Tuesday, September 26, 2017


By Lily Hikam*)

When I was 14 years old, I used to sneak into my father’s study to use his computer with the dial up internet to go on the Web. My father’s study also doubled as our in-house library, filled with books collected from his days as a graduate student in Hawaii. It was also in this study-library that I discovered and read the nonfiction book titled The Beauty Myth (1991) by a famed American feminist, Naomi Wolf. Granted at that age my command of the English language was not as good as now, but I managed to grasp the overarching message of the book, which is: Unrealistic beauty standards continue to plague women though women have managed to break through glass ceilings, resulting in women who are trapped by a sense of diminished self-worth

Reading this book changed the way I felt about myself, in that I started to feel that maybe it was okay to be different from the rest; that maybe there’s nothing wrong with me for not looking like the actresses on TV. Reading that book was my first step to self-acceptance.

I have always been different my whole life. I have always been bigger than my peers. My skin was dark from playing outside too often.  I cropped my hair short so no black flowing tresses for me. My nose is flat, not pointy like the beautiful people on TV. The only clothing I could wear was boy clothes because back then there was no brand that made cute dresses or shirts in my size. When I turn on the TV, I don’t see anyone who looked like me. Everyone was either light skinned, skinny and beautiful with the spotlight on them, or tanned, fat, have the same appearance as me and only there to be made fun of for the way they look. This was the way the Indonesian media, and in conjunction society, assigned us our roles: you are only as worthy as the way you look.

If I go on Pinterest and look up “Indonesian Beauty”, I’m pretty sure I would find these results: “Indonesian Beauty” will be defined by countless pictures of light skinned girl with European features, pointy nose, brown hair and slim bodies.  Indonesian beauty standards are still deeply rooted in its colonialism history where the lighter skinned and more European looking you are, the prettier you are.

More often than not, actors and actresses seen on TV are people who are Indos or of mixed heritage. Meanwhile, the pribumi or native actors are relegated to roles such as being comic relief or the unpopular yet well-meaning friend. I have lost count on how many beauty brands market products that can lighten your skin. And in my quest for beautification I have lost count how many I have bought. What do you think this mentality will do to the people who look different from the ones shown on TV? They will try their whole lives to change their appearance, never appreciating their God given beauty, never appreciating the way they are but chasing after some beauty standard that’s unrealistic and, quite frankly, discriminative.

I used to be one of those people who obsess over the shade of their skins. And I bemoaned the fact that my features aren’t “white” enough and how I will never be beautiful like the actresses on TV. My mother told me that my brain matters more than beauty, and that’s when I realized that appearances aren’t everything, and that accepting the way you are is important to love yourself.

But how can one do this if every day when you have to see ads about products that can make your skin lighter and then guys will flock to you only after you have lighter skin? These kinds of ads are commonplace in the Indonesian media and speak of the oppressed mentality leftover from Dutch colonization. Now, I don’t want to vilify people who happen to be of mixed heritage. In this writing, I’m not trying to put them down, because I think they are beautiful the way they are. But then so are the pribumi features of tanned and dark skin, dark hair and flat nose.

What I’m trying to vilify is the practice of applying unrealistic and discriminating beauty standards on a society, so much so that it paralyzes their sense of self-worth and self-accomplishment.  So please stop these types of beauty campaigns, as if having a lighter skin equates to being more beautiful. The only thing it’s doing is damaging the self-worth and confidence of young boys and girls everywhere. It’s time to start loving ourselves the way we are created, not the way society (and the cosmetics industry) tells us to be.

*) Graduate Student,
Zaragoza Lab,
UCI Cardiogenomics Clinical and Research Program
Department of Biological Chemistry
School of Medicine
The University of California, Irvine, California, USA



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