By Shreya Iyengar:
“Rosy lips, dimpled cheeks, curly hair, very fair.” So goes the popular nursery rhyme, unknowingly cementing – and upholding – certain ideas and stereotypes since heaven knows when. And we internalise it effortlessly, don’t we? As children, we lap it up. It’s only in the pre-adolescent years that questions begin to arise. And as we all know, adolescence is a jungle.
“Why don’t you get waxed/threaded? Don’t you feel conscious about the hair on your arms? You ought to use sunscreen; you’re getting really tanned. Don’t stay out too long in the sun! Oh my God, what is that girl wearing? Does she not realise that her figure is not made for skinny jeans? And her top is so tight, I’m surprised she hasn’t burst out of it already. She should use proper shampoo, too; her hair is so straggly and limp.”
And so it goes on, relentlessly. Sometimes, it becomes a background score to our lives. It doesn’t matter where we are. We could be at home, in the metro, in a coffee shop, at a friend’s house, at university. But it’s always lingering; this feeling of never being enough. Of being too fat, too thin, too dark, abnormally fair, too gangly. Countless times, I’ve been told that I “should really get bangs and switch to lenses” because I have a large forehead and wear glasses.
I’m tired of it all. The hypocrisy, and the pretense of “Oh, I didn’t mean anything, I was just kidding. Why are you so sensitive?” is a nauseating combination. Add to that the constant barrage of advertisements on TV, the radio and hoardings, and it becomes a potent, explosive mix. I shudder to think of the plight of the beauty industry if everyone – both women and men – started feeling comfortable in their own skins. What would happen to the gigantic hoarding on my way to Kirori Mal College, which screams “Long Day At College? Keep Your Fairness Intact”?
Unfortunately, no matter how many articles we write and how much we keep protesting about it, body shaming seems to be here to stay. Even if people begin accepting themselves, and each other, for who they really are, there will always be that one advertisement on TV which makes your head spin with the over-enthusiasm of trying to convey its message – namely, that as far as appearances go, we humans will forever be left aspiring for the glossiest hair and the clearest complexion if we don’t start using Pantene, Fair and Lovely or Everyuth or whatever the hell else it is.
In all honesty, we’ve got a whole lot of progressing to do. I’m waiting for the day the matrimonial section of the paper isn’t filled with shameless, downright revolting demands of “fair, preferably tall girl.” The subtext is clear as day: if she fails to meet any of the above criteria, she’s ineligible.
Sometimes, it makes me want to throw my hands up in frustration. Why can’t we see that we’re beautiful because of who we are, not in spite of it? Skinny, pimply, flabby, pear-shaped, willowy, wheatish or dusky, we’re all worthy and deserving of love, respect and dignity. Every single one of us. I deliberately did not venture into the sensitive areas of mental illness, alternate sexualities, learning disabilities, etc. The ones facing those battles along with body image struggles are made up of a different kind of resilience.
So, you know what? Eat that chocolate. Wear that pink eyeliner. Streak your hair red. Buy that off-shoulder top. Go out into the world. Be unapologetic for your choices. Be fearless. If some random stranger tells you that something doesn’t suit you, shrug insouciantly – because at the end of the day, you’re you, they’re them and as the saying goes: those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. Why suppress a star when it has so much potential to shine?