The Married Look

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.

Both women are wearing pote

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.

The top two bracelets on her hand are churaa

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!

Gajal (Kajal in Hindi)

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.

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37 thoughts on “The Married Look

  1. I’ll have to write a whole post about this soon 🙂

    I wear pote everyday. I didn’t think I would, but I realized that it meant a lot to my mother in law, and as you said, it’s not that big of a deal to do. I insist that P wears his American wedding ring everyday.

    I guess I realized it was a big deal to my MIL when she started talking a lot about how my two very close Nepali girlfriends (who are both married to other Nepalis) don’t wear “any signs of marriage” and how this really distressed her. I figured I would wear one while she was staying with us in the US, and now I put one on everyday out of habit.

    One of my friends gave me two very simple single strand pote– a pink and light yellow one that basically blends in with my skin tone so I can wear it very inconspicuously and still fulfill the requirements, and one red and gold/yellow one that also is plan and simple that I can wear. I mix it up between these simple ones, and some of the more elaborate multi-strand potes I have for “dressing up” or which go well with different outfits.

    I started wearing potes now and then before I got married when I dressed up in sari or if it matched with my clothes, and now I wish I didn’t, because before the pote didn’t really have any significance to me, it was “just a necklace” but now when I wear one it reminds me of P and Nepal, and his family.

    When I was in Nepal, I was really happy to wear pote, because I felt it marked me as “more than a tourist,” that I was there for other reasons. It almost made me feel like I “belonged” more, if that makes any sense. Whereas in the US I sometimes hide my pote under my shirt collar, I found in Nepal I was pulling it out and wearing it proudly over my clothes.

    As for churaa, I always liked wearing bangles, but I don’t usually wear glass ones, I wear silver bangles gifted to me by P’s aunt, or another metal bangle or two I have from other places. I’m not sure if metal bangles count, and I only wear them on one hand (right hand), but I consider it a sign of marriage.

    I have my nose pierced. I did it on a bit of a whim when I was studying in Kenya a few years back. before I left for Kenya I had kind of wanted to do it (I thought they looked nice), but while we were in Kenya a few students on my program thought it would be fun to do it all together, and the price was super cheap. I’m really nervous of needles, so even though I liked the idea of getting a nose piercing I was scared about it. The week before we were all going to go do it I got really sick and had to be hospitalized in Nairobi for 4 days, and have an IV drip and a bunch of blister popped with needles, so my friends joked that it was “practice” for my nose. They all came with me after I got out of the hospital to get my nose pierced.

    For whatever reason, many of the other girls’ piercings didn’t work out. They either got an infection, or it fell out, or something, and I was one of the few whose piercing lasted. I’ve had my current nose pin in since February 14 2007– P gave it to me as a Valentine’s gift, and I love how it is really small and tasteful. Some people don’t even notice it, and others do. I like it because it reminds me of Kenya, it reminds me of P, and it has a special significance for me.

    Non of P’s family has a nose piercing though. P’s mom’s Newar family don’t culturally do it (I met one cousin this time in Nepal who said she got her nose pierced while studying in China, and when she returned home after graduation her family made her take it out because it “wasn’t her culture”) and even P’s Chettri Aunt and female cousins don’t have a piercing. So it doesn’t really help me in his family (I guess it’s a little bit odd instead), but at the Bhoj a few people commented on “how cute” the “naya buhari” was with my nose pierced!

    The other married thing is tikka/bindi. P’s mom wears one everyday, and I think she would rather I wear one too. I simply can’t in the US, I would look too odd, I’m sure. But after a while in Nepal I wore a really tiny red dot between my eye brows, and I kind of liked that. If I moved to KTM, I might wear this.

    Make up– I never wear. They won’t have any luck with that 🙂

    • I totally forgot about marriage tika! No one has mentioned that to me yet in Nepal. It may be something about how we’re not supposed to where tika this year because we’re in mourning, but i’m not sure if marriage tika falls under that rule. I also couldn’t really imagine putting on tika everyday in the US. Pote, on the other hand, is something I could wear over there. I love that you can get inconspicuous ones if you want but bigger ones for special occasions. I also know what you mean by making you feel like you “belonged.” Nepalis definitely notice when I’m wearing it and of course know what it means. I think they respect me for it and take me more seriously.

