WOW | Coverstory

Breaking Beauty Standards – Barsha Silwal

Three tattoos, a clean shaven head, dusky looks, a “you only live once attitude”, and a tongue that speaks the acerbic mind, Barsha Silwal is not someone you ignore.

You don’t need to hide behind your hair, believes 24 year old Barsha. In a five year modelling career, she is known to experiment – fearless, futuristic and driven.

“I always experiment with my looks and I want to prove that there is nothing called beauty standards,” she says. Based in Pokhara, Barsha has worked with a great many fashion designers and photographers and is actively involved in promoting local brands and artistes in her home town.

In a conversation with WOW, Barsha shares some aspects of who she is, her fears and her confidence, and what defines her fashion sensibilities. Excerpts:

Text: Ankita Jain

Growing up, what was your idea of beauty?

Growing up my idea of beauty was having fair skin, healthy long black hair, perfect body because we grew up watching all these fairytale cartoons where every physically attractive character was loved and considered a hero. On the other hand, the ones who were physically unattractive were shown as the bad characters. And they were hated. With time, the beauty standards have totally changed for me.

In a way you have challenged social norms by ‘not’ conforming to beauty standards. How does that make you feel?

I never liked the way our society portrays beauty standards. They think that having dark or brown skin is a curse. A girl should have a certain body type. I have always done things my way, and not caring about what others think. Shaving my head was a decision which broke the so-called beauty standards of the society I live in. I think shaving my head made me more confident. It made me feel free and balanced. Moreover, I am clear about how I feel about myself.

Were you ever bullied for your looks?

Yes, I have faced bullying since my childhood, not by my friends and family but by the society for the way I look. At first it used to hurt and I used to cry. However, my parents supported me throughout. Today I can say proudly that everyone is perfect in their own way. Accepting the way I am has helped me cope with bullying. I feel like beauty is carrying yourself with confidence and once you get that, your thoughts about beauty will change.

Do you think people equate self-worth with physical appearance?

Nowadays people are so into social media that they have started comparing themselves with others: the way they look; the way they dress, and most of the time each one is in a race to outdo the other. I think social media has directly or indirectly defined standards of beauty and plays with people’s minds.

What can each one of us do to love ourselves more?

There are a few things you need to understand about life. The first is that you’re the most important person in your space. The less you love yourself, the more confused, angry and frustrating your reality will be. Keep yourself occupied by doing things that you love and enjoy; exercise daily to maintain balance in your mind and body; eat healthy and avoid toxic relationships whether it’s with your friends or family members. Also give yourself time to realise your mistakes, failures, pain and learn to work with it.

What inspires you to do what you do each day?

My parents inspire me to do the things I do each and every day because despite their own problems, they make sure that our lives are good and we are getting everything we need. Seeing this makes me work hard to provide everything they deserve and make them proud.

Any so-called imperfection you wear as a beautiful badge of honour?

For a very long time, I was really insecure about my weight. It was a constant struggle to gain some kilos. Growing up I was called names and sometimes bullied because of how tiny I looked. People try so hard to lose weight, and in the beauty industry being skinny is considered a blessing but for me it was the opposite. People used to laugh at my big nose.

It took me awhile to accept myself and turn my insecurities into my strengths. Regardless of all good compliments I get these days, I still struggle with the beauty standards set by society. Nevertheless, I take all these imperfections as beautiful badge of honour because I am not just about being a perfect figure and height.

What is the one notion that you think is highly overrated and women need to believe less in?

The one notion that women need to believe is that every women is beautiful in their own way. We all need to believe in ourselves. We need to make society understand that beauty come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Women should not believe that they are weak and limit themselves to household work.

What has been your biggest realisation or lesson in the current crisis?

My biggest realisation in this crisis is to love yourself and your loved ones. Also, the lockdown has taught me that happiness lies in the little things like cooking, makeup or a home workout.

What’s one message you would like to give women who are battling narrow beauty standards?

Raising a voice against the society’s narrow beauty standards is an important step. Being women we should never criticise other women for what she is wearing, whom she is going out with, where she is going, etc. Women should support one another.

Is gender equality real?

Women are progressing in every field whether it is health, education, finance or household. Yes, salary is an issue. Women are comparatively paid less than men. Today, women are better equipped to create opportunities for themselves and have their say in the society. The self-pity is less compared to the past which is a good sign of development.

The first thing you notice in a person: Eyes and personality
What do you value most in an individual: Humbleness and kindness
A beauty product you would endorse: Highlighter
Three qualities every woman must own: Strong-minded, driven by a cause and confident
A quality you admire in men: Loyalty and respect
Favourite way to spend the day: Being around friends and loved ones
On your wish list: Skydiving and scuba diving