial rule. I believe them. Oprah once did a segment on her show where she talked about how India is the number one country in the use of skin bleach. I’d have written a complaint to her on behalf of my people if I didn’t have slightly used tubes of Fair and Lovely sitting in my dresser drawer, remnants of my “I want to fit in” phase.
Another lovely gem of this thought process is that if you’re fat, you are ugly. No ifs or buts. An aunty once told me, “Girls only look good if they are slim”, which confused the eff out of me because she herself was fat as hell. And slim doesn’t mean slim/curvy. No, slim means flat chested, skeletal, and with cheekbones that would make Maleficent jealous. So unless you’re a fluorescent toothpick, it sucks to be you. Don’t believe me? Attend an Indo Pakistani party, especially one where lots of middle age ladies that are looking for brides for their sons are invited. If you’re pale, I guarantee you’ll have a fan following within the hour.
So the mother of the cousin of the friend said nothing. She just sighed and said her daughter would never consider a suitor who’s been divorced, twice. She did that because she herself believed that her daughter, a lovely, round faced, wide eyed, sweet girl, isn’t attractive because she isn’t light skinned or thin. Which makes no sense because her daughter has plenty of male attention. Lots of guys find her exotic looking and she’s been asked out often. She’s aware her mother has had this conversation, but she’s shrugged it off to a way of thinking that’s stupid and illogical, yet something that had been ingrained into her mother and aunt at a young age by their mother and so on. They’d been through it and it’s hard to change someone’s way of thinking. Besides, she told me, she’d never marry someone her mother picked out for her, anyway.
Of course, not all Indians and Pakistanis think like this. As a matter of fact, things are actually getting better in India. There are now lots of desi (slang for Indo/Pak, I can use it, I am one of them) actresses and models who are refusing to bleach their skin and take pride in having a tan. There are “dark is beautiful” campaigns all over the Indian media. It’s a slow process, overturning centuries of backward thinking, but I’m glad there has been a start.
If you’re wondering if I’ve been through the revolving door that is Indian Pakistani style match making a few times myself, then duh! You’re right. Where else would I get my writing material from if not life itself? I don’t know any desi girl who hasn’t, light or dark. It’s just the system itself. It’s barbaric. But I’m happy to say it was only a few spins before I found myself a sweet guy who couldn’t care less what I weighed or whether or not he’d save on his electricity bill if my skin color wasn’t the right wattage. My husband says the thing he liked about me the most is that I was easy to talk to. Now if it were only that convenient for everyone.