Sundari’s recent post, addressing the portayal of Sikhs in an ad for the upcoming Spinning Wheel festival, brings up an interesting tension for Sikh women – the conflict between modern ideals of beauty, and the requirements of the Sikh faith.
Generally (and unfortunately) women tend to value themselves (whether consciously or unconsciously) according to social valuations placed upon women… which revolve mostly around ideas of outer beauty- trends which vary a bit across region and time, but are all generally superficial. Women who have completely overcome this unconscious embrace of ideals of beauty are extremely rare.
For those who think this is untrue- think about how many times you’ve heard a female friend talk about the bad day she was having- many of the complaints probably had something to do with the way she felt she looked that day (that might not be the best example, but it’s the first that comes to mind). How we feel is too closely related to how we feel we look.
These social valuations of beauty are especially problematic for Sikh women in particular because these values are totally opposed to an important part of Sikh identity- our kesh. They are also problematic for all women because we’re not valuing what really matters- our thoughts, ideas and actions which really create who we are- but a superficial farce. Finally, these valuations are problematic because many modern ideals of beauty are unhealthy (but enough has been said about these last two points in general gender conversations that I don’t want to dwell on them).
The challenges and overt racism that Sikh men face in the US today because of their kesh are undeniable. But the solutions that address men’s kesh (mostly political responses, creating social awareness) don’t carry over as solutions for women.
The role that kesh (and thus Sikh identity) plays in the lives of Sikh women is totally different from men. It relates more to what many women face in many parts of the world (responding to ideals of beauty), but is unique to us as Sikh women by our unique responsibility to keep our kesh (in all its variations). That responsibility, coupled with the unfortunate reality that women value themselves by superficial ideals of beauty means that we value ourselves by principles that are totally opposed to our Sikh identity.
Each of us has to decide for themselves how much they’re willing to commit to their faith – that is a personal decision. But we’d be doing ourselves a favor by valuing ourselves according to our actions and decisions instead of others’ ideas of our appearance.
Posted by Reema on Wednesday, October 15, 2008