ByÂ Priyanjana Pramanik:
My complexion is not as fair as I would like it to be. This is something I’ve made my peace with over the years. I have learned to like the way I look; I am told I am ‘unconventionally pretty’, and I take that as a compliment. My obsession with fair skin, however, had little to do with the fact that most people consider it to be a sign of beauty. I wanted to be fair because my mother is fair, and I wanted to be like her. And yet, she sat me down and told me that I was beautiful, but she also told me that it wouldn’t matter in the slightest if I wasn’t. The first time someone said I was ‘black’, and I burst into tears, she sang me a song: ‘Krishnakali’, by Rabindranath Tagore, about a girl whose skin was as dark as Krishna’s. But her eyes were dark too; dark like those of a doe. She told me that the next time someone called me dark, I should say, quite proudly, ‘Of course I am. I am like Krishnakali.’
This is one incident that I recall very clearly from my childhood. It seems, to me, to be the moment when I first decided that appearance wasn’t all that important. Not insignificant, of course. Never that. But there were things which were more important. It was around that time that I decided I didn’t want fair skin or a perfect nose (though I was more than happy with my doe eyes). I decided instead that I wanted my mother’s smile. I wanted people to react to me the way they do to her quiet grace and her warm intelligence. I wanted people to see in me what they see in her. She makes people look beyond her looks. I decided I would do the same.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m alone in thinking this way. I hear my friends talking about the miracles that they dream of; most of them seem to have something to do with their appearance. They’d like to be taller, or shorter, or thinner, or fatter, and, most often, they’d like to be fairer. They un-tag themselves from pictures on Facebook if they don’t think they look good enough. They want miracles. I think of the things that I would like to change about myself, and there are many. But they are all things that I want to work towards myself. Little personality wrinkles that I plan to iron out, with time and a whole lot of patience. And as for my physical imperfections, I feel quite protective about them.
For example, I have a circular mark on my left shoulder. A couple of months before my fifteenth birthday, I fell off a bicycle and landed on my side. My friends, at a loss, cleaned the gaping wound by pouring an entire bottle of aftershave on it, and were quite impressed with me when I didn’t cry. We laugh over the incident today. The mark has faded, but it’s still there. It’s just another thing I’ve gotten used to. I also have a broken tooth and lots of jagged marks down my arms, which I attribute to the fact that I have a cat. Fellow cat lovers will understand.
Of course physical perfection is… Well, perfect. It’s beautiful. It’s to be envied. It’s to be cherished and protected. I’m sure I could go straighten my hair, surgically remove all my scars, cap my tooth (my Oxford Dental Care dentist does think it’s a good idea), and, while I’m at it, get laser surgery for my eyes. I could change a lot of things, but I won’t. I’m terrified that if I do, I’ll become someone other than the person these imperfections have made me. Because I like that person. She’s the kind of girl I’d want to be friends with.
I’m grateful that I learnt to like myself. I’m grateful that I got to know myself. It worries me that a lot of people don’t; that they let conventional ideas of beauty needle their secret insecurities, and lose themselves in the process. Despite my best efforts, a few insecurities have crept in, here and there. That’s why I envy children; they know they’re perfect, just the way they are. I think we all have something to learn from them, and I also feel that they should be told, over and over and over again, exactly how perfect they are. So that they grow up believing just that, and believe it forever.