In a moment where everyone in the world seems to break down the barriers of traditional beauty standards and embrace body diversity, there is one question popped into my head: how about Indonesians? 

As seen on the TV, Indonesian women are being constantly bombarded with advertisements and shows that interpret beautiful as long haired, straight haired, pointed nosed, and light skinned. Generally, the advertisements of skin care products usually show how a tan-skinned female envies the other female who has lighter skin, before the later one ends up promoting whitening product to the tan-skinned female. And they live happily ever after. 

At the same time, the advertisements of hair products are not much better. The message delivered by the advertisers usually implied that having curly or wavy hair is not equally desirable as having straight hair. The advertisers mostly use models who have jet black, long, and luscious hair that blown in the wind unrealistically.

I remember growing up in the early 00’s, as a primary school student, I was being told that I was beautiful most of the times with typical Indonesian compliments that sounded like “Oh, you’re lucky you have lighter skin than most of us!”, “You’re beautiful. I wish my skin was as light as you.” The comments were more or less went around the same topic: the shade of my skin, which I got from my mum and/or my grandmums. I did not enjoy it at first, as if people only concerned about how the shade of my skin mattered in order to make me considered as beautiful. But then as I grew up and kept on hearing the similar comments, I got used to it and I kind of pleased with the comments. Until one day, I showed up in a family gathering looking tanned cause I probably just had a holiday or just went out and about, and my aunt pointed out that I looked less beautiful than I used to be when I wasn’t tanned. “Where have you been? Look, your skin seems darker that it used to be!”

I did not take the comment personally because I knew I had fun outside and that’s why I got tanned. But I was a little upset because her comment did not make sense to me. At that very moment, I knew how it felt to be Indonesian and tan. Even though what my aunt said to me wasn’t really bad, I’ve heard lots of insulting comments about those who have tan skin, simply because many Indonesian women are obsessed with light skin.

Well, I once went to a dermatologist cause my face broke out during high school, and I remember that the dermatologist recommended me to get a chemical peeling so that my face would look brighter and more beautiful. I gave a little laugh and a “No, thanks”, because the last time I had chemical peeling, my face had almost three shades lighter than my body, and I felt super embarrassed.

Also, as I pointed out on the third paragraph, the other thing that bothered me so much is Indonesians’ view on beautiful hair. For this one, I experience the not-so-nice comments myself as my hair does not belong to what many Indonesians think as great hair (at least not until recently, which I think is nice).

“Why don’t you straighten your hair?”, “Don’t you want to straighten your hair?”, “You’d look so much better if your hair were straight” are the typical comments I got from hairdressers at salons. Usually, I just replied them with a nice but awkward “No, thanks.” Things did not just stop there. After I went to salon, when my hair looked a little tame and slightly straight, I usually got a “Your hair looks great today!” from my friends. I mean, I, too, liked the fact that my hair looked nice, but the comment was somehow eyebrow-raising. And recently, someone I know greeted me whilst I walked past her saying, “Darling, brush your hair!”. Little did she know that I brush my hair every time before leaving the house.

Right about now, many people have found their way to celebrate their differences. People are more aware of diversity and that is a great progress. But it seems that many Indonesians are still not being very open to change their views on what is considered as beautiful. It is unfair for me to only say that many Indonesians are far from accepting beauty diversity by only giving two examples. But judging from the way local media portrays and exposes predictable and unvarying standards, and the way some people I know react to those who don't belong to the 'picture-perfect' Indonesian beauty, I would say that yes there are still mindsets that need to be changed out there. Sure it is absolutely okay to have and be proud of light skin and straight hair, but to make people feel inferior for having different qualities of beauty is definitely lame.

P.S. This post is written inspired by my beautiful friend Lena.

Photograph by Fajrina