The following passages may seem like a social media rant on one of my deepest and unresolved feelings from childhood, and I have to apologise in advance that yes, it is. And in addition to this disappointment, I’d like to admit that this one, in particular, is an outcome of a Hindi film.
Everyone has a film, song or a book that drives them to contemplate life. At least I feel there is and for me, in the recent times, the film has been “Dear Zindagi”. I cry, pause, think and un-pause several times while watching the film, not because I find it inception-like crazy to understand but because it teleports me to my 11th standard.
The year was 2011, and I had newly discovered that the cool kids were fond of me. Like many who’ve craved attention from the overly appreciated group of kids in the classroom, I too hoped for their approval. You know? The ones who seemed to have a slow-motion red carpet walk while entering or leaving; the ones who could defy the teachers; the ones who held the authority to judge, take decisions for the entire batch, and so on. I hope I’ve established the premises well.
It was a euphoric achievement for me at that point in time, and obviously, back then I was unaware that all this was a sham. An illusion that approval is what you must seek to be accepted – because acceptance, right? Acceptance of not who you want to be, or can be, but acceptance of the version of you that ‘should’ be. I was unapologetically happy to be finally recognised because for too long I had been isolated for being the shy, chubby girl who sucked at public speaking, dramatics, arts, and sports. The academic lovers had their score card to compensate, and the unlucky me was stuck with an average report card.
Climbing the ladder into the cool zone gradually made me aggressive – not a bully. The entire transformation of a feeble-voiced overweight child into a still-a-fat teenager, but with sarcasm and humour, made me feel powerful. I stopped doodling sad faces on the back of my notebook, pointing to the scribbling, “I have no friends” and to top it over, the coolest guy in the batch was on my Yahoo messenger list (we’re really good friends now, by the way). I finally enjoyed going to school. The newly found recognition quickly kicked in a Patiala peg of confidence that I too could be a role model for the remaining undermined kids of my classroom.
So, the year was 2011. The board of teachers decided to hold a series of competitive processes to elect the most powerful group of students with the assigned responsibilities of discipline, sports, and academics on whom would preside the head girl and the head boy – the throne we were desperate for, had no dragons or white walkers, only some societal complexes.
Struggling through well-conducted aptitude tests, group discussions and personal interviews, few of us were now in the league. I had aced the group discussion. Yes! The girl who had spent most of her lifetime incoherently answering the surprise quiz questions; the fat girl who hid behind other students as teachers demanded voluntary participation in events, had spoken her mind.
Only my churning stomach knew of the metric tons of courage I gathered for every audible word I had versed that day, in the middle of forty kids and three indifferent teachers. Along with me in the race for the head-girl title was the coolest, most I-wish-I-could-be-like-her girl in the history of my school. But, that did not affect me; I had myself to rely on. I was finally learning to detach myself from the worldly affairs of high-school fame and concentrate on being the amazing myself. I could practically be the poster girl for the so-called feminist beauty products saying, “Be beautiful. Be you.”
Aptitude score showed I was equally good as her, and the personal interview was soon after my sensational performance in the group discussion. The ecstatic version of me nailed that too. As anticipation reached its pinnacle, we – the chosen few – were backstage waiting for the final results, and every part of me felt worthy of the title. It sounds like a beauty pageant, I’m aware of it.
“The new head girl of our school, for the next one year is…. ”
I choked in pain, the suffocation of which slowly crawled into my nerves. I saw her gracefully accepting the badge embossed with ‘Head Girl’. Yes, she was beautiful, and I was the fat kid. Did it make me less beautiful? Wasn’t it about merits, after all? You could say I’m trying to extort out empathy for losing, but maybe only a body shamed kid who was already struggling to climb the social ladder for acceptance would understand.
The limited definition of beauty and the importance of a certain ‘look’ prevailing in my circle, keeps me awake at night even now. Because, the deep-rooted fear of rejection keeps on reminding me that no matter how much I push myself towards perfection or work hard, a society defined good looking female or a more ‘presentable’ male would enjoy the appreciation.
I did not doubt her ability to be the head girl. I do not think she did a bad job as one. I just couldn’t understand, “Why not me?”
We do not understand while in the rat race for acceptance, petty power plays, and body shaming that a lot of uniqueness is lost in the midst of all the chaos. Children who could do way more wonders than they think they’re capable of, shirk opportunities and risks for fear of rejection. I found feminism to pull myself back – but that’s a whole different story.