      I noticed your nose piercing when we met and really liked it. If i do get mine pierced, I don’t think I could get away with wearing a big, honking diamond (especially in the US), like some women here suggest I should, but a small metal one might be really nice.

      • I wear my tiki a lot here in the US. But i feel strange wearing it everyday. I am an american and white. So in the store for exapmle the indian people who do not know me look at me funny. Most of the Nepelese here know me. Even the new students. I also work 2 jobs. One of them I have to wear a hat and the tika would rub off on it anyway. I do wear it for all special occasions and every time I wear my sari’s

        • also none of our Nepelese Neighbors ( We live in married student housing) wear pota or bangles everyday. Most will wear Tiki when out of the house, and only a few have nose percings. My husbands links I should get one because he thinks it would look nice. It seems like many of these women have more freedom of choice here. Maybe back home they would be pressured to wear sari everyday and dress like a “proper married women” I’ll have to talk to them more about it sometime. I wish I could where a sari every day with out looking so silly 🙂

        • I don’t really wear tikka outside of special events. About your comment below…many married women are pressured to follow traditions when they’re back in Nepal, but women in most urban and many rural families are not expected to wear saris every day. I knew one farming family that expected their daughter in law to wear a sari everyday, but they were definitely in the minority.

      • One more thing, It’s really good to hear about the things that make you feel more like you belong in that culture. Some of the wives here discount me. Not on porpous I don’t think.. just for them the culture gap and no common language is too big. I am want to me at least semi-fluent before visiting my in laws. Pote always reminded me of the neckless’ i see women in their 50s and 60s here wearing. I know my white girl friends would tease me for wearing “old lady” jewerly But maybe I should concider making on of my own to wear on special occassions.

  2. really great post! i love girly topics!
    i’m not married yet but i already adopted some of nepali women traditions… threading is really great i think. not soo painfull finally.. and it’s really good looking after it’s done so i think it worth the pain!
    i also wear churaa.. in fact it’s rare i’m going out without wearing some.. i just don’t wear any red ones before i got married.
    i didn’t really know the signification of “pote” before i read americannepali post. it seems that in my fiance’s family they are not really crazy about it.
    im also wearing make up everyday.. i don’t go out without kajal (i got the same as yours zoë!)… it was the 1st thing i “took” from nepali culture. i’m feeling like naked without it now.

    about pierced i would love to pierce my nose.. but the point is in my country we are not as much opened mind as the US about.. if i pierced my nose it could be a problem to find a job.. but if i settle in Nepal in the future i’ll certainly pierce it. My future SIL already said me i could get married without a pierced nose. (it was one of the 1st things she said me!)

    I also straight my hair.. like many nepalese girls do.. i was always wondering how can they get soo perfect straight hair.. now i know their secret! i tried it.. it’s a long process and the next 3 nights are awful. the process at beauty parlor last around 5hours.. and in the next 3 days you can’t wash your hair and absolutely avoid water on it (not easy during the monsoon). you can’t attached your hair.. and the worst : you can’t sleep on it.. i let you imagine how complicated it is to fall asleep. but my conclusion about it is it worths it! what a happiness to not have to brush your hair, to straight it after the shampoo!

    i don’t think i’d put marriage tika out of Nepal but i think i’ll in Nepal (but only after hindu marriage.. so not before years.)

    • I’m glad your SIL doesn’t care if your nose is pierced 🙂 Attitudes towards nose piercing are changing in the US. I think in general, my parents generation is against it, but these days, lots of women over there are piercing their noses. In certain fields, having a pierced nose would make it really hard to find a job. If I wanted to be a politician, I would probably have trouble getting elected. But in the jobs/professions I’m considering, I don’t think it will be a problem.

      What is the process for straightening your hair? What do they do to it? Not being able to get it wet or sleep on it sounds so difficult! it reminds me of the book Memoirs of a Geisha, where the women get elaborate hairdos and have to rest their necks on a little block of wood at night while they sleep so their hair doesn’t get ruined.

