Recently, we took a trip home, to Jhansi.
A few days into our stay, both of my husband’s sisters, and their children, came. When the eldest sister came to talk to me in my room one night, she was a little put off that I wasn’t wearing my bridal earrings. I told her that I take them off when I sleep, and I must have forgotten to put them back in. (I only take them off because they once got caught on the pillow, ripping one of the dangling ornaments off.) She did not seem satisfied with my reply.
Next, she said, “And where is your engagement ring?”
I wasn’t sure whether she meant the solid gold ring my adopted Indian family gave me for our wedding, or the gold rings that my husband and I exchanged. Either way, I don’t wear either of those rings daily – and neither does my husband.
I explained that both of our rings were safe, but she did not seem pleased with my answer.
“Is it compulsory for married women in America to wear jewelry?” She asked, casually.
“No, it’s not mandatory. Married or unmarried women wear jewelry if they want to. Married men and women wear their wedding rings, in most cases, as that is our symbol of marriage.” I replied.
“Well, it’s compulsory here.” She added, ending the conversation.
Here we have an American wife with her husband.
photo by Luke Wisley via Flickr.com
A while later, she returned. “Can you explain marriage culture in America?”
Assuming she wanted to know what life was like if you are married in America, I explained like this…
“Marriage in America is quite equal. The man and the woman can define what their individual relationship will be like, but in general things are very equal. Both the man and the woman are expected to earn money,” I began.
“Outside of the home?!” She asked, surprised.
“Yes. Both the man and the woman are expected to earn money, as in a job outside of the home, to earn money for the house and family. And families are different… Married couples don’t live with their parents. A man and a woman live together, separately, in most cases, and their young children, if they have children. Some people may live with their family, but in most cases, they don’t. Husbands and wives equally do housework, or have equal responsibility in the home somehow. Husbands and wives raise their children together, and even share cooking responsibilities. Of course, it’s different for everyone.”
Her face was curious, but doubtful, and she was soon called away.
The next night, as we were preparing for a house party, I got ready, had help putting on my saree. When I was all dressed, I brushed my hair and put it in a simple bun. I don’t know any hairstyles. I don’t (waste) dedicate my time to my hair and makeup like other girls do. But that’s hardly acceptable as a married woman in India.
His cousin-sister noticed me trying to style my hair and then giving up.
“Would you like some help?” She asked.
“Ah, yes…” I replied. Only to find that she had no intention of helping me. She was just trying to prove a point to our other cousin-sister that I could not do my own hair. She walked away in giggles, talking trash the entire time.
When the younger of his two sisters came in, she offered to fix my hair. After playing with it for awhile, she said, “It’s just going to be covered by the pallu anyway,” and put it back in a simple bun.
Then his eldest sister came in again.
“Kajal? Lipstick?” Which more or less means, “Where’s your makeup? Why aren’t you wearing makeup?”
I sighed and went to the mirror to apply my eyeliner. When I finished, satisfied, I sat down.
“And lipstick? Why don’t you wear lipstick? Will your husband be angry if you wear lipstick?” She giggled.
Annoyed, I thought I would let them know that, in fact, my husband does not like when I wear makeup, and he prefers me without makeup. But that aside, I have never liked wearing makeup. I was an eyeliner-only kind of girl my whole life.
Eldest sister again chimed in with, “Well what do you do when you have a woman’s occasion in America?”
The tone of her question implied that, not only does she think a woman should be made up every where she goes, but that in America we have no sense of beauty.
Still annoyed, I replied with, “We wear what we want to wear and look how we want to look. It’s not a beauty competition. If there is a special occasion, we get dressed up, but we don’t wear sarees. We wear makeup if we want, but it’s not mandatory. And it’s fine.”
She may have sensed that I was a bit offended by her tone, and she seemed to back off.
I’d like to clarify that I don’t mind Indian makeup or beauty standards, I just don’t think it should be mandatory. I think a made up Indian woman looks elegant and beautiful, but I don’t think I should be judged for not wearing earrings when I’m at home and there is no occasion, and I think it shouldn’t matter whether or not I wear makeup. Well, not just me, but all brides.
With this mindset, your appearance is to please other people, and more or less, families can show off their beautiful bahu, husbands can show off their beautiful wife… It’s… like a competition. As long as I am respectful, modest, and kind, what does it matter whether or not I wear lipstick?
Fellow partners of Indians, what do you think of the Indian beauty standards for married women? Do you comply?
Fellow Americans, what do you think about beauty standards for married women in India?
Indians, your thoughts?
For more information on marriage symbols, see Alexandra’s article: The Symbols of Marriage
Featured Image by Jakob Montrasio via Flickr.com