Category Archives: Vanity Unfair

Beauty and all that it implies.

Can A Feminist Be Fashion Forward?

I just bought a bunch of clothes and for the first time in weeks, I’m feeling really good. I’m trying to focus on that rather than the guilt of knowing that this was stress-shopping. I’m not a shopaholic or a spendthrift. An occasional binge like this always causes me some pangs but that’s probably the reason why it stays occasional. So I guess it’s okay that I feel the twinge too, else I might lose my in-built alarm system that keeps me from going overboard spending.

Why do new clothes make women feel good? I know I personally enjoy colour, cut, texture, material and style. I dress with care even while going to sleep. This is a personal act of honouring my body and savouring all that it can do. Yet vanity is seen as a female trait and worse, a foolish one to be looked down upon.

So can one be a feminist and also fashionable? I know most fashion is patriarchal, showcasing women as objects of desire and pleasure to men. Everything from pocketless dresses (so as not to ruin the hourglass cut) to high heels (curvy calves at the cost of foot health) screams that the male gaze matters more than the female wearer’s comfort. The existence of the bra alone tells us how close to our hearts we carry this oppression.

I fight these in all the ways I can. I only wear ‘sensible’ shoes and I can tell you this has to be a conscious act of rebellion since Indian shoe stores do not like women with large feet who also insist on durability, protection, arch support and comfortable soles. I refuse to fidget over visible bra straps or panty lines, because these are my bonds and if I must wear them, I’m not going to do the world the favour of also hiding them. I challenge conventional notions of beauty and I refuse to be shamed by those same conventions. I’ve fought and continue fighting long and hard over the right to dress as I want – with authorities and with strangers.

Me a week ago. Don't roll your eyes at the future too much. That evening my mother fell down, fractured her thigh bone, had to be hospitalised and have surgery done. I found saviours who answered to friends names (@professor.shonku, @kavanchheda28, @manishalakhe, @sensorcaine, @balrajghai, @AlphabetSambar). I reconnected with my one time favorite relative of all time. I also tangled with distant doctors, angels-in-disguise nurses, unaccountably nice canteen cooks, an autowalla with an even bigger ego than the biggest muscles in Lokhandwala, a 6 year old boy in a stretcher screaming for his mother, a cleaner who decided to bless me with affection and a fellow patient who just said "Mala tu khoob aadvadat aahe" You really never know what life throws your way. And by equal measure, you don't know what goodies it leaves behind for you to stumble onto either.

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And even as I say these, I take pleasure in male attention. Attention is currency and as a woman, my looks are my surest way of earning it. I also collect attention for my intelligence, my work, my art and my personality. But my physicality is the easiest, surest way to attract attention. Retaining that attention though, becomes a function for the other things I mentioned and since I have enough of the other things, this is an adequate model. To my mind, this does not reduce me to a glamour doll. If that is all a man wants to believe of me, that is his problem, not mine.

I am a performer and it comes naturally to me to dress boldly, even flashily. This is my personality and then all of socialising is an act, after all. Why not be a star?

I’m looking at the stack of shiny, lint-free new clothes I’ve just bought with my own money. I know I’m going to look really good wearing them. I know I’m going to pull in compliments or at the very least an admiring glance or two. I know I’m going to feel like the me I see inside my head – spectacular, bright and blazing forward. And finally, I know this is what creates admiration, loyalty and even relationship.

So, expense or investment? 😜

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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Style 101

I want to explain that by ‘alter you’, I mean alter who you think you are. You are not your body. You are not a number. You are not a colour. You are not a race. You are not a name. You are not a country. You are not a label. So who are you? Find out and your skin will fit.

*If you liked this, follow my microfiction/micropoetry on https://www.yourquote.in/ideasmithy

No Country For Men


No country for men
Artwork: Ramya Pandyan

Follow my writings on https://www.yourquote.in/idea-smith-qor/quotes/ 

Shame In My Belly: Body Image & The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Of the many wars a woman fights, body image issues are some of the hardest to tackle. Because they’re always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of one’s mind.

