Is is just me or does the cohort of 16-25 year old girls in Dhaka look indistinguishable to you too? A couple decades ago, if I were asked by one of my foreign friends to describe the typical Bengali woman, I would describe a woman with large, almond shaped eyes, jet black hair parted on one side and combed into a bun, or let loose down her back. She would have a dewey complexion, a sharp nose and and a furtive smile. I realize that may be the stereotypical “Bonolata Sen,” a figure of idealized Bengali beauty that is both idyllic and restrictive. The generation X of young, well-to-do Bangladeshi women have undoubtedly broken away from this stereotype Or have they merely created a new one?
If you camp out at any of the popular teen hangouts such as cafes and hookah lounges in Dhaka, you’ll immediately be able to identify the conspicuous species of the typical Dhaka Girl. She is thin but curvy, with wisps of red, burgundy, blonde or even green highlights in her artificially straightened hair. She has dark, kohl rimmed eyes, often a small nose piercing and her costume of choice is a shalwar kameez in the latest Bollywood inspired style, paired with an adorable purse, or a school bag and stylish flip flops. Depending on the climate and environment, this get up could change into cargo pants teamed with a form-fitted top, scribbled with incoherent expressions that had it sent to Bongo Bazaar in the first place.
The typical Dhaka Girl has also learned to move in pairs or groups of three. After all, finding Rickshaws for a fair price in Dhaka City is a quite time-consuming affair. She is most often spotted in her natural habitat–the coaching center, where she can socialize with fellow Dhaka Girls and even strike it lucky and find a potential mate in a Dhaka Boy.
I don’t intent to sound demeaning, since I was once of these fair maidens myself, hence the intimate knowledge of customs, behaviors and habitats. Having been removed from that environment for some time, I question why the diverse range of personalities: the tom boy, the aggressive girl, the nerd, the class clown or the popular girl, who have distinct personalities in their adolescence, gravitate towards a homogeneous image as they grow into young adults. Where my punks, the poets, the artists or athletes at?