“Ugh, not again. Please go away for God sake”, I scream in my head, getting pissed at those tiny little bumps on my forehead, chin and the remote sides of my cheeks that would soon swell up to become those giant, red, painful and pus-filled pimples. Gosh, yuck! Anyway, it’s a busy Monday morning and I don’t have enough time to spend in front of the mirror. I have to catch my train from Andheri to Church Gate and then a shared taxi to the World Trade Center.
It’s a rare privilege to be able to find a seat in the overcrowded local that I commute in. I stand leaning onto the back of a seat. Somehow, the start of the day seems awful and several disturbing thoughts start poking me, one after the other.
I think about how my hair fall has increased over the past few months. How I have been putting on weight. Those obstinate oodles of fat, especially around my waist which few days ago prompted a co-passenger to ask me if I were pregnant. Those oodles which I so dearly wish I could simply chop-off and give away to my super skinny co-worker, who is constantly and equally upset for being under weight. I start cursing the hot, humid and polluted air of the city, the traffic, my blood-sucking stressful job that doesn’t allow me time to go to the gym, the adulterated food, my premenstrual hormones and whatnot! A series of unstoppable rants play in my mind, in loop, blaming each and everything, creating a whirlpool of questions.
Even though I am an infamous chatter box, on off days like this, I prefer to keep it low. Instead of the usual, ‘striking a new conversation with some stranger’, I keep quiet and just watch. I enjoy catching people off-guard, trying to read their minds, imagining their untold stories.
My eyes fall on the screen of the mobile phone of a girl. She rapidly swipes her fingers through her selfies. Tens of them. Very similar. Anyhow, she picks one and moves on to Instagram. Again, swipes her fingers rapidly through the various filters. Finally, stops at one. All blemishes and dark circles disappear. What remains is a bright glowing face. The ‘perfect picture’ that gets uploaded. A smile of satisfaction draws up on her face. I can relate with her. I feel embarrassed. Of being insecure, of feeling inadequate, of striving to look like what I am not.
I turn away and look around for some other character, some other story.
The train stops.
I notice a girl boarding. She walks in and stands right in front of me. Tall, fair, slim, perfect symmetry of the face, chiseled jawline, big eyes, sharp nose, full lips, lustrous long black tresses and great curves. In short, perfectly beautiful as per the conventional standards. But, why does it feel like I know her?! Oh, she resembles my Mamaji’s daughter, my cousin. I immediately get transported to my home and my childhood.
I remember how in the family functions, my Mausi, obsessed with fair skin, would brazenly discriminate and pamper my cousin while neglecting me. She would introduce her so proudly to the guests, bragging of her beauty while I would stand behind, ignored like an outcast. I would come home and cry, blaming God for not making me pretty like her. I would silently laugh at myself for participating in those debates with topics like “beauty or brains”, where people would applaud me for saying intelligent is beautiful, brave is beautiful, kind is beautiful and confident is beautiful. I wonder where those people disappeared when I grew older.
My mom always tried to make me understand that outer beauty captivates the eyes and inner beauty captivates the heart. However, every time she said that, I would hear it like a consolation speech and would never believe in it. How could I, when time and again it was proven to me to be untrue!
When it came to my marriage, dad had clearly spelt out in my matrimonial profile’s specifications, “People seeking ‘fair’ bride please stay away. Our daughter is dusky”, further supported by unedited pictures of mine. Even then, I had to encounter many hypocrites who would be our guest, enjoy the hospitality for free and would later come back saying, “sorry, the girl isn’t fair” or with some polite version of “she isn’t as beautiful as we expected”. Yes, even in 2012. Even when I was educated, working in a corporate and was well paid.
My mom is very fair and dad, very dark. I am intermediate. Friends, neighbors, relatives would sympathetically comment, “you aren’t fair like your mother?!” followed by the unsolicited advices of lemon juice, tomato juice, besan- haldi and the fairness creams. I shamefully admit, I desperately acted on them. I still do, even now, as a matter of habit.
Later, when I moved to USA, I saw my American friends doing the reverse. They spent hundreds of dollars in the tanning parlors to get that ‘perfect tan’. They would tell me how my brown skin appealed to them. And not only the skin color, I would pass by a clinic on the way from home to office everyday, which had a huge bill board that read, “Unhappy with what you got? Safe plastic surgery. Look the way you want!” The perception of what is beautiful might vary from culture to culture but what stays common is: they all have prescribed standards and any deviation creates social and peer pressure that shatters one’s self-confidence.