I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don’t fit. Do I believe it’s harder because of this? After all, I’m not large, I’m not small, I’m not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don’t we?

I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. Add a layer of shame and another of silence to deep-seated complexes. Imagine a perfect well-shaped pot with a tiny hole in one side. That’s what body image is like. All the compliments, all the validation leaks out of that one part of one’s body that doesn’t fit. And that one part of you that feels imperfect becomes a clogged drain, lined with shame, resentment, fear and sadness. In my case, that place is right in the centre of me, in my stomach.

I have never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It has stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. I’ve been advised to give up eating rice, cold water, dairy products after sunset, fried foods. Nothing works.

I do want to say that nobody has ever shamed me for my stomach. Among all the insults and attacks that came my way, the stomach never featured. If anything a boy long ago called it ‘cute’, another one said it could make a guy feel better about himself knowing that I wasn’t a perfect marble statue and recently a friend called it ‘Madhuri Dixit chic’. While these compliments made me laugh and glow with pleasure, at some level I did not really buy into them. I just shrugged them off as affection for me/crab mentality/funny kink. My relationship with my body is tightly locked away inside my cells. It’s hard to see yourself the way others see you.

11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego.

Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to ‘hide my flaws’. I experiment a lot more with clothes now but I instinctively gravitate to looks that emphasize the things about my appearance, that are permitted to be called beautiful. Most days now, I don’t even remember my dragon tattoo.

But this Monday, I took out this top that’s been lying unused for nearly three years. It’s short and because it ties at the back, it (in my head) emphasises how rounded my stomach is. The words that form in my mind when I usually see myself this way are PODGY, UNHEALTHY, CHUBBY, FLABBY and that dreaded euphemism – MUFFIN TOP. Truly, I do understand what body image issues sound like inside one’s head.

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I draped on a trenchcoat over as a security blanket and travelled, my head held high, the body language I assume when I’m faking it till I make it. Then I met Neha and we stopped for a bathroom detour before proceeding. I ruefully and reluctantly stared at my stomach in the mirror in the ladies’ toilet and said,

“It’s not umm….flat.”

Neha didn’t laugh at me (like people often do when I admit to feeling uncomfortable). She didn’t tell me I didn’t have the right to feel diffident about my looks (again, like a LOT of people like to tell me). She just said,

“You know, most women don’t have flat stomachs.”

We spoke briefly about adolescent fears and things that we battled growing up. I mean really briefly, because it was just the time it took to climb one staircase. Maybe it was because it came from a woman as glamorous as she is. Maybe because she didn’t look at me any differently for having an unflat stomach. Maybe because she didn’t judge me for worrying about something as stupid as that. Maybe it was just because she was kind. But I felt a surge of courage go through me. Sometimes you need people to believe that it’s okay for you to be scared, to stop being scared. My dragon awoke again.

And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach.

Of the many wars I fight, body image issues are among the hardest to tackle. Because they're always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of my mind. I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don't fit. Do I believe it's harder because of this? After all, I'm not large, I'm not small, I'm not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don't we? I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. I've never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It's stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. Eventually, I gave up. 11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego. Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to 'hide my flaws'. Most days now, I don't even remember my dragon tattoo. But this Monday, I took out this top that's been lying unused for nearly three years. I draped on a coat over it for a security blanket. But @pwneha said something that gave me courage. And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach. So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete. Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the picture! #body #selfesteem #bodyimage #bodyissues #bodylove

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So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete.

Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the pictures! And thank you, Neha.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Thinking Pink: Fashion As A Feminist Statement

I was at the India Culture Lab last weekend for an event called ‘Feminism & Fashion’. It was a fabulous evening (as evenings spent at the ICL usually are). Among all the wonderous sights and conversations, I had a chance to meet my longtime girl-crush Sharanya Manivannan in person and discovered that she knew me. She wore a bindi with a lacy dress and teamed heavy gold jhumkas with high heels. AND she’s a dark girl with a soft voice that speaks a lot of hard truths. Any surprises that I like her? 😊

There is a myth that dressing well and the intellect do not go hand-in-hand. As women we struggle with labels and we succumb to whichever label we dislike the least. I grew up choosing the label of Intelligent Girl over Babe, Diva or Princess. How far does that extend?

