A Monopoly on the Beauty Standard in a World of Professionalism

In a world of evolving beauty standards, each generation creates a new narrative for what it means to be “professional.” More and more young adults are embracing their culture, and simultaneously searching for jobs. In South Asia, nose piercings have been a cultural norm for years— women get their noses pierced with either a stud or a hoop from ages as young as 2 years old. In America, however, piercings and “excessive” jewelry can end a job interview before it begins. , So where do the voices of Asian Americans  fit during this time? 

Across various South Asian cultures, the use of piercings and an abundance of jewelry is a beauty standard that signifies one’s culture and typically, femininity. However, notable piercings, even an abundance of ear piercings, can result in job discrimination for countless Asian Americans, the choice between their job or their culture becoming a choice they must make.

In the culture of India, my own culture, gold bangles, rings, ear piercings and eccentric nose hoops are symbols of a strong tie to one’s heritage, and regarding some jewelry, femininity. Despite this, countless jobs still require faces to be jewelry free, in order to maintain a sense of professionalism when working with clientele. However, as society evolves, so do rules, and our idea of “professionalism” is no exception. But why are rules only being changed as the dominant culture adopts various aesthetics that are typical to South Asians, rather than expectations being changed for South Asians themselves? 

What has typically been seen as “fobby,” by the white majority and internalized  by South Asian communities in itself, such as  excessive jewelry, large earrings, and various pieces of gold adorning one’s features are now being praised; the beauty standard has now evolved past simple, minimalistic styles. This phenomenon further emphasizes the point of style evolution, where those with European faces have a monopoly on the beauty standard, leaving Asians at the foot of the totem pole, along with countless other BIPOC groups. 

The roots of colonization stem European colonizers wanting to steal resources from Asia, in an attempt to further their own economies, and overall societies, leaving the people of Asia behind, many impoverished and now reliant on colonizers to keep their livelihoods afloat. As we analyze the impact of colonizers stealing resources and artifacts, we may also analyze in what ways that theft has made it;s way into our modern lifestyles. As Asian culture was brought back for colonizers to capitalize on, now, our features are undergoing the same treatment. 

Now apply that to the example of nose-piercing and the eccentric jewelry of South Asia. When South Asian women are seen walking down the street with countless bangles adorning their arms, gold stacked on their ears, and of course, a so-called “flashy” nose ring, these women have been historically ridiculed, told to go back to their own countries, and subject to countless other rude remarks (microaggressions?), all due to their physical appearance. And when White women walk down the street in the same fashion, they are immediately praised by their peers, terms like “alternative” and “edgy” being thrown around like never before. Where is that praise for South Asians? The short answer is that typically, there isn’t any. Most of the time, South Asians aren’t even considered “real” Asians in the eyes of white people, yet we face the same ridicule toward appearance and heritage that “actual” Asians do. Since the start of European colonization in Asia,  Asian voices have continuously been silenced. So what can we do to combat this? The simple answer is “use our voices.” As our natural features and culture  are appropriated in the name of “embracing other cultures,” we must reclaim those same aesthetics in the name of embracing our own culture. By taking back our jewelry, skin, and we can combat appropriation and take back our identities, one nose ring at a time.

Written by Misha Patel

This article first appeared in the October 2020 Issue of The Asian American Arts Zine

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