Cultural Illustration of the Norms of Female Beauty in Sri Lanka

Posted on February 11, 2010 in GlobeScope

Thasomini Palaniyandy:

The concept of “beauty” is defined differently in various cultures. A particular kind of appearance is acceptable as beauty for a particular ethnic group, whereas sometimes it may not be suitable in another culture. Thus, norms of beauty can vary in a particular country since countries have different ethnic groups or communities. Sri Lanka, an island situated in South Asia, has three main ethnic groups; Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. These ethnic groups define the standards of beauty mostly based on cultural, social and religious concepts.

Individual preference of beauty differs from person to person. Considering Sinhalese’ aspects towards beauty, a woman is beautiful when she has small, white teeth, black eyes, shiny and healthy skin, long-black hair, large breasts (Vathsala 2008), round face and long and thin fingers. Neither thin body nor overweight, but it should be fleshy and healthy. In the Tamil perspective, a girl who has fair skin, long hair, sharp bright and black eyes with long eye lashes, oval face, healthy and curved body, large breasts, small feet, long and thin fingers, and pink colored nails is considered beautiful. A girl from Muslim culture in Sri Lanka will be considered beautiful when she has narrow hip, medium height, round face, long and thin fingers, long eyebrows, pointed nose, long hair, fair skin and blue eyes (Based on my knowledge, not necessarily true). Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims have some common criteria, having long and straight hair (Ians 2008), fair look, (Mifrah 2008) curved body, long and thin fingers, thin and long eye brows like arrows, large breasts, and narrow hip, to identify a girl as beautiful.

The norms of beauty in Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims culture become different in the way of dressing, and sometimes in physical appearance. Wearing Reddha hetta, kandiyan saris is considered as beauty in Sinhala culture. At the same time wearing Shalvar kameez and saris is considered as beauty in Tamil culture (Anshusdesigns 2009). The main dress for a Muslim woman is abaya, hijab, and Shalvar kameez and wearing those dresses is considered as beauty in Muslim culture (Bircan 2003). Tamil girls consider putting bindi as a mark for beauty (Based on my own knowledge). However, Muslims and Sinhalese do not put bindi. Moreover, Tamils and Muslims plait the hair, while Sinhalese untie their hair. Sinhalese and Tamils prefer sharp bright and black eyes, whereas Muslims prefer blue eyes. Moreover, Muslims and Sinhalese consider round face as beautiful. In contrast, Tamils prefer oval face.

There are some factors that influence the changes of cultures in Sri Lanka. The three ethnic groups share their neighborhood with other cultures for hundreds of years. Thus, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims adopt some of the norms of beauty from each other. For example some Sinhalese have started wearing bindi. Though women are expected to be in a certain way that shows them as beautiful in each culture, globalization has a major role in changing these cultural norms and that has brought a great impact on people’s thoughts (Wijayaratnam 2006).

Ultimately, according to the dressing styles and ornaments, religious values and expectations differentiate the norms of beauty of different ethnic groups. Overall, though each ethnic group has different definition for beauty in their culture, international communication has been changing this idea by the understanding and the exchanging of other cultures.