As a teenager, I hid inside grunge – unkempt long hair, oversized teeshirts, cotton pyjamas, very old jeans, boots and no makeup. It was the 90s and Alanis Morisette was all the rage. But my dressing had a lot to do with not wanting to be mistaken for ‘those’ airheaded girls who wore makeup and dressed to please men.

Then in my early twenties, I stumbled into an abusive relationship, where (among other things), he chose what I wore, basically dollface/sexpot – pastel shades, puffy sleeeves, heels, tiny handbags, clinging clothes. When I came out of that relationship, I realised that the world treated me better when I conformed to the beauty ideal and everything was a lot easier. So I embraced the warpaint.

Make no mistakes, my sojourn into dressing up was a militant move. Warpaint I call it and that is what I was. Through my twenties and even today, the clothes and makeup I wear were my armour. I am not ashamed of this because this does not rise from self-loathing. My dressing does not hide my flaws; it hides my strengths. I have faced too much for too long to believe that my womanhood will have any relationship to fairness and truth. The world (mostly men) will not let me be in peace if they see me as I see myself – an intelligent, determined, independent human being. My fashion is a statement, a ‘zor ka jhatka dheere se lagao‘ veneer over the hardness (and hardiness) of my being.

My look has evolved over the years, along with my personality and my feminism. I have started to realise that I can dress for the world’s comfort while also incorporating my own individuality into it. The I Wear series that I have been doing for years, has been an attempt to showcase just this. What I wear is an integral part of who I am and how I relate to the world.

To come back to Friday’s event, I had an sudden hankering to wear pink. Pink was a colour I gravitated to a lot as a child. But very early on, I knew that the world saw pink as a colour symbolizing ‘girliness’. This represented sugariness, princessy tantrums, weakness, dimwittedness and a general inferiority to boys/men. So I gave up pink. I went through black, blue and white before I embraced red. Red is still a very important part of my identity and will always be a symbol of strength and independence for me.

But what of pink, my abandoned desire? I think I only realised on Friday that I had begun incorporating pink into my wardrobe years ago by tricking myself. I always ‘butch’ up or turn up the volume on my dressing when I wear pink. It’s usually screaming shades of the colour such as fuchsia or majenta. If the gentleness of salmon or baby pink appear, I keep them to a minimum and contrast them with boots and dark colours or vivid prints. Well, that is quite a realisation to have.

Fashion is expression and full of powerful symbology. It affects the way we relate to each other and to ourselves. In its truest sense, it is also a celebration of the individual. By dressing up and dressing well by my own standards, I challenge gender stereotypes, oppressive attitudes towards sexuality and the moral police. So fashion is definitely a feminist statement.

Reema has had something to do with my shifting perspective towards feminism, womanhood, vanity and dressing up, in the past few years. She has been another woman who owns her wardrobe choices as well as her intelligence and it’s always comforting to have company. Neha and Sharanya were striking instances of the same. Friday evening was the first time in years that I did not feel like I had to defend my dressing or apologize for my intelligence. Without realising it, I’ve also been deeply lonely in my dressing and being around other women who carried the same attitude was encouraging.

Maybe it’s time for me to let some pink into my life and this time without needing to hide it away with noise and saturation. After all, my feminism is not all hard. My strength can also be soft.

This.

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If you’d like to see what I wore to the event, run along to the I Wear post on The Idea-smithy. Also check out what another independent, intelligent and fashionable woman wore to the same event.

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* If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Where We Preen And Talk About Our Hair A Lot

I’m a vain peacock in the most obvious way possible.