Meanwhile, my train arrives at Church Gate station. I get out, cross the road and wait for a shared taxi.
I see a frail, dark, short, thin woman, standing by my side, with prominent dark spots on her cheeks, probably in her early forties. She has heavy spectacles on, her hair oiled and braided and is wearing an inexpensive chiffon saree. She smiles at me and I smile back. From the point of physical appearance, she might not even be worth noticing. But there’s something so striking about her. As if she has some aura around, to which I feel drawn. After two long hours of frustrating thoughts prevailing in my mind, I suddenly feel like cheering up and chatting.
The taxi arrives and I get in. She follows me and lifts her saree before getting in, to avoid it from tangling with her feet. And what I see next, sort of blows my mind away. Both her legs are prosthetic!
My curiosity by now is irresistible. I initiate the conversation. Our supposedly fifteen-minute ride turns to half hour because of some unusual traffic on the road. She tells me that she lost her husband and her legs in a train accident and is survived by their two children, a girl and a boy. The girl is suffering from thalassemia. She works as an ad hoc employee in the same private bank that her husband worked in and has joined only recently. Her limited educational qualifications do not allow her to secure better paying office jobs. In the evening she teaches small kids and earns some more from their tuition fees. Her teen age son helps her prepare meals early in the morning for their dabba or tiffin business. I ask her with astonishment and admiration that how she manages all of this given her condition. She smiles and replies, “Karna padta hai. Waqt sab sikha deta hai” (We have to do. Time teaches us everything). Through the whole conversation, never could I notice even an iota of hopelessness or despair on her face. Her self-esteem gleamed through her eyes and her upbeat spirit showed up in her smiles.
Dumbstruck with her zest for life, her courage, simplicity and positivism, I get down and walk up to the gate of my office building, unable to divert my mind from her beautiful face.
Wait, did I just say “beautiful”?!
I know what you are thinking by now. It’s easier said than done. I agree. Years of conditioning and feeding with what is or should be called beautiful, we find it difficult to be comfortable in our own skin. But we can change it, with conscious efforts and thoughtful living. Unless we break free ourselves from the shackles of beauty as dictated by the media and society, true beauty will be elusive. Every time I look in the mirror and I find something to complain about regarding my appearance, I remind myself of this woman I was talking about and the many more like her whom I have come across in my life.
That girl I met in a train in New Jersey who despite her lupus blisters on face, was running a beauty salon; that obese Zumba instructor I met in Bangalore; that clay artist with one arm and half of her face burnt in a fire accident, who lived in the same building as mine, in Mumbai; that coworker with vitiligo all over her body who was the soul of all our office parties, whose jokes made us roll on the floor; the daughter of the neighbor in Noida with abnormally protruding teeth who was bullied by her classmates and later topped the school… I can go on and on. I don’t have to look very far. I just have to look around to find these physically extraordinary women who are ahead of the curve, redefining what beauty means.
I remind myself of the TRUE BEAUTY that I have seen in these women. They all teach me that beauty is about knowing and accepting who you are as a human being, your principles and your moral compass. Physical beauty that comes from keeping up exteriors can only be maintained temporarily, but beauty that takes genuineness and sincerity as its foundation, is timeless and eternal. Whether we are young or old, howsoever our appearances might be, if upon seeing us people give rise to joy, if the sight of us makes them happier, then it is true beauty; beauty which can emanate only from the truth and goodness of our hearts .
When discussing about true beauty, I must quote someone who has always inspired me – the “World’s ugliest woman”, Lizzie Velásquez, who claims that this very title has helped to transform herself. In her book “Dare to Be Kind: How Extraordinary Compassion Can Transform Our World” , she says:
“It is fine to be who you are. It is a good thing not to be just like everybody else. What makes you unique is what makes you beautiful, because it’s what makes you, you. And the world needs you, exactly as you are. That’s the truth, plain and simple.”
_ _ _ _ _ _
I believe every woman has TRUE BEAUTY within her in all the roles she plays. For over 18 years across 650 plus salons across the country, Naturals has been helping the Beautiful Indian Woman get more Beautiful.
Today Naturals Salutes the Beautiful Indian Woman.
Presenting Naturals TRUE BEAUTY… http://bit.ly/naturalsOF