      • i think the process they use is in nepal to straight the hair is a kind of Yuko system. May be u have already heard about it?! it’s starting to be known in Europe.
        the 1st step is to apply a 1st cream all over your hair. they let it for a while then they rinse with water.
        the 2nd step is to straight your hair, almost one hair by one hair with a very very hot hair iron. (that’s the longer part!!)
        the 3rd step is the to apply a 2nd cream on your hair and to let it for a while also. then they again rince it with water and straight your hair one more time but less carefully then the 1st smooth.
        and finally it’s done and your hair is straight forever! you just have to do it again on your new grown hair
        in Nepal it’s really cheap.. around Rs 2500. in Europe it’s 300 to 800 € …

        During my 1st night after i did it , i, indeed, remembered the book “memoirs of a Geisha” !! and my fiancee thought i was totally crazy to “suffer” all that just to get straight hair!

  3. Omg.. a nose piercing in Baun and Chettri tradition! My man is Chettri too and I wonder if they would someday require me to do the same? He did mention that married woman over there pierce their nose.. but Im not into piercing. The last time I got a piercing was when I was 3 months old. My ear lobes pierced! And plus, im sure im going to face ample amount from my sri lankan parents.. and nose piercing on top of that! My dad would definitely disown me.. if he doesnt do that on hearing my choice in marriage! Gosh. Lol.

    • His family might prefer that you pierce your nose, but ultimately it’s up to you! I get gentle pressure to do it, but my FIL has also said I can wear a fake one for our wedding if I don’t want to do it for real 🙂

  4. @NepaliJiwan, I am a brahmin, my grand-mother had her nose pierced, My mother did not have her nose pierced and nobody after her has had her nose pierced
    It is a backward practise that will hopefully be eradicated soon.

    Indian families tend to try to psychologically oppress their daughter-in-laws and demanding nose-piercing, fasting etc are such symptoms.
    You should draw the line at what you dont like.

    In practicality, brahmin families would be more concerned about whether your would be willing to raise your kids as brahmins and participate in hindu functions ( Many christians dont like to participate in pagan functions ).

    Regarding a hair-cut, it is regarded as a sign of widow-hood

    Also, not wearing the Tikka or bindi is regarded as a sign of widow-hood

    • Were your mom’s parents unhappy that she didn’t pierce her nose? I do definitely draw the line when I’m uncomfortable, but I haven’t really had any problems with my immediate family. My in-laws have always been pretty open and not strict about these types of traditions. I don’t know if I’m going to have kids, but if I do, I’d want them to participate in Hindu functions and celebrate the American and Christian holidays I always did (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Halloween, etc). I don’t consider myself a religious Christian (maybe a secular one), but these holidays are part of my family’s traditions.

      • My mom’s parents and her in-laws too did not care too much for nose piercing.

        Regarding kids, In Hindu families, A deliberate decision in not having kids is considered very sinful

  5. Awesome now at least I know I will be set for when I move to Nepal, I love makeup and eyeliner! It’s funny because I always ask Binod if I will be able to find good makeup when I move like foundation, eyeliner, mascara and he makes fun of me and says they have all that stuff over there so that makes me less worried about having to fed ex american products over to Nepal every few months. I have also always had long hair , I have had my nose pierced for 10 years, and I love to wear jewelry so I would have no problem wearing Churra and Pote! I wouldnt mind getting my eyebrows threaded instead of plucking. I have been wearing bindis since before I was married and saris and salwar kameez for a while. The only thing I am worried about is I have a lot tattoos the visible ones are on my forarms and wrists so its not that easy to hide I am just worried I will get negative response to them in Nepal.

    • Yep. They’ve got lots of makeup here! I think a good amount of it is imported-maybe mostly from India? But if you have something special you use, I’d definitely bring it when you come because they don’t have the variety in that’s in the states. When did you get your nosed pierced? Did it hurt? I’m kind of scared to do it! Everyone I’ve talked to here says it’s no big deal, but the Nepali women I know have a very high pain threshold.

      I don’t know about tattoos and how they’ll be perceived. Some women from indigenous communities tattoo they’re arms and faces, but I guess that’s pretty different.