I love my hair. Unlike skin and other organs, it has never given me reason for worry. It’s straight, silky and has stayed black longer than most of my peers. It echoes my personality remarkably well (distinctive, shiny, healthy). It’s malleable to all my commands. So I’ve had several different hairstyles over the years.

As with most things about my personality, my hair preferences wage war with popular notions. Most Indian men like long hair. This preference is less about aesthetics and more about conformity to the Indian demure little woman kind of beauty. It also fits the Saadgi concept. I’m always surprised by the fear women show in trying out a new shorter hairstyle. So what if it doesn’t look as good? It’s hair, I say, dead cells, it’ll grow out soon enough. I know because I have gone short and lived to tell the tale. And I prefer short hair. It’s fun, low maintenance and lends itself to more variation than long hair.

Here’s something I got from watching America’s Next Top Model: Short hair and/or completely slicked back hair shows confidence because a person can’t rely on wild hair to mask facial blemishes or imperfections. The TV show Glee pointed out the distraction value of hair in an episode titled ‘Hairography‘. Given my dark skin, most people probably think I should be hiding behind long tresses that at least fit the popular standard of beauty. And why not? Hair’s primary use in beauty tactics, is as a concealing device or distraction measure. It is never celebrated for itself.

Anyway, earlier this month, I decided single or otherwise, I wasn’t going to use my hair as bait to trap men. If a man liked me, he’d have to like me with whatever hair (or not!) I had. Besides, it’s part of my body. I don’t think anybody, let alone an unknown man from the distant future should have any say in what I do with it. So I went under the scissors. And I’m very, very excited with the result! I don’t know if I’m more or less or just as attractive to members of the opposite sex but it doesn’t matter. Not in that angry I-don’t-care-about-what-men-think way but in that I’m happy because I’m doing something that delights me. Look at me fab!

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Fun fact: I got my hair chopped off at Mad O Wot, which run by Sapna Bhavnani. Look at what she posted on Instagram a little later! 😀

Dark Girls Have All The Fun

Last week I was at a Body Shop outlet. Two women were waiting at the counter. I walked up to join the queue and smiled at them. Both of them looked me over — my short hair, the lipstick swatches on my left wrist, my minidress and they turned their faces away. I might not have noticed it. But my attention was momentarily captured by a gloss on the shelf on the side. I bent down to examine it, then changed my mind and straightened up immediately. I turned just in time to catch them both eyeing me curiously. They turned their eyes away immediately.

Fifteen minutes later, I was at a coffeeshop and the same two women came up behind me at the counter. Their reactions were exactly the same. Looking away or right through me as if I were invisible. But at least twice I caught them staring at me with a curious expression of disbelief and what? Awe? Resentment? Anger? Wonder? I know I’m not imagining it because I had a friend with me who wondered why they were behaving so oddly. They behaved differently with her — the vague half-smile one gives strangers in shops followed by casual indifference, only stopping to make way for other people but with no eye contact.

It struck me when I watched ‘Queen’ — the character of Vijaylakshmi (played by Lisa Haydon) in her glorious rejection of the Indian stereotype of womanhood. I only caught the obvious things in the first viewing — her smoking, drinking, open sex life and single parenthood. The second time though, I caught something so obvious, I was stunned that I had missed it. How could I have missed the fact that Vijaylakshmi is a dark-skinned diva? It’s the ultimate rejection of everything India believes about women — that we should aspire to be attractive sex objects and that there is only one definition of attractiveness.

Rani’s shock, fear, then awe and finally respect for Vijaylakshmi was a richer story when I realised this. Rani is the kind of girl who has grown up being awarded brownie (sorry, pun-haters) points for fitting that stereotype. It would be inconceivable for her that a woman like Vijayalakshmi exists, is not just unperturbed by it but actually proud and happy about the way she is.

If you think that might be taking things a bit far, look at another role where Lisa Haydon does pretty much the same thing to the protagonist (except the princess there doesn’t have Rani’s strength to grow). Aisha’s pampered princess is jarred by the presence of Arati, who owns her caramel skin even better than the rest of Delhi high society wears their Prada and Gucci.

