'I was mocked for my facial hair as a teen - but beauty standards are changing'

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Nikki Patel opens up about beauty standards within the South Asian community and how they
Nikki Patel opens up about beauty standards within the South Asian community and how they've impacted her (Image: Nikki Patel)

Cultural standards and expectations have long shaped traditional notions of beauty and what it means to be beautiful in different communities.

Growing up, many South Asian women were made to believe that body hair and darker skin weren't attractive while a hairless face and fair complexion were seen as far more in fashion.

But with a new wave of diverse influencers battling ingrained stereotypes online and challenging what it means to be valued in society, beauty ideals are changing.

As Nikki Patel puts it: "South Asians are more seen now than ever before". This South Asian Heritage Month, she opens up about how modern-day norms are evolving.

'I was mocked for my facial hair as a teen - but beauty standards are changing' rriddqixxiqezinvLike many young girls, Nikki was made fun of for having dark upper lip and chin hair as a teen (Nikki Patel)
'I was mocked for my facial hair as a teen - but beauty standards are changing'Now she films herself threading her facial hair to show youngsters it isn't a taboo (Nikki Patel)

You might recognise Nikki as the semi-finalist in BBC's Glow Up Season One, the popular talent show that finds Britain's next make-up star. Since competing in 2019, Nikki has gone on to work professionally in the field as a Hindu make-up artist, and now has over one million followers on Instagram and TikTok (@nikkissecretx).

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While it's not unusual for her to post videos threading her facial hair and sharing hacks to remove thick upper lip and chin stubble, body hair wasn't always a topic Nikki felt comfortable discussing. Talking about being ridiculed by peers during her early teens, Nikki told the Mirror: "I was mocked for my facial hair, especially my upper lip hair."

Nikki was cruelly teased for something she had no control over and felt as though she had to remove her facial hair to feel more comfortable and accepted in society. Having hair-free skin is just one traditional beauty standard that is commonly perceived to be aspirational within South Asian culture - while lighter, fairer skin is another.

'I was mocked for my facial hair as a teen - but beauty standards are changing'Nikki didn't have any South Asian influencers to look up to, so she became one herself (Nikki Patel)
'I was mocked for my facial hair as a teen - but beauty standards are changing'She believes some ingrained beauty standards are still prominent, but attitudes are changing (Nikki Patel)

"Lighter skin is definitely still valued more within the Asian community. The fairer you are, the more beautiful you are," Nikki explained. "This has never impacted me directly, but my daughter gets complimented all the time because she is fair and therefore seen as 'pretty'." Nikki, who is mum to a one-year-old baby girl, added: "The values are ingrained and come from within the South Asian community."

As a young, aspiring make-up artist, Nikki didn't have anyone of South Asian heritage in the mainstream media to look up to. "I used to watch several YouTubers - none of which were South Asian - and felt there was a gap in the market for someone to help represent us," she explained. So, she took it upon herself to become the Asian British influencer that other girls could follow online.

"It's important for me to show facial hair removal on my social media to let young girls know that it's okay," Nikki said. "It's natural and naturally we have thicker, darker hair - but that doesn't mean it should be a taboo. We should feel comfortable in our own skin, our own colour and embrace who we are. If we conform to the ideology that Westernised beauty is the most beautiful, everyone would start to look the same."

Nikki isn't the only South Asian influencer breaking down barriers for the next generation. Harnaam Kaur, a British activist and model, chose to embrace her facial hair after being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) at 11. "Growing up, many of the South Asian women in my family had facial hair, baby hairs, upper lip hairs, sideburns, hair on their arms and their throat areas and stuff like that," Harnaam told Dazed. "So for me, it was the norm. I wasn't aware that I had an issue until I was bullied for it."

After four years of horrendous bullying and painful experiences to remove her facial hair, Harnaam made the decision to grow her full beard out - and she's never looked back. Now a motivational speaker and Guinness World Record holder, Harnaam wants to show girls: "There are some hairy people like me around."

Whether you choose to remove your facial hair like Nikki, or grow it out like Harnaam, addressing idolised beauty standards in the public eye and breaking down the stigma sends an important message to young women. "I think female beauty standards have changed considerably in recent years. South Asians are more seen now than ever before," Nikki said.

"I'm still working on self-love, so I can one day - when my daughter is old enough to understand - teach her that she is the most beautiful inside and out. She does not need to change a thing about herself, no matter what everyone else is doing. Comparison will always be the thief of joy, and the quicker you are accepting of yourself and your flaws, the happier your life will be."

Nia Dalton

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