Have you ever wondered why you even need to change or redefine what you consider to be “beautiful”?
I recently went away for my holidays to Mexico and decided to get my hair braided into “corn rows” or “dreads” because of the extreme heat and humidity as I was unable to manage my curly and unruly hair. It was also a hairstyle that I’ve always wanted to try for some reason, although now that I’ve done it, it has raised some social and cultural questions for me.
Until recently, I have always been a woman who has depended on my hair to help me to feel and look “beautiful.” And I suppose that most cultures do in some shape or form look at a woman’s hair or hairstyle to define her beauty. While Americans glorify long waves of blond hair, for example, devout Muslim women cover their hair for modesty’s sake.
While growing up, at times I also struggled with conflicting cultural definitions of what beauty meant in relation to not only my hair, but also my body and skin tone. But as I grew older, I came to be quite comfortable with my own version of “beautiful.” However, I never expected that simply changing my Europeanized hairstyle to an African hairstyle would launch me on an unexpected journey of growth and development, expanding my own cultural comfort zones.
It began with the mixed reactions I received from my family, friends, colleagues, professionals and strangers. This small and unintentional experiment has been eye-opening for me as I experienced a very negative reception from some of my family and others from within my South Asian community.
And while travelling on public transit, grocery shopping, going out into the community, attending business meetings and appointments, I received a mixed bag of negative, positive and in-between responses. Most interesting of all was that people from the Caucasian or Anglo-European cultures were the most positive people who generally smiled, commented or asked me a friendly question about my new “hairstyle.”
I did not choose this hairstyle for attention or to make a cultural statement, but the lack of acceptance I received overall for trying this hairstyle from a culture other than my own was interestingly disappointing. And, understandably, this experience has raised a few questions in my mind. For example, as Canadians, what do we define as “beautiful”? And have we as Canadians fully reached the status of being a nation of people who embrace other minority cultures? You may think that I am being too sensitive and over-generalizing, but for me this small “experiment” allowed me to examine whether people’s definitions of beauty have broader implications on accepting other cultures overall.
What do you think is beautiful?
Do you use your cultural heritage to help you define beauty? Or do you now use a “Europeanized” or “Americanized” version of beauty? Some of you may be in transition and may actually use both your previous culture together with other definitions of what beauty means to you. All versions are acceptable in my opinion, as long as we are proactive in understanding the foundations of these definitions.
Have you ever wondered why you even need to change or redefine what you consider to be “beautiful”? Some will argue that by moving to another country it is necessary to change your previous definition and others will debate with you that there is no need to change how you define “beauty.” After all, whose standards and definitions are we really considering?
In ending this conversational piece, I hope to raise some questions in your mind about what definitions you use to base various culturally specific phenomena such as beauty. And, as you go about your day, please casually think about whether your thoughts and actions help to embrace or hinder other cultural versions of “beautiful.”