      • it hurts a little but it is over pretty quickly. My eyes teared up a little when I had it done i was I think 14 when I had it done. I used to have my eyebrows and lip pierced but took everything out a few years ago except the nose stud. I figure if I dont want people to judge me based on tattoos I will make a few arm band type things made out of spandex or something to wear, especially around his parents. I think you should get your nose pierced since it is a very beautiful. I have always loved them!

  6. It is so true that women are expected to dress in certain way when they get married. My MIL never asked me to wear or not to wear anything so far but my mum always told me to wear at least a chura or small tika. I don’t do that everyday but I make sure I wear them when I am dressing up for occasions. Also me and AS both are wearing our wedding rings so I think that is good indication that we are married for here.

    But of course when I go to Nepal I will definitely wear Chura and pote with Sari or Kurta. I will love to have am married woman look when I am there and I am sure both my MIL and my mum will love that.

    I remember when I got my first eyebrow threading; it was so painful that I cried. I think waxing is definitely less painful. Recently I started laser treatment and it is even more painful. I always ask myself why I am doing this after each session. But after 6 weeks I would forget the pain and go to the salon again. My next session is coming soon and now I am scared.

  7. I am the same as you. I find the churas really annoying. They make too much noise and as i work on a computer, they get in the way. I choose the wear Pote everyday and chura on special occasions. Sometimes i wear sindoo (how do you spell the red stuff on your head?) but only if we are going to the immigration department or to temple.

  8. Pingback: Wearing Pote as a Newly Married Woman | Musings from an American-Nepali Household

  9. Hi Nepali Jiwan.. Found your blog through whitegirl’s blog. Mine is a inter-religious rel and though we are both Indians there is a world of difference and opposition:). But getting used to it. Yes its a tough choice when it comes to inculcating certain traditions and leaving some from your partner’s side. But I guess I would do it just because of the acceptance from the partner’s family and if it makes him feel happy.

    • I totally agree. Tri always says that it’s best to do things that make others happy if it doesn’t bring any harm to yourself. And I’ve tried to adopt this attitude, especially when it comes to adjusting to living in another culture and being married to someone raised in it.

      I was just wondering…what is your faith and what is your significant other’s faith? No pressure to answer if you’re not comfortable.

      • It is catholic and hindu. But we have the added problem of parent’s disagreement. Admire the fact that you have tried to adopt and adjust in a completely different culture for Tri. Gives me hope that things might be simpler that what I imagine.

  10. Hi Nepali Jiwan, I found your blog when I was searching the Internet and thought i might share my personal experience. I am an American women who recently was married to a Nepali man who is of the Chhetri caste. At first there was some debatable topics about our marriage like; what religious cultures am i going to follow , when we have children are they going to be Hindu or Christian? My husband and i went through a lot with our families and the Culture differences. But over time both of our families have came to terms with our marriage. As for me, i am still a Christian, but I also participate In the Hindu festivals, as well as not eating beef or pork, and wearing the nose piercing. The reason I do is to show respect for his culture as well as him showing respect for mine, like him participating in Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. We have not had much disagreements about the culture differences, other then people outside our family asking me why i have i not done this or that. My husband and I learned to compromise with both cultures and respect both cultures.

  11. Pingback: An Afternoon in Ason Bazaar | nepali jiwan

  12. My parents are nepalese hindu, but they have not been very teaching of me about religion so basically i know nada. My baba is newar and my mamu is baun.

  13. My mamu is a baun and had a nose piercing before she got married but she married my newar baba. She basicaaly doen’t wear a new nose ring, its bare unlike her sisters. I am a Shrestha.

    • I still haven’t gotten one, and it still hasn’t been a problem. I think when we have our Nepali wedding, people might wonder why I don’t have a nose piercing, but I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

    • 🙂 Our ceremony will probably be shortened, so hopefully I won’t fall asleep! I might run into a problem, though, if the ceremony happens at night, which I’ve heard is not uncommon.

  14. I really enjoyed reading the post and had fun while reading comments out there……i really appreacite to those american girls who loves nepali culture and respect….u are really good people who rarely able to do so. Thank you

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