The Many Reactions to Miss America Nina Davuluri and What We Consider Beautiful

Nina Davuluri Indian Miss America 2013Miss America is Nina Davuluri!

This past Sunday Miss New York Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America 2013, making her the first woman of Indian origin to be bestowed with this title. Now, as expected, my American-born friends of Indian descent were excited and proud. I received a message from a roommate from college, “Miss America is Indian!”, and by that I obviously guessed that she meant Indian origin or Indian by descent. But during the course of the day, my Facebook newsfeed got increasingly filled with shared articles such as, Miss America crowns 1st winner of Indian descent; Racist tweets follow. The reaction of some of my friends was that it was “Surprisingly unsurprising”. Folks on twitter went on to attack racist Americans and generalizations overflowed. I was a bit surprised that people were getting so worked up about a beauty pageant, where the general idea is to set boundaries on what is considered beautiful.

Then the tide turned. Indians or South Asians, both by nationality and descent, began to introspect. And before I knew it, my feed was filled with comments like “You know whats ironic? A dusky girl like Nina would have never become Miss India. Glad that she became Miss America.” There were now heated debates on India’s obsession with fairness. And suddenly a poorly researched article by none other than an Associate Dean at Yale Law School, Miss America and the Indian Beauty Myth written for the Huffington Post, began doing the rounds. She stated, “After all, despite being a country of almost a billion people, India has left it to America to crown the first Indian beauty queen who looks… well, Indian.” I was surprised that such a poorly written piece could even be published, let alone be shared and read by hundreds of readers.

To prove her point, the writer seems to have conveniently forgotten to do her research. Sushmita Sen and Lara Dutta, both who were Miss India, and later went on to win the Miss Universe crown, are both very “Indian” looking dusky beauties. She also does not seem to know much about current Bollywood celebrities in India, of which many of the actors who have the largest fan following would also be considered very Indian-looking. To name a few, Deepika Padukone, Rani Mukherji, Priyanka Chopra, Chitrangada Singh, Bipasha Basu, Konkana Sen Sharma, Kajol and Nadita Das.

Yes, many Indians are obsessed with the idea of “fairness” as a determining factor of what makes someone beautiful. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and who are we to tell someone that they should or should not consider Aishwarya Rai beautiful. The grass is often greener. I still remember, when studying in the United States, I would have friends who loved my brown skin. It was different and exotic to them. On one of my trips home, I recounted to my grandmother (who is certainly of the opinion that fair is beautiful), that they have tanning parlours in the west, a place where people pay good money so that their skin takes a darker tone. She was not ready to believe me, the same way some of my American friends found the idea of “Fair and Lovely” hard to digest.

Needless to say, I gave up on reading Asha Rangappa’s article post the first paragraph. But just something that maybe people should consider before being judgmental. Do your research. Do not judge people’s ideas of beauty, especially from the results of a beauty pageant. By that standard, anyone below 5 feet 9 inches (or whatever the benchmark), is not Miss-Anything worthy. India is a vast country and what many people in the west will consider Indian-looking is very synonymous with what they see on Bollywood. Kashmiris, Punjabis, Rajasthanis, Tamilians, Assamese all can look very different from each other, be it skin tone or facial features. So come to India and see for yourself. And who knows, you may just still find Aishwarya Rai the most beautiful. But hey, I’m not judging.

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