Growing up, it was fairly common for every body to be subjected to societal expectations, specifically the femme identifying. With the male gaze about, several of our choices were limited to what was defined normal by our "Male Superiors".
From the length of our hair to hairless bodies, shaped eyebrows to lash extensions, contoured faces to plastic-infused bodies, tiny waist-large butt-humongous tits to the docile,submissive,obedient expectations, every thought we have, every breath we take, every step we walk, every word we speak, objectified.
In 1973, in an essay titled, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” the British film theorist, Laura Mulvey, introduced us to the the term, the Male Gaze: “male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly.”
We are reduced to items on a catalogue, sold as the ideals to which one should aspire to, rated as our "customers" partake in the entertainment they have created for themselves. Not conviced? Let's dissect what the media has to offer us today.
Guaranteed Fairness. Guaranteed Fame.
Fair & Lovely, a fairness cream, gained its popularity among the Indian masses, with their tagline: "Guaranteed Fairness. Guaranteed Fame", catering to the colorist indoctrination that still exists in India today. One of the "gifts" of colonization, was this ideal that "Being fair and white equals success, marriage, money and fame".
To adapt to changing times, during the British Rule, many Indians were forced to adopt ideologies the Ruling class enforced upon their masses. Like a chameleon we as a collective began to think that the more we resemble the Europeans, the more we deserve the power, respect, money, etc.
Ads like those of Fair & Lovely also influenced our mainstream media: Bollywood.
We are all aware of how music and movies influence masses with bio-socio-political ideologies (check out the reactions to Kashmir Files). For decades, leading tracks like Chittiyan Kalaiyan (white wrists), Gori Gori O Baki Chori (Young fair girl), Churake Dil Mera Goriya Chali (Having stolen my heart the fair girl walks away) and movie plots involving the sudden desirability of a "dark-skinned:ugly girl" going through a makeover to become a "light-skinned:pretty girl", has the Nation OBSESSED with color.
The prejudice, deep-rooted into the Indian psyche, contributed to several women, seated in their washrooms, covered in a Turmeric paste, hoping it would turn them fair. If that didn't work, well, we always had the beauty salons, where "white-washing" (bleach) was quite often suggested to every dark-skinned girl. To add to it, till date, wedding parlours present white-tinted brides so that their husbands' families may accept them as their Bahus.
The Ideal Woman
Centuries have been at play to craft women to suit their idealized expectations. From O'Hara's turbulent 17-inch waist to the hourglass-timeless body shape of 36-24-36, colonial expectations from women across the world seem unaltered.
Beauty standards, dangled as norms or ideals of perfection have always been projected upon young femme bodies and paraded around as "metrics of health". A recent excerpt from the Health and Physical Education Textbook provided to Grade 12 students talks about the importance of maintaining a healthy body figure: "36-24-36 is considered the best shape for females. That is why in Miss World or Miss Universe competitions, such type of shape is also taken into consideration. To get a perfect shape of 36”, 24”, 36” is not a bed of roses, it can only be achieved with the help of sports participation."
Models of femininity packaged to represent the Madonna-Whore Complex further add to the only two available ideals to which a young femme bodied can emulate. This further gives rise to male fantasies of the submissive, sexy woman and internalization of the male gaze involving etiquette classes and the rise in plastic surgeries.
The Ideal Woman, far from existence and a pedestal to satisfy the male fantasy is one, we have often been taught to aspire to. A date never begins without a painted face or a shaved body, hair and lash extenstions, manicured nails, skin care, lingerie, amounting to about $1000, all the while breaking credit cards to buy the perfect pair of heels and skimpy dresses required to fit that image of the Ideal Woman.
The world we live in, is far from ideal, let alone equal, where restrictions are more often applied to the femme-bodied and the brunt of objectificatioon and questionable security borne by them. Living in the midst of the Male Gaze, is yet another hurdle we have to tackle.