Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PDT/ 9pm EDT!
Being a Desi woman can be hard…
I often hear of the specific struggles my Desi clients face in their communities.
My mentor used to say, “things in the dark always come to light”, and my hope is, through this article, that women will feel empowered enough to break down generational curses of antiquated traditions that are not working for them in this day and age.
One of the most brutal and painful, yet extremely common issues I have confronted is one of Eurocentric beauty standards in the Desi community. Being a woman who has been forced into this conversation at home for her entire life, I’m just eager to dive into this one!
From complaints of being too fat, too dark in complexion, too short, having small boobs, and even having short hair – I have heard it all.
Who said beauty was limited to these features? More importantly, who has control of said inherited genetic traits?
The worst part is society, family, even friends, at times.
I remember my relatives would set me up for arranged marriages with men larger than me, mainly so that I would not be rejected.
I once had a family bargain for me. They said, “Since your daughter is not good-looking, make sure she has a doctorate so we can show her off that way.”
I have heard Desi women being told: just look nice until you get married, and then it doesn’t matter how you look. There are matchmakers that say things like “She is dark. I have the perfect dark-colored boy for her.”
All these dialogues need to stop. We need to change the narrative about beauty in our South Asian households and encourage our communities to embrace all bodies and all forms of beauty. It was this that pushed me to address stereotypes and motivated me to become one of the first few Indian American Plussize Models in the world.
This topic can be toxic, especially when it comes from other women.
I have heard many families refer to the marriage of their daughter as an escape. “We have raised you all this time, once we hand you over to a man, then we can finally rest.”
Starting from the age of being “legal”, a typical desi woman enters the age of marriage talk. Growing up, my eldest female cousin did not really know how to cook and clean. My relatives used to say, “If we don’t send you to your in-laws’ house without proper training you, they won’t blame you. They will blame us for sending an inadequate woman to that household.”
It used to blow my mind. In what way was she inadequate?
She is educated. She is beautiful. She is so sweet and caring. Yet, she is inadequate.
And now, with women being so educated, independent, and self-sufficient, marriage has become a competitive sport! Parents are trying to get their daughters liked by “qualified” men.
I would often hear: “We are the girl’s side, we have to go along with their demands” or “You are the girl, just adjust.” Women don’t get to choose, they are the ones being chosen.
Oh, you thought dowry was an old practice? Well, you’re wrong.
Prospective in-laws and parents parade their gold and silver jewelry and discuss how big the dessert table was in their respective daughters’ weddings.
Once you’re married, the nature of the pressure changes to childbirth and motherhood. Many South Asian women are forced into having children, one after the other, because that is what their husbands and in-laws want.
Career Choices – For Women
In one narrative, it all boils down to how your work affects your husband and your child-rearing capabilities.
In another narrative, Desi women are discouraged by their husbands or families from accepting promotions and higher positions to avoid ego clashes with their counterparts.
I worked with a Desi woman studying to be a surgeon. All throughout her medical school and residency, her family members would question her parents, “Why are you allowing her to do surgery? That is very difficult. Tell her to do something more women-friendly” or “How will she manage a family if she picks such a difficult career path? She has to take care of her husband and children and also patients?”
How is a woman’s personal choice for a career dependent on her future husband and unborn children?
This places the burden of children and running a household on the woman.
“What does women’s empowerment mean to you?”
This was a question I was asked and it is one that I ask others.
Empowerment is a two-way support network. Women supporting those around them while receiving genuine support from the others in their life. By educating yourself on the painful narratives of Desi women, see how you can empower HER by having the right conversations.
For the Desi women out there, do not be afraid to speak your mind.
For the Desi men out there, support the women in your life by listening to their needs.
For the Desi parents out there, give your daughter the respect and independence she deserves. Let her make choices for herself.
By bringing touchy subjects to light and having healthy communication in your households, we can ensure the proper treatment of desi women.
Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.