Shoot: melanin adrenaline

The modern body has become a construction site, trapped in an endless cycle of picking, plucking and prodding, in hopes of fashioning our “ideal” selves. We’re constantly bombarded with images of fair, hairless, fat-free women – women we are told are gorgeous, women who become the biased benchmark for beauty. The way we view our bodies is often governed by this set of impossible rules regarding size and aesthetics. This makes women who don’t fit this narrow vision of attractiveness feel less than.

South Asian culture is no different. A desirable woman is one who is coy, unassuming and agreeable. She is both pleasing and eager to please. Her brows are plucked, and upper lip shaved. Underarm and leg hair waxed into oblivion. Above all, she is pliable.

In this shoot, we trade visions of the subservient brown woman for images of strength and defiance. By creating a visual identity that subverts expectations of compliance and delicacy, we hope to challenge a culture steeped in oppressive and damaging gendered expectations.

We use items associated with virtue and respectability to produce transgressive pictures that we hope will serve as an entry point for critique and discourse. The jasmine flower, a symbol of purity and innocence, has been painted black, and is juxtaposed against a lush silk sari.

Jasmine flowers are often features in weddings, baptisms, and other ceremonies that embody and celebrate innocence and purity. Jasmine is considered a symbol of beauty as well. Traditionally, women wear these flowers in their hair to appear more attractive to men, to convey a sense of gentle beauty, as well as,  allure, charm, charisma and magnetism.

Increasing the visibility and depictions of brown women is the first step in bringing about systematic change. When we change culture, we change the way we interact with one another, and the way we see ourselves. Beauty is not skin deep. It’s a glow we radiate when we feel good about ourselves.

Model and words: Mira Nadarajah
Photography: Jyot Bhalla

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