As a woman in Nepal who is married to a Nepali, I’ve been expected to dress, groom, and generally beautify myself in the way that other women do. I cared about the way I looked back in the US, but I never had any overt pressure that was telling me how much makeup and jewelry I should wear, how I should style my hair, etc. In Nepal, however, women, in particular married women, are expected to look a certain way. This pressure is really a mixed bag. I love that the people who are pressuring consider me a part of their culture and therefore expect me to follow the cultural norms here. On the other hand, I simply can’t do all of the things they want me to. I’m still negotiating this pressure and trying to figure out how many of these rules I want to adopt and call my own and how many I want to forget about.
Some of the things that women do to keep themselves looking a certain way can be incredibly painful, and I am always amazed at Nepali women’s high tolerance for pain. One of these things is eyebrow threading. I used to pluck my eyebrows back in the states, but after a bit of pushing from some people here, I started threading. Omg it it can be painful, but I like the result, so I put up with it. The reason why it’s so painful is because the threader plucks out about ten hairs at once. Many of the women I know who do it act like it’s a cup of tea. Maybe they’re just used to the pain? The picture on the left is of me during one of my first eyebrow threadings. I kind of look like I’m in surgery!
Another painful body modification is nose piercing. I’ve been bugged again and again to pierce my nose, partly because of its religious significance. Some Bauns and Chhetris here believe that if a married woman is performing puja and she doesn’t have her nosed pierced, the puja won’t be heard by god. The jury is still out on whether or not this is going to happen for me. Tri and I haven’t had our Nepali wedding yet, so I might do it before that event. However, I also have major post-nasal drip/allergies at some points during the year, so a piercing could cause some issues. Luckily, I won’t be alone if I decide not to pierce my nose. It’s not as common among young women here as it used to be. I have a Newar friend who married a Chhetri man. Newar women don’t traditionally get their nose-pierced but often do if they marry a man from the Baun or Chhetri castes. Despite pressure from her in-laws, my friend has refused to pierce her nose, in part because her non-pierced nose is part of her Newar identity.
Other rules concerning beauty and marriage aren’t necessarily painful, but they are very strict. For starters, I’m expected to keep my hair long. A few months ago, I went to get my hair cut. Before I stepped out of the house, I told Bua where we were going, and he said, “Just don’t cut it short, okay?” I have a history of occasionally chopping my hair off. I do it when I want to promote change in my life or signify the start of a new chapter, but it’s a big no-no for women here. In fact, long, straight hair is often a source of envy.
Married women here also wear pote and churaa. Pote is a long string (or multiple strings) of beads that signifies you are married. Americanepali has a post describing it here. Churaa are glass, sometimes gold, bracelets that women of all ages wear. However, married women are expected to wear at least one thicker one on each wrist. I’ve had people tell me time and time again that I need to start wearing pote and churaa. I don’t mind the pote, and it’s the most common way to signify being married in Nepal, so like my wedding ring, I’ve started to wear it everyday.
Churaa, however, I save for special occasions only because I’m a bit of a clumsy person. Last week I tried wearing churaa on both hands all day, but I kept banging them around and ended up cutting myself, so for me, this is also a painful practice!
Then there’s the makeup. I don’t wear makeup every day, but many women here do. Before going out, women apply lipstick, blush, sometimes foundation and always kajal (eyeliner). Many people have pushed me to wear gajal everyday, saying that it brightens my eyes. There’s also a tradition here of putting this type of eyeliner on babies and children because it’s supposed to protect from glare and be good for the eyes. I like gajal, but it sucks when you have something stuck in your eye, start rubbing it, and you end up smearing the gajal all over the place (yes, I have this done this multiple times). I’m still trying to figure out if I want to wear this everyday.
Will I keep up some of these practices when I’m back in the US? Maybe. I think I’ll stick to wearing pote. I have always wanted Tri to wear a wedding ring, something that’s part of my culture, so I guess it’s only fair for me to wear this type of necklace. It’s also not difficult or taxing. Pote can be gorgeous and fun to wear too. If I do end up getting my nose pierced here, I’ll probably keep the piercing in. If I’m going to go through that much pain to start with, I’m not going to want to give it up.
In intercultural, interreligious, etc marriages and relationships, there’s always a pull and tug between two (sometimes more) entities, not necessarily between the people in the relationship but sometimes the forces outside of it. Tri doesn’t care one way or the other if I wear kajal or get my nose pierced, and I feel so lucky for that! Instead, it’s his family or friends or the aunties down the street who push me to do these things. I know that some of the people who read this blog have lived abroad, come from multiple cultures, or have been in intercultural, inter-religious relationships. I’m interested to hear how you have negotiated these multicultural influences. What aspects of the cultures you’ve come in contact with have you decided to adopt as your own and what have you decided to ignore?
I also want to mention that women value different aspects of body modification and appearance in different parts of Nepal. Some Sherpa women cap their teeth in gold, some women in the Tarai wear tattoos on their arms and faces, and some Gurung and Tamang women pierce their noses in two spots, on the side and in the middle. These forms of body modification sometimes have a religious or spiritual significance and sometimes they don’t. I’ve only been expected to follow rules that pertain to Bauns and Chhetris because I married a man from one of these castes.