Dark English Rose
“I have always felt myself an oddity. Not quite British, not quite Indian. It was more than just skin colour; I went through adolescence liking anime and adoring Jane Austen. Surely the idea of the English Rose was not completely inaccessible to us darker skinned ladies?”
“How The English Rose Saved Me”; or, how one Brown Girl’s insecurities were overcome by antiquated ideas of beauty.
England has come a long way. Even if only looking at the past fifty or so years, the change in the make-up of society is astounding, and Britain can, rightly so, boast one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world. I would count as one of these ethnic minorities; my parents are both from India and I was born and bred in the West Midlands. It was because of my growing up in such a multicultural area of Britain, and being surrounded by so many diverse and interesting people, that I can consider myself so open-minded; this is something I will eternally be grateful for.
Despite this, for most of my life I have always felt myself an oddity. Not quite British, not quite Indian I did not belong anywhere. It was even more than just my skin colour; I went through my adolescence liking anime and adoring Jane Austen, enjoying old Hollywood and nursing a (secret) soft spot for Shahrukh Kahn. My teenage years were, like those of everybody else’s, spent not really fitting in the world I found myself in. And, like many girls my age, I found myself staring at the mirror and finding my face weird, my hair too frizzy, and my whole appearance unlovable. Consequently, as I grew older I would burn my hair with straighteners and cover my face in inches of foundation (a few shades too light) because I just wanted to look different. Around this time also is when I got into the whole emo scene that was so popular with my peers, which probably contributed to my need to slather myself in high SPF in the winter. Basically put, I strived for a different appearance if only to make myself more easily categorisable.
Which brings us to the present. I entered university after realising my love for Jane Austen was substantiated with a love of Gothic Romances, Victorian prose and a healthy passion for writing. I started watching dramatisations of Pride and Prejudice and The Way We Live Now and decided I liked those dignified, pretty young ladies and I later found myself on the internet having stumbled across a make-up tutorial for The English Rose. This idea was not new to me; I knew perfectly well what the English Rose was. It harkened back to nostalgic ideas of the proper lady, demure and elegant, with a will of steel and kindness to match. They were slim and dignified, and the paragon of natural beauty. They would also be pale skinned and fair-haired.
Well, sure, this is all well and good when reading Regency-era novels and watching Keira Knightly sass it up as Elizabeth Bennett, but we live in the twenty-first century in a multi-cultured society. Surely the idea of the English Rose was not completely inaccessible to us darker skinned ladies? Well, ignoring the name, the connotations of the English Rose are certainly respectable, and, more importantly, those admirable qualities are universal; moreover, cultivating the dignity and kindness of the English Rose would hardly make for a more distressing life. But I digress; what I had been drawn to was the idea of this natural kind of beauty – the flushed cheeks, pink lips, and healthy glow that were reminiscent of a breathless country walk. And, I realised, this model hardly seemed exclusive to pale-skinned ladies. Brown eyeliner, a berry coloured lip tint and a dab of concealer later and I later saw in the mirror what I had been hiding under all that foundation: pretty even skin of a really nice gold-brown colour; and full lips with quite an enviable cupid’s bow.
It was weird, how in that one moment, all that worry in the past just seemed so unimportant. What had I been worrying about, anyway? I may not be the most stunning person in the world, but, and this, I think, was the most crucial lesson: who cares? If I thought I was attractive, then why would I bother with anyone who thought or treated me otherwise? And then my shoulders felt a lot lighter.
Okay, sure, tint and concealer are still used, but I am no longer running to the bathroom two hours later when my make-up has rubbed off in a mad dash to reapply them before another living soul sees me. It seems odd that it is a preconceived notion of beauty that gave me such a confidence boost, and of course, I am not trying to say that brown girls like myself should be trying to look like Jennifer Ehle or Kate Winslet, but that maybe they had the idea of ‘natural beauty’ down right. The English Rose is just a beauty ideal that I borrowed from (and maybe, just a little, a way of feeding into my Jane Austen addiction a tad more), and I realised that I should not be trying to be categorising myself into a box. This is now why my perpetually windswept hair is no long a mess, but carefully styled, and why my laugh lines are no longer ugly, but give my face character. And this is why I am no longer unhappy. And that, I think, is the salient point.
Kareena Kapoor does romantigoth in ‘Vogue’
Aishwarya Rai goes all windswept and Heathcliff