the girl next door is evolving

On the 15th of September 2013, Nina Davuluri made history by becoming the first woman of Indian descent to win the Miss America title. Immediately after her victory, there was a backlash of racist comments on social media that has since been highly publicised. Thousands of tweets were published about how Miss America apparently "isn't American"and therefore shouldn't have won. In my opinion, this is highly unfair- Nina was born and brought up in the States and therefore qualifies for the competition. Just because she doesn't embody the image of a typical blonde and blue-eyed beauty does not mean that she didn't deserve to win. As Nina herself said, "Miss America is viewed as the girl next door, and she is always evolving."America, as a country, is a huge melting pot of different cultures and through Nina's win, it is evident that the Miss America pageant is celebrating this diversity. 

Nina Davuluri at the traditional dipping of toes in the Atlantic Ocean after the pageant. Source: Vancouver Sun.
As the media coverage of the negative messages on social media died down, another debate emerged. This time it was about whether or not Nina would have won the pageant back in the country of her origin: India. Why? Because her skin is too dark. Many Indian and South Asian writers have noted that you wouldn't be likely to see someone of Nina's skin colour in a pageant. Indian beauty queens, such as Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai are typically fair-skinned, because South Asian individuals often see light skin as being more beautiful. Back in 2003, when Miss India contestants were being prepped for the pageant, they had weekly sessions with a dermatologist. Each and every one of the women ended up taking some kind of medication to alter her skin.

This obsession with fairer skin drives a market of skin lightening products. India's whitening-cream market was valued at a whopping $432 million in 2010. Such products are hard to ignore- whenever I go to India, I always see several advertisements for different kinds of whitening products. These advertisements often feature a darker-skinned woman getting turned away from marriage or a job before the product appears, suggesting that by lightening her skin, all of her problems will magically disappear.

Yet there is a double standard involved here. While people in Asia are trying to lighten their skin, people in European countries are trying to darken it. Being in an international school which has eighty-three nationalities, I hear different people expressing different opinions regarding their skin tone. I have heard several Indian's complaining about how they're too dark, but I've also heard several people from Europe complaining about how their skin is too light and refuses to take on any colour. In the same way that South Asians use lightening products, Westerners use tanning products to give their skin a darker glow. What's even worse is that all of these products have major health risks: tanning beds expose skin to sharp UV rays that could cause skin cancer, while whitening creams can contain dangerous chemicals that cause hypertension and even some forms of cancer.

So what does this mean for us? Why do we expose ourselves to such dangerous health risks just to change our appearance? The skin colour debate is one that will continue across the world for a long time, but here's what I have to say about it. We should be comfortable just the way we are. If we are born with darker skin, so be it, and if we are born with super pale skin, so be it. I'm originally Indian, but was born and brought up in New Zealand, so when I was little, I was always surrounded by people who had fairer skin than I did. Now in Dubai, I'm surrounded by people who all have different skin tones. I think that no matter where you are, you should be comfortable in your own skin. As Steve Maraboli said: "There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”

PS: If you don't love Nina yet, you should read this. Congratulations Nina! You're an inspiration to us all. 


be a first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of anybody else

Hello blogging world! Since my last post, something very significant has happened. Summer has ended and alas, I have gone back to school. I'm in Year 12 now and have started my first year of the IB Diploma. So if you don't hear from me for a long time, it's probably because I'm drowning in an ocean of homework/exam preparation/IA's. If you're also starting IB, drop by the comments section and join the IB Bloggers Support Group! We should actually make that a real thing- maybe we could get CAS for it.

Anyway, enough with all of the IB jargon and onto the actual topic of this post.

After three months spent in the company of only our family and our close friends, we've all been ushered back into a group of hundreds of people around our age. With so many people around, it can be more difficult to be yourself. As teenagers, we're still struggling to find out who we really are and sometimes when we're in large groups of our peers, we find it easier to simply follow the crowd instead of being our own person. Why? Well, there's probably some long, complicated psychological reason, but I've only been taking psych for a week, so I don't know about that yet. I'll get back to you. But in my understanding, I think it's because we don't want to attract unwanted attention. We think that doing what everyone else is doing is "cool" and the right thing to do, when really, it probably isn't.

A good example to use has to do with fashion. A lot of people read fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle religiously, keeping track with the latest styles. There's nothing wrong with this. It does become a problem, however, when people choose to follow fashion blindly. They think that if they wear what they see models wearing in magazines, they will instantly look as good as said model and become as successful. Most of the time, this isn't true- the clothes or styles may not even suit them. Everyone looks different- we all have different body types, different faces and different hair colours. As mentioned in an excellent article by Victoria Lewis in a 2012 issue of Teen Vogue, just because you wear designer clothes does not mean that you look good. It's about how you put things together.

If you follow fashion blindly, chances are that you'll just end up looking like everyone else. In my opinion, it's far better to establish your own style. This could take anywhere from a few days, to a few months to a few years as it involves a lot of experimenting. But by creating your own unique style, you will be wearing what you look good in and what you feel comfortable in, instead of just wearing what everyone else is wearing. Think of style icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Madonna and Tavi Gevinson. They didn't follow a particular set of rules- instead they wore what they knew suited them without really caring about what other people think.

I almost burst out crying, this picture is so beautiful.
Moving away from fashion and back into a general idea of things, we can see that it's a lot better to be yourself rather than following everyone else. Why should you change yourself to fit someone else's idea of 'cool' or 'normal'? To repeat a common phrase, you are unique and no one can take that away from you. Throughout history there have always been people who chose to break away from the pack and stick to their own ideas and beliefs, no matter how much they may have been ridiculed at the time, and those are the people who have been extremely successful. For example, in school, Bill Gates was considered to be 'the nerdy kid' and look at where he is today. A more historical example would be Vincent Van Gogh, who kept painting even though his artwork went unappreciated until after he died. Several famous figures whom we look up to today are those who refused to change themselves.

When you are yourself, it's likely that other people will slowly start to follow you. Be a leader, instead of a follower. As Oscar Wilde said: "be yourself; everybody else is already taken."