What stands out about both Vijaylakshmi and Arati’s characters? It’s not just the fact that they are dark-skinned girls. It’s the fact that they wear their skin with pride, not defensiveness or fear. Neither character acts as if she needs to apologise for having extra melanin. They don’t hide behind the dull browns and maroons that get assigned to dark skins as ‘best suited for this complexion’.

How many dark skinned women do you see wearing shorts, singlets or backless dresses? How many of them have short cropped hair? How many wear colours like neon pink, bright orange or parrot green? In short, how many dark skinned women do we see in India who are comfortable enough to wear their skin and not hide it behind cloth, hair or drab colours?

I don’t have any facts and figures for that but I am a dark skinned woman. I do all of the above and I get noticed more because of it than because I’m striking in any other way. Fair skinned women often react to me in one of the two above ways — either with secret admiration growing to respect or with undisguised resentment. In the instance that I mentioned at the start of the post, both those women were milky white. My friend is what we call ‘fair skinned’ too. I was wearing a pair of bright yellow shoes, maroon shorts and a singlet. I also had on my trademark blazing lipstick and short, cropped hair. None of these speak of a woman who feels like she has to hide her physicality. I imagine that comes as a big suprise to most people.

I didn’t grow up being told I was nice-looking. I often got told how my dark skin was a liability. It still gets told to me, by beauticians, by fashion bloggers, by Bollywood songs that deify the ‘gori’, by fairness cream advertisements, by distant family members, by an ex-boyfriend, by well-meaning friends who suggest that I quit swimming. At some point of time, I realised nobody was every going to think of me as beautiful. But I had to live with my own body  and see my face in the mirror every damn day. I couldn’t live with hating that for the rest of my life so I decided that I’d learn to see myself as beautiful. And I did. Now I find I’m past the outrage of being discriminated against for my skin colour. I know I look good. I feel it in my head. I just know with utmost certainty that something looks good on me because it looks good to me. Everyone else’s opinion is just that. But I realise that this self-knowledge scares a lot of other people. Their cruel words and angry gestures come from a place of fear and that’s something I have to pity. It can’t be easy living your life inside an constricting view, then discovering that someone who doesn’t do that but looks happier than you feel.

I’ve discovered a secret and there’s no going back on knowledge. Instead of fewer colours ‘suiting me’ as the beauty magazines say, I think a lot more of them do. Colours that usually get called ‘outrageous’ don’t jump off my skin like they are plastic/amoeboid life forms. My unfashionable skin colour carries vivid violet, bubblegum pink and Fanta orange in exactly the same way as it does muted browns and maroons. This is great for someone who enjoys colour the way I do — like the company of a close friend. And finally, this knowledge gives me the confidence to wear what I like, which I believe is the only real ingredient there is to looking good. I think this knowledge was for me, a breaking free of one of the invisible boundaries society places on women’s bodies & minds. There’s nothing but freedom beyond that.

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Me and my love of colour

If you’re a dark skinned woman, lock away your browns, maroons and greys and pick up a tomato red, a sunshine yellow, a tangerine or a neon green. I dare you. You’ll thank me when you join the party of dark divas laughing at everyone else who is conforming. I think I’m beginning to understand Arati’s cool composure and Vijayalakshmi’s laughing nonchalence. Dark girls really do have all the fun.

Red Lipstick Is My Superhero Cape

When I was small, lipstick was fascinating. It was a delicious tube that needed to be rotated and a magical colour would rise out of it. It would touch lips that made as if to bite it off (it looked so delicious!) but never did. And discreetly, its power unleashed, it would slide back into its case.

My own mother never wore lipstick and I didn’t have sisters so there was nowhere to experiment. Instead, I improvised and begged for a pack of Phantom cigarettes. I licked the ‘lit’ end of it gently. Then I carefully smeared it over my lips. When my mother saw it, she yelled at me and took me to the bathroom to wash it off. But my love of red lipstick was born that day.

I went through most of the teens hiding under the cover of Intelligent Girl, the one that was too smart for makeup, that was too busy thinking about life and poetry and philosophy and maths to care about dressing up. My standard issue clothing was white/black/grey teeshirts with blue jeans and sturdy boots. There was no room for the frivolity of colour in my life.

It was many, many years before I was allowed to own a lipstick (being that good Tamilian girls don’t wear lipstick, only moodevis do). And when that happened, I had been sufficiently Tamizhed enough to be conservative and prudent. Dark skins, I was advised did not look good with pink. Red was out of the question (refer aforementioned moodevi). Brown wasn’t a colour to wear on one’s lips because it made one look like one smoked. But maroon was suitable. After all, lipstick was only ever for special occasions. And maroon went well with everything.

The following year, I found the courage (or perhaps the stifling boredom) to rebel against conventional career and education choices. And I rebelled in every way I could think. Gloss entered my cupboard, then brown, then I teamed them both up, a la Toni Braxton in Unbreak My Heart. I discovered the delights of matte and the further intricacies of powder matte versus cream matte. I learnt the differences between lip crayon, lip stain, lipstick, liquid lip colour, gloss, base coat and lip pencil.

Around the same time, nail colour also opened up for me. (Moodevis did not have any say over nailpaint but school principals did.) And since experimental colour came back into vogue, I went black, blue, red, pink. Then I tried a different colour on each nail. And finally, all of them on every nail — stripes, polka dots, designs. The 90s were the birth of amateur DIY nail artists.

And finally I reached my third year of college and my last on campus. I had dropped out, signed up for a Fashion Design course, gotten admission, fought with my family, changed my mind and returned to science studies. I was determined to not just conquer that hated world but to vanquish it and lay it to rest, once and for all. And my choice of colour matched it. During the first month, I bought a brand new lipstick. It was a Revlon, my first. And it was innocuously titled ‘Bali Brown’. But a swish of the tube yielded a pair of red lips! RED!

When I walked into class, two of my classmates took out their sunglasses and put them on. Stupids, I sniffed. The next day I was back with it. And I wore it every day of the term, carefully touching it up between classes. I became Red Lipstick Girl.

I fought my way through the year, battling integration and n-dimensional spaces alongside classroom politics, a scheming Head of Department, MBA entrance exams, my first cigarette, my first relationship and my first breakup. And I slashed every single one off my list with blazing red lipstick.

5660_232648115513_598080513_8499767_2893872_nIn the fifteen years since then, I’ve had many adventures. Love, heartbreak, betrayal, friendship and trust have come intertwined with success, anticipation, disappointment and achievements. I’ve gone from being the rebel, grungy teenager, past the tomboyish intellectual, the strangled Barbie, the frozen career girl, the Corporate Bohemian, the prodigal good-Indian-girl and the early midlife crisis breakaway (complete with each one’s distinct look).

Since 2012, when my world crashed all around me with a failed engagement and no career to speak of, my lips have been bare. Earlier this year, I resumed dressing them again. It started with a chapstick, then a slightly flavoured lip balm, an occasional brown lip colour but mostly nude. Nude. ‘That is not a colour!’ I had thought to myself once. But that has been the shade that has kept my lips protected from dryness and from the cracks of failure. Saadgi has felt safe to me.

Two weeks ago, I told my doctor that I was feeling my age, feeling old and hating that I could barely climb the stairs. I used to be able to swim 20 laps a day, 4 times a week without batting an eyelid, I said.

“So what? You’re not in a condition to do so now. Let it be,”

he said. But I wouldn’t.

He smiled and said,

“You’ve been through something very difficult. Most people don’t get out of it.”

“I did! I’m perfectly fine now.” I declared.

“You are. But your confidence has been shaken since then. You need to regain it. Your health will come back then minute that happens. Just stop worrying and embrace the confidence that makes you.”

That was a cheering thought but not one that did the magic trick of taking me back to my high voltage, boundless energy, nothing-stops-me self.

But this afternoon, shopping with Reema, red lipstick beckoned to me again. Flush in the warmth of friendship and affection and good conversation and peace-making insights, I picked it up and asked the salesgirl to bill it. Later, I shut my room door, uncapped the crayon and held it to the light. Then, deep breath taken, I traced it cautiously across my lips. The colour brought me a memory. That memory gave me strength. I went out to look at myself in the bright light. And I smiled to myself in the bathroom window.

Red Lipstick Girl is back. Well, maybe not a girl anymore. But red nevertheless. Well, what do you know? It’s a Revlon again, a lip crayon this time (my first). And it’s called STANDOUT REMARQUABLE. How apt. I belong in red lipstick, not in saadgi. And it’s time to say goodbye to the nude gloss and embrace that.

Red Lipstick Day tomorrow. The Red Queen is back.

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 (Thank you, my darling Reema for bringing it back to me!)

I Want To Be A Modern, Female Superman…

…only in that I have a smartphone app called ‘PhoneBooth’ that lets me change clothes at lightning speed.

Phonebooth

*Images without text courtesy Gualberto107 (Phonebooth) and photostock (Clothes rack) on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No, this is serious. I am friend, businesswoman, creative thinker, socially aware voice, family woman, hot single girl, gal pal and a host of other things. Each of these come with their own dress code. I exercise my individuality adequately in each uniform. And I exercise the rare privilege afforded to few Indian women, in just being able to be so many things.

In addition, I’ve come around to accepting and then even embracing vanity. I am a woman and impressions about me are formed and sustained by my physicality a lot. How I look determines a large part of the response I get. I’ve been a marketing professional in another lifetime. It would be silly to forget the lessons from then. When packaging plays such a large part of reactions and hence relationships, I would be a fool to disregard them. Also, it’s not worth the effort of dealing with the backlash of wearing something that people don’t deem appropriate for an occasion.

I’ve found a comfortable zone now, where I know what to wear that is the right blend of appropriate, individualistic, practical and eye-catching. To almost any situation that I find myself in. I’m also a compulsive organiser and juggle several engagements as efficiently as I can.

Where it gets tricky is when different uniforms jostle for consecutive time-space on my calendar. Time planning now involves not only figuring out optimal routes of travel, energy level/mindframe required for that particular engagement and location feasibility, but also what I can wear that will cover everything adequately.

Take last week for instance. I had a semi-casual meeting with a friend who I’m helping out, professionally. Lunch was on the cards with some old colleagues. After that, I was to have a conversation with a prospective client. Then, I had to proceed to cultural event with a networking session among artsy/business people. All of this on a scorching day in Mumbai, at locations clean across the city. What could I wear that wouldn’t crumple or drench me in perspiration, look formal but not severe, would be casual enough to be friendly, seem cool and also arty? I thanked my stars that I’d begun wearing sarees last year and picked out a Kalamkari cotton. Sarees work like Superwoman costumes (complete with capes). Nobody in India questions a saree. It’s considered dignified for any occasion. I was counting on my personality and general rarity of women in sarees to pull off the individualist vibe. It did surprise my colleagues a bit but overall I think it worked.

My last two jobs had little to no dress restrictions, which allowed me to practise, even perfect this perfect-for-every-occasion look. I managed to go seamlessly from train travel to client meeting to afternoon-behind-computer-screen to partygoer a few times. Accessorising helped, as did layering with such delightful things like scarves, dupattas, shawls and shrugs. Summer brings its own challenges though.

Next week, I have a casual date, a feminist play and a kids birthday party to attend. It’s not for a few days but I’m going to need that time to figure out what I can wear that will work for everything. Sarees are out (I could work a draped length of cloth anytime with safety pins but NOT around toddlers). So are jeans (what, are you crazy in this weather?). What does that leave? Dresses or skirts? Hmm, mostly okay but these might bring in more undue attention than required, while travelling back. I still have some time though.

*Sigh* That’s why I wish I had a phone app, that allowed me to dart in and out in a matter of seconds, rocking a new look each time. Tech-entrepreneurs, are you listening?

Imitation Is Not Flattery; It’s A Threat

2 cute dresses

2 cute dresses (Photo credit: merwing✿little dear)

I watching a TV show where a character is bothered by another girl who borrows her clothes, tries to get in with her friends and finally, copies her hairstyle. I know most men will see this as typical teen queen drama. It reminded me of two incidents from my life and I realized why it’s not.

One, a classmate from college who started copying my clothes and hair, made disparaging comments about my appearance, tried to push herself into all my social events and eventually tried to displace me in my other friendships by lying to my friends about things I had said about them. The other, a blogging acquaintance who systematically flirted with different men that I had dated (one while I was still with him), constantly flaunted these associations and compared herself to me, turned up at outings with my friends, threw a party for all my friends on my birthday, lied to our common community about me, copied the things I was doing with my blogs and even set up a me-too blog to this one.

Most people don’t understand why I consider these two women, tangible threats. The first one ‘borrowed’ my look, then my friends and finally tried to edge me out of these things. The second ‘borrowed’ my ideas, ‘shared’ my friends, copied my blog ideas and finally tried to shut me out of these aspects of my own life. In both cases, I was told that I should be flattered that these women wanted my life so much. Well, a thief wants things that are yours and dear to you, as well. Would you not consider him a threat?

There is a thing that women do, the way they fight, that is quite unlike men. It starts with ‘borrowing’ seemingly unimportant things. A lipstick here, an idea there. Being women, we are conditioned to be collaborative, generous even, especially with other women who are nice and polite. This ‘borrowing’ and ‘sharing’ business is thievery cloaked in people-pleasing, polite manners.

Notice how women are bothered when they find another woman wearing something similar? It goes deeper than snob value or materialism. Uniformity via conformity is forced onto us early. Every notice how many female stereotypes and archetypes there are? So many of them, that it is assumed that as a woman you have to fall into one of these buckets or penalized socially.  What is considered normal is very tightly defined. This encompasses everything from the way we look, what we wear, where we go, who we associate with, what we do with our lives, how and who we relate to and how we express ourselves. There is little to no scope for individuality if you are a woman. Deviating even a bit from the norm becomes your lifelong struggle and your identity.

Secondly, our sense of self and our self-esteem are closely linked to the external world. We are defined by our relationships, our possessions and our appearance. Human beings gender irrespective show traits of habit and possessiveness. But for women, the sense of self is actively pegged to external validation and systematically discouraged from attaching to more internal things. Thus our entire sense of self and our world is constructed on external things. If who you are is defined by your objects, appearance and relationships, consider how fragile your individuality is. Take away something and you risk falling into oblivion, into non-existence.

A woman who is borrowing one of my personal objects, is effectively taking a bit of me away. If this is being done without my expressly offering it, it starts as presumption and goes all the way to stealing. Sharing relationships does not come easily either, for the same reason. Girls have BFFs, women have those soulmate friendships that they value and guard jealously. These relationships – the role we play in them and the fact that they exist in our lives play a large part of our definition of our worlds. Indeed, I feel reduced since my best friend moved to another continent. So someone who is trying to occupy the role I play to the people in my life, is competing with me. This is not a share equation, it’s a fight-to-death one.

With so much riding on appearance, women struggle through appearance changes even more than men (sad since women’s bodies fluctuate more often and to a greater extent than men’s bodies). If a woman is deliberately modifying her appearance to mirror mine, then I’d think she is being driven by a more desperate need than the basic need to be okay in her own skin. That degree of desperation smells dangerous and cut-throat to me. I’d say she isn’t complimenting me, she’s issuing a declaration of war. She is saying, “I’m out to steal your sense of self. I’m going to take over your life.”

What if she looks better than I do, with my look? What if the world likes her more than they like me, cast in my role? And if she is better at being me than I am, what’s left for me? That’s why for a woman, imitation is not flattery, it’s a threat.

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