Globalization and Indian Women in the Media
In 1994, India claimed her spot on the world stage. That year the country produced the world’s most beautiful women, Miss Sushmita Sen and Miss Aishwarya Rai (now Aishwarya Rai Bachanchan). After victory, both women were received with great fanfare in India. And they forever altered the image of women in the Indian media.
Before the 1990s, the Indian beauty industry was not very large. Advertisements for beauty products were found mainly in women’s magazines. The primary products of the beauty line were hair care, skin creams, soaps, and powders. Most of the skin care products were geared toward helping women get fairer skin, in accordance with the colorism that has dominated the country since the British invasion.
Other than these spare advertisements, images of women were not dominant in the public sphere. At the time, Indian culture mandated that Indian women stayed within the private sphere. They dressed simply and acted with modesty. Their principal role in society were to act as cultural reservoirs, learning and exemplifying the key values of Indian culture during their childhood and adolesence and passing on these values to their children.
However, after the reign of Rai and Sen, India’s conceptions of femininity and beauty changed. The female body became a standard part of the public mediascape and female beauty became a commodity, able to sell India to the world.
As such, Indian women now became subject to global standards of beauty. Indians no longer wanted a simple woman, they wanted a modern woman. What exactly does that mean? The female had to be perfectly manicured in order to be presented in public, with makeup and a fit figure. In addition to developing a new body, Indian women had to expand their cultural horizons. They needed to be independent and driven women, with strong intellectual capabilities.
At the same time, Indian women were not allowed to let go of their cultural heritage. They were still expected to obey the previous gender norms about female chastity and modesty. Thus, the new Indian woman of the media combined a global exterior with an Indian core.
Global Over the Local?
Of course, before this cultural transformation could truly take place, the media had to sell the idea of the global Indian women to its female consumers. To this end, ads usually conveyed that by adopting global standards, Indian women could become free of the cultural prison of the private sphere. Thus, Indian culture was seen as repressive and primitive. Global standards allowed Indian women to become citizens of the world. With their new body and new ideas, they could go on to achieve global success and fame. After seeing such advertisements, it becomes easy to advocate for the cultural homogenization model of globalization. Cultural differences are becoming slowly erased or blurred in order to manufacture a beautiful, global woman.
Indian Women in Daily Life
However, this is not how the tension between the global and the local was resolved in daily life. In public, the Indian woman was the citizen of the state, and was constantly pressured to conform to the new globalized image. At home, on the other hand, she was under the intense scrutiny of her large family. Needless to say, her parents and grandparents did not agree with the idea of the global woman. They still subscribed to the pre-gloablized ideal of the simple and homely Indian beauty.
What Does This Mean For Indian Women?
Thus, many Indian women are forced to lead “double lives,” being global in public and Indian at home. In the end, they exist within a conflicted space, not able to subscribe to cultural homogenization or localization. However, as time progresses, and the older people pass away, more and more of India’s populace will be born under the country globalization regime. This will have a significant impact on the battle between the global and the local. But, in a short time, the battle might have to be reformatted. As India gains power in the international arena, it might no longer feel a need to obey the Western ideals of beauty. In fact, if India becomes a superpower one day, it might begin to formulate its own, new ideals about the ideal female beauty. What will she look like?