The Mirror

Posted by Esha Panda
April 24, 2017


“Mirror mirror on the wall

Who is the prettiest of all?”

Repeats the two year old as she plays with her “pretty” Barbie dolls. As she grows up, she learns mounds of interesting words like “ugly”, “bad”, “dirty” which she learns to link with crooked looking people, with “bad” features and of course, goes without saying, with “dark skin”. She grows up within the realms of the fairy tales that epitomise Rapunzel, White beauty and innumerable others as “beautiful” people. She learns to read, and the first story she reads is the tale of the prince charming and the ugly frog, both displayed vividly on the same page! She keeps reading till she comes across the tales of the “ugly” duckling and the crow among the peacocks. At those very pages, she stops for a moment, and then, the incredible journey begins.

Well then, what’s so wrong in it? I don’t quite blame you for not noticing what has gone wrong. In fact, unthinkably wrong! Right before you hurl the brickbats, I have more weapons in my artillery. Honestly, what bothers you when your teenage daughter scrutinizes her body a thousand times in front of the mirror and checks for any stubborn curve that might not settle well in her skin-tight attires? Why do you act paranoid when your daughter complains about oily food and getting fat? It was you who gifted the series of stick-thin Barbie dolls on her birthdays! When she made fun of her obese classmate, called him names like “fatso” or “fatty” did you care to object? How many times did you actually rebuke her for frowning at the brown-skinned housemaid and repeatedly saying “don’t touch my things”? Never ever I suppose. So today, if your adolescent daughter is on the verge of falling sick for having food less than a sparrow or is wasting hours on those skin-lightening cosmetics, think twice before reprimanding. The clock has already started ticking and there’s no way you can reverse it now !

With the ongoing hullabaloo regarding the body image misconceptions in young girls, it feels needless to repeat the same words over and over again, hoping they might turn into gospel someday. Without the slightest detour, I shall begin with your favourite social media outlet- “Facebook”. There has recently been an overload of blogs and pages mouthing the slogan “curves are beautiful” or “dark is beautiful”. The boldest chorus, apparently! But right before you stand up, with your palms about to join in for an applause, take a moment and have a ringside look. “The child in this picture is dark, but I believe she is the most beautiful thing on Earth….can she get at least 1000 likes?”

Alright, so your memory is jarred awake and you remember not just one, but hundreds and thousands of similar images that have gained popularity on social media. I need not know whether you liked or shared those posts. What bothers me more is whether you understood this deftly crafted game of sympathy mongering. The starkness of the very juxtaposition of the words “black” and “beautiful” with the careful conjugation through “but” should have struck you at the first glance. What an incredible passion for appreciation are we bestowed with! But the question is, does that “dark but beautiful” kid really need admirers like us? It will remain as beautiful a creation, even if its human existence is trivialised to this extent.

Same is the case of the young, healthy girls who are photographed (quite consciously) in a way, eons away from your visual expectations. Now that you are a part of the bandwagon, you are made to utter “curves are beautiful”, although deep down, it is still hard for you to stomach the very fact. In fact, you never do. Else why would the same words involuntarily come out of you every time- “she is fat, but I think she is beautiful”? Your monumental generosity to regard her as “beautiful” does not change the fact that she is so in reality, even before you carefully choose to label her so.

Speaking of our very progressive films, which recently are giving sizeable space to the healthy (and I would add normal) women, have you noticed a conspicuous trend? The main highlights of these movies are portraying the chubbiness and the complexion of the female protagonists, and vehemently insinuating that visual appeal is not the last word. I cannot help but appreciate the effort. But my question is – why so much struggle? Why so much of a projected effort to prove a simple fact? Ain’t it supposed to come naturally? Please educate me! This humongous effort is scaring people all the more. Bringing this healthy section of the actresses to the limelight is actually projecting their struggles of having bulkier bodies. These filmmakers have to sweat less to embark on a meaningful storyline that caters to the box-office sharks as well. If you’re an ardent Page 3 enthusiast, it must have met your eyes that the same actresses have pushed the boundaries to shed tonnes of flesh in order to bag the “glamorous” roles in the mainstream films. So the glaring message at the end of all these upheavals is still the same- “bulkier you are, less room you have in your desirable spaces”!

Are you are visiting those doctors to treat your child for anorexia (eating disorder)? Believe me, the same doctors are prescribing the slimming capsules to those much glorified celebrities. So this vicious cycle, is this ever going to end? Let’s not even debate on “who” started the cycle. At the moment, we all are equally hogtied and need to find means to untie ourselves and the ones we care about.

This can of course get a lot more specific, a lot more sarcastic, but not much is going to change. A mistake once made and carried forward with equal perseverance over the years will have consequences as dire as this. The only silver lining is that you can still mend it! Perhaps the easiest trick would do! Remove that “mirror on the wall”, because like you, and like a million others, it has also been bred on fairy tales!

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