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Beauty Over Brains

I saw a tweet by UnfairAndLovely recently (don’t you just love that handle, btw?)

“Here’s my question to women. And only real answers please. If you had to choose between breathtaking beauty and Einstein-like brains…?”

Albert Einstein

Image via Wikipedia

Barbie Doll Museum at Bloomingdale's
Image by aloha orangeneko via Flickr

In my teens, I’d have picked brains. Yes, I was that girl. The one with an annoyingly unconcerned attitude about things of grave importance to other teenagers, such as acne, skin colour, waist size and hair length. If anyone wants to debate that, just take a look at the latest Nokia ad which tells us that, being young is not as easy as it looks. (Life’s epic drama being a teