Category Archives: Vanity Unfair
Beauty and all that it implies.
I LOVED a haircut I had last year. This helped me tide over my uncertainty about a new stylist. When I went back for a trim, somehow things turned out differently. She was so upset, I didn’t get angry. I could see it was an honest mistake. It’s easy to forget styling is an art that you can’t mass produce identical results. Here’s what I learnt:
1. Things not going as per plan may not mean malice (usually not). They may not mean ineptitude (this happens more often than the first but not everytime). I was faced with the choice of poisoning this otherwise great relationship with upset or whatever other option there was. The hair stays the same regardless so why throw away people?
2. I often feel like the universe has been tough on me. But I miss the ways it’s also gentle on me. Hair is a vital part of my self-expression because I have some control over it (unlike skin colour or body type). It lends itself to easy alterations with big differences in results. I’ve been blase about this gift but life has gifted me nice hair. It’s silky, straight, shiny, strong, voluminous. It also grows quickly and is still black. Which means I can afford to indulge my affectation of not using product. Even this haircut gone wrong is starting to settle nicely. I don’t say thank you enough but really thank you for my crowning glory.
3. I’ve been careless in how I think of the connection between beauty & self-worth. With all my battles, I’m not at the forefront of attack for how I look. I forgot how much not feeling attractive eats into your self-esteem. This wasn’t even an attack, just a haircut that turned out different and I still felt incomplete. This was a reminder.
4. I’ve faked-it-till-I-made-it with performance & dressing (which is a kind of performance). This time, I let my dissonance show. People have ONLY been encouraging. That’s the lesson.
5. Today I felt right in my body. Maybe it was a good swim. Maybe it was time. Maybe it was because I let myself feel before speaking or labelling.
Peace within means beauty without.
I’m so glad for the lessons.
I used to think of myself as ‘one of the boys‘, because I didn’t identify with how femininity was practised around me. I wanted to own my intelligence, my independence and strength the way I saw only boys do. I walked, talked and dressed in a close approximation of my male peers – dirty jeans, chunky boots and a loud voice steeling myself to incorporate crude speech. I didn’t get a lot of acceptance because gender roles are too deeply embedded in people’s minds. Other girls still saw me as competition for their boyfriends and the boys treated me like I was a defective female.
Once I started working, I was able to experience my personal power without having to dress it up so much. People took me seriously and held me as accountable. Through my 20s, I was able to embrace my softer side – sitting with my legs crossed, caring for my appearance, smiling over snarling, compliments instead of sarcasm. I had discovered I could be/do these without giving away my power.
Now I meet more women who practise my kind of femininity. Not the coy, simpering, bitchy-to-other-girls, defining oneself by one’s boyfriend/husband kind. But smart, independent women who don’t feel the need to hide it or tear me down. They’re also emotionally aware, not just apeing ‘maleness’. This kind of femininity is more acceptable now.
Occasionally a woman expects me to be her knight in shining armour – this is the old toxic femininity, acting helpless + expecting women to do all the work. It’s not perfect.
But I have more fulfilling conversations with other women now than I did before 30. Careers, health, poetry, architecture, sexuality and yes, men too – we talk like two humans would, not like scripts mouthed by strictly controlled prisoners.
Men, in comparison are rarely this interesting. There are exceptions but they’re a scant few. Conversations wth men often have to be ’emotionally dumbed down’. It’s tiring and not worth it when there are other more evolved humans called women.
I’ve come a long way from ‘one of the boys’. Right now I’m every bit a women’s woman. Or maybe, I’m my own person.
Last week, I was trolled about my looks. Some men friends said they liked how I look. The troll’s attack is based on the idea that a woman’s worth is in her looks and that anyone can boost/undermine it with words. My friends, however well-intentioned, were reinforcing that idea. Strangers like salespeople have felt entitled to comment on my dark skin and suggest ‘cures’. Romantic partners have been able to establish authority over me by calling me ugly, desperate and in need of their validation.
These were possible because my body has been seeded with fields of shame, ripe for whoever wants control over me. My nose shape, my bony frame, my foot size, my rounded tummy, my skin colour – these have been snatched from being my body organs/traits and turned into free access areas for other people to rule me. I say NO. My body, my rules.
My body image & self-esteem are not based on other people’s opinions. My body is mine, the only thing that truly is. It is my home, my vehicle, my canvas. It works in a way that enables me. It is beautiful because I say so. I refuse to let shame be a guest in this body. This is how I get to walk out of my home wearing bold lipsticks, sarees & hoodies, colours deemed too bright, hair considered too stylish, dresses called too slutty or young. My femininity, my beauty, my sexuality, my identity – these are not for anyone else to judge. They are what I say they are. Body Pride because it is my right.
When you feel shame over something that you can’t control (like your body), remember it is external. It’s a festering wound someone else inflicted on you. Wash that wound of foreign bodies like other people’s words. Clean it by distancing yourself from people who would wound you (deliberately or not). Tend it to it by remembering the ways your body serves you well. Heal by honoring all that you are and have, just as they are. Cauterize your vulnerability to other people’s opinions because yours is the only one that matters.
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I’ve been swimming pretty regularly of late. I love swimming. It’s my favorite physical activity of them all. Yes, ALL.
There is the fitness angle, of course. But I’ve tried yoga, cycling, aerobics, running, gymming and none of them quite fit me as well as swimming does (though yoga and cycling could tie for second place). With my shape and size, I have a body made for swimming. But also swimming made my body. I was diagnosed somewhat late with severe allergies that I was probably born with. The first decade of my life I spent struggling through undetected health issues that would flare up into more serious things. Injections, medicines and absentee notes were a common occurance for me. I started swimming a little after I had my tonsils removed (which may have been the bigger factor in my health improvement). Swimming taught me how to regulate my breathing, how not to panic when I couldn’t feel the oxygen pouring into my lungs after what felt like forever. If you’ve never had respiratory problems, you will never understand how terrifying this is and how every breath is a blessing. Swimming rescued my body from constantly feel sick.
But also, swimming taught me that my body was not defective. It was the first time I was good at something physical. Up until then, I had been the smart kid, the brainy bookworm that was good at maths and science and languages, who also did well with drawing and when I wasn’t sick, singing. But the playground, the track, the football field — these were places where I was the rejected one, the one everyone wished would have been absent that day so they didn’t have to put me on their teams. I was young for the class so everyone else was bigger (which to a kid, means better), more talented at sports, cooler and prettier (thanks to really bad teeth). But swimming let me be actually good at something that involved racing, length, speed and grace. Swimming did and still does make me feel beautiful and right in my own skin.
Now, as an adult how does it factor in with the beauty/body messaging I’ve picked up (and inculcated)? I deal with my share of opposition from the beauty/body-shaming industry. It starts with everything about how swimming makes one’s skin black (not true), goes on to the evils of dried out hair (yes true but I’m lucky), continues to the ill-effects of cholorine/ ‘chemicals’ on skin (debatable especially on the chemicals bit since all cosmetics are also, scientifically speaking, chemical) and ends with the classism of how disgusting it is to share body fluids with strangers. Maybe you believe all this. Maybe it is even true. But when breathing has been a struggle (one you’ll never forget), these things fall away in the face of that one activity that has given you reprieve.
It didn’t take me too long to kit up. I now have my swimbag that contains my gear (suit, goggles, cap), towel, hair-and-body wash, aloe vera gel, comb and lip balm. My peripheral going-swimming outfit has its own mini-wardrobe with sporty shorts, athleisure teeshirts and my own brand of quirk with headbands or socks. These have me in the mood to strip down and feel water-on-skin in the way that feels more normal than land and air, to me.
My favorite time to swim is in the late evening, after sunset. For one, the sun isn’t beating down on my back or in my eyes when I surface. Secondly, there aren’t thousands (okay, exaggeration) of squealing kids spreading out across lanes. Thirdly, the water is the right temperature. Fourthly, everyone in the pool is in a more sombre, adult mood, sticking to their own lanes, willing to match a dive or a lap occasionally without getting clingy or competitive. I could go on but suffice to say, I like it because I love it (just like swimming).
This puts it at just before a potential date, which makes it….interesting. I’m my best self right after swimming. There’s a happy kind of tired because it is the end of the day (not exhausted and dying to hit bed). I’m hungry in the most healthy way possible which is for food rather than an escape. The water has a way of washing away and settling stray thoughts and errant emotions so I’m a brand new person right afterwards. Ideal date material.
What makes it a bit complicated is none of my swim-peripheral wear is datewear, at least not in my book. While I love the #swimlife, I also love the aesthetic and style I’ve developed over years. I like feeling badass and quirky and beautiful in my look. But it does take some doing and I don’t want to be one of those awful women hogging the shower for half an hour while I preen. I’m still figuring it out.
I’ve been on two dates post swim. One was with a fellow swimmer who seemed very perturbed by his having to blow his nose often. I shrugged and told him not to worry, it was just a #swimlife thing and after all, I had gotten out of the exact same pool as him. I think it bothered him a lot. Thankfully, I was in a peaceful enough mindspace to not let it affect me too much (his issues being his own). The other was with a friend who I know is sensitive to smell and to a lesser extent, colour and style. On the first, I just wore a denim miniskirt with my sporty top, instead of shorts. The second time, I had an on-the-go dress to pull on and pass off as ‘dressy’. Both times, I carried a whole load of bath products.
Today I decided to cut back on bath products. I don’t need a shampoo and conditioner and face wash and soap. I just need something to clean the pool off me. And I need something to cover up any lingering chlorine smell. One product can do that. After that, it’s like I’m dressing while travelling — still nicely made up but with fast makeup/minimal effort. I’ve got my eye pencil and a tinted gloss. A pair of hoops or a statement earring and I’m ready! Wish me fun this evening!
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Alone time doesn't always look like this. More often than not, it's faded, crumpled, tattered even. And not in artful, Instagram-worthy ways. But it's important. We need tough love and the people who give it to us, especially if you, like me, find it hard to keep your head on straight in the throes of powerful emotion. People like us, we also need the gentle balm of those who tell us, it's okay to grieve, that it's fine to be sad even if it's not logical, to ache even if we were forewarned, even if we should have known better. And finally we need to meet ourselves, in our rawest forms. It doesn't have to happen immediately. Me, I have an inbuilt safety valve that lets me tuck away my messiest self deep down till I reach a time and place that I can take it out and face it, safely. And that must happen. A time when no other commitment or duty or person must intrude. Nothing else allowed to be more important than your own feelings which must be faced with no voices of the world interfering. And that is the time when you'll realise the ugliness is not you or in you. All you are, is a witness to the world and occasionally, a reflection of it. Reflections pass. You will, too. Watch it alone. ———————————————————————————– 📸: @unstable_elemnt 🎶: TAKE IT EASY – The Eagles #beach #alonequotes #alonetime #solo #solitude #introspection #healing #selfcare #selfhealing #theideasmithy #mood #sunset #sunsetbeach #beachsunset #beachsunsets #ａｌｏｎｅ #meditation #emotion #emotional
I was fascinated by the saree as a child. Unfettered by stitches, lacking the artifice of buttons, a saree was freedom.
I’ve struggled with gender boxes my whole life. Every damn thing, a fucking war. Short hair. Tattoos. Red clothes. Short clothes. Boots, not sandals. Science projects. Marketing jobs. An analytical mind. Single status. Silver, not gold. Diamonds I paid for. Sci-fi. A love of graphic novels. English poetry. Silent performance. A business. A band. A breakup. A failed engagement. Boundaries. These became my trophies.
Warriors don’t wear shyness, they wear war paint. I RAGE, oh how I rage. I rage with the eloquence of Alanis Morissette. I rage in the shriek of Gwen Stefani. I rage with the mellow harshness of Tracy Chapman. I rage in all the ways of women who refuse to be pretty.
But sarees, these speak of modesty, of tradition, of maternal memories, none of which identify me. I’ve struggled to find my self in a saree. Should a love of this garment mean I trade in my warrior card? Must I pay for the respect accorded to a saree with my right to rage?
How do I not lose the essential me in the drapes? How do I keep a palluv from stifling my scream? How can my inner supernova burn through the folds? How do I keep my steel from drowning in cotton? Always a war.
I found my saree self in the bitter eloquent long locks of Alanis Morissette, the dark chocolate wrath of Tracy Chapman and Gwen Stefani saying don’t speak in red lipstick.
My colours are clashing screams. My patterns are silent drama. My folds are parodies of shame. This is who I am, in a saree, in a dress, on stage, on screen, on a page, in relationships, in my sleep. It looks like in the next second, I’m going to turn & run sat you so you want to get out of the way real quick. You won’t want to be caught in the fire gaze of those eyes. Someone called this a superhero pose. I’ll name it Angry Girl of the Indie Rock Persuasion. I wear the label, it doesn’t wear me.
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ANGRY GIRL OF THE INDIE ROCK PERSUASION I was fascinated by the saree as a child. Unfettered by stitches, lacking the artifice of buttons, a saree was freedom. I've struggled with gender boxes my whole life. Every damn thing, a fucking war. Short hair. Tattoos. Red clothes. Short clothes. Boots, not sandals. Science projects. Marketing jobs. An analytical mind. Single status. Silver, not gold. Diamonds I paid for. Sci-fi. A love of graphic novels. English poetry. Silent performance. A business. A band. A breakup. A failed engagement. Boundaries. These became my trophies. Warriors don't wear shyness, they wear war paint. I RAGE, oh how I rage. I rage with the eloquence of Alanis Morissette. I rage in the shriek of Gwen Stefani. I rage with the mellow harshness of Tracy Chapman. I rage in all the ways of women who refuse to be pretty. But sarees, these speak of modesty, of tradition, of maternal memories, none of which identify me. I've struggled to find my self in a saree. Should a love of this garment mean I trade in my warrior card? Must I pay for the respect accorded to a saree with my right to rage? How do I not lose the essential me in the drapes? How do I keep a palluv from stifling my scream? How can my inner supernova burn through the folds? How do I keep my steel from drowning in cotton? Always a war. I found my saree self in the bitter eloquent long locks of Alanis Morissette, the dark chocolate wrath of Tracy Chapman and Gwen Stefani saying don't speak in red lipstick. My colours are clashing screams. My patterns are silent drama. My folds are parodies of shame. This is who I am, in a saree, in a dress, on stage, on screen, on a page, in relationships, in my sleep. It looks like in the next second, I'm going to turn & run sat you so you want to get out of the way real quick. You won't want to be caught in the fire gaze of those eyes. Someone called this a superhero pose. I'll name it Angry Girl of the Indie Rock Persuasion. I wear the label, it doesn't wear me. ———————————————————————————– 🎶: BITCH – Meredith Brooks #theideasmithy
You should smile more, women are told, it makes you look good. This is said as a compliment but is erasure of the person & her emotions. What if she doesn’t feel like smiling? If you’re not a woman, try smiling at someone you don’t like or in a situation that causes you distress. Smiles must blossom on their own, not be demanded.
I grew up with dental issues – protruding, misaligned front teeth, overlapping canines, horizontal molars. I knew I was ugly. Nobody had to tell me, it was in how people responded to my smile (pity, disdain, awkward looking away, mean nicknames). By age 11, I knew I needed dental intervention if I wanted any hope of a better life. “It’ll change the way your face looks”, the orthodontist warned me. “Exactly”, I said and traded all the foods a child loves for years of painful metal braces, rubber bands, mouth plates, retainers. What a world we live in where a 11 year old believes that her worth is only in her smile and is willing to endure pain & sacrifice for it.
I know my good angles now & how to make others interesting. I have mastered the range of things a smile can convey – polite, charming, gracious, shy, confident, welcoming, impersonal. I am a woman in a culture of “Hasee to phasee”. This is why it is unwelcome intrusion when a man decides to advise me on a smile. I have a Ph.D. in the politics of smiles.
In my InstaStories conversation on #PeopleWeDontKnow, 2 men mentioned being complimented on their smiles. We overburden girls with an identity-price tag on smiles. We never let boys/men know that their smiles matter. We give them role models that are angry, brooding & unsmiling. Look at any film poster featuring a macho hero. We suggest that smiling is only aesthetic and the domain of the female, as if to smile is to not be male.
But a smile is a universal expression of all’s-okay. It’s one of the earliest forms of communication we learn. It transcends the politics of gender, age and geography. Finally it expresses joy and creates more joy. So, when was the last time you smiled just because you felt like it?
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THE POLITICS OF SMILE You should smile more, women are told, it makes you look good. This is said as a compliment but is erasure of the person & her emotions. What if she doesn't feel like smiling? If you're not a woman, try smiling at someone you don't like or in a situation that causes you distress. Smiles must blossom on their own, not be demanded. I grew up with dental issues – protruding, misaligned front teeth, overlapping canines, horizontal molars. I knew I was ugly. Nobody had to tell me, it was in how people responded to my smile (pity, disdain, awkward looking away, mean nicknames). By age 11, I knew I needed dental intervention if I wanted any hope of a better life. "It'll change the way your face looks", the orthodontist warned me. "Exactly", I said and traded all the foods a child loves for years of painful metal braces, rubber bands, mouth plates, retainers. What a world we live in where a 11 year old believes that her worth is only in her smile and is willing to endure pain & sacrifice for it. I know my good angles now & how to make others interesting. I have mastered the range of things a smile can convey – polite, charming, gracious, shy, confident, welcoming, impersonal. I am a woman in a culture of "Hasee to phasee". This is why it is unwelcome intrusion when a man decides to advise me on a smile. I have a Ph.D. in the politics of smiles. In my InstaStories conversation on #PeopleWeDontKnow, 2 men mentioned being complimented on their smiles. We overburden girls with an identity-price tag on smiles. We never let boys/men know that their smiles matter. We give them role models that are angry, brooding & unsmiling. Look at any film poster featuring a macho hero. We suggest that smiling is only aesthetic and the domain of the female, as if to smile is to not be male. But a smile is a universal expression of all's-okay. It's one of the earliest forms of communication we learn. It transcends the politics of gender, age and geography. Finally it expresses joy and creates more joy. So, when was the last time you smiled just because you felt like it? PC: @lumographer07 #theideasmithy
AgentsOfIshq: ‘You Should Wear Maroon For Your Skin’ And Other Advice I’ve Ignored As A Non-Fair Woman
AgentsOfIshq carried my story about being a dark skinned person in a country that worships the pale! And I also got to show off my lipart skills. I’m really thrilled to see my name and story appear alongside the brave, witty others on this site that I’ve admired for a long time. Now go read!!
The AgentsOfIshq story is here:
and here’s one version from my drafts:
I love beauty jaunts. This is where I revel in having a body and a whole industry devoted to painting it. Recommended remedy for PMS, hard break-ups and bad days, in general. I started in the late 90s, freshly into adolescence and in possession of hard-won permission to paint my face. Naturally, I paid close attention to the leading authority on my body – the rest of the world.
My first lipstick was the only shade everyone told me was “appropriate” for me – maroon. This is the colour I call India’s apologetic vanity. Lipstick reminds people that women have mouths (which can speak) and presumably most people don’t want to know that. So we are permitted one dark colour “for special occasions” that’s barely going to show in the evenings – when it’s deemed appropriate anyway. Women of every age are huddled under this concession colour. A paler shade may just about pass for someone fairer, but only so long as its not ‘too loud’. Because even with our lips, women are not supposed to scream.
ue work shirt entered the room before I did, with whispers and later, anonymous notes left on my table. Try maroon, I was told, or navy blue or brown because they’ll suit you. My fashion choices became a negotiation with a melanin scale that didn’t have room for me.
I began pushing the boundaries first with brightness of colour, and then the colours themselves. One day a parrot green blouse with no makeup, another day black nail polish with regular jeans. Brighter reds became more acceptable in the 2000s and accessible to me. As an adult, I had more control over my dressing, albeit subject to social censure. I played my dressing like it was a game– how much could l get away with it while still staying within obvious boundaries?
A bead necklace as a belt? A multi-coloured scarf around my handbag? And always, always bright colours. Always playing hide-and-seek with navy blue, black and brown. It gave me a lot of confidence. It frequently surprised (and occasionally angered) people.
By my late twenties, I had expanded my distinctive palette to makeup. Gloss, glitter, fuchsia lips, icy-blue eyelids – I was screaming colour. It has never stopped disturbing people, friends and strangers alike. I came to be known as the Crazy Dresser. Yet, what struck me was that no one minded fairer-skinned people wearing these things. As metrosexuality descended into our ranks, the men leading the charge were all pale-skinned. I often felt like the sole flag-bearer for visible brownness. Other shoppers would stare with open hostility as I reached for the sparkle section, while striking up great camaraderie with similarly fair-hued strangers. The salespeople would try to push me towards the skin creams counter, promising to “cure this awful tan” and always, “You should wear maroon for your skin.”
I’ve realised that the shaming system needs one important ally to work – your own self. Shame had no currency if I refused to buy into it. So what looked good to me, became what looked good on me. My need to rebel faded and I was able to embrace colours and styles simply because I liked them. There are no browns in my cupboard (I have so much on my own skin). But fluorescent green? Sunshine yellow? Hot pink? Hello Picasso! Every one of these shades finds a welcome spot on my personal shade card.
Last year I happily adopted the bold lipstick trend. Blue, did you say? Move over Rihanna, I see you your bold colour and raise you funky designs. My Crazy Dresser self surfaces on my lips in the form of stripes, polka dots, filigree work, even comicbook art. Give me black and white and I’ll turn that into a chessboard on my lips. Or a yin-yang symbol. My lips don’t hide or even whisper. They roar.
Recently I bought a gold lipstick, hoping to try a ‘bejeweled mouth’ look. To my surprise, the lipstick wouldn’t show at all on my skin, no matter how hard I swiped. I realised the shade was the exact same hue as the colour of my skin. I know now that colours don’t ‘look weird’ on my skin the way the fashion industry describes. It’s really, really hard to overshadow gold. And I have a natural supply of it all over my body. All bodies are works of art and mine just happens to be framed in gold. Beauty jaunts are public parades for my royal skin. Are you coming to watch?
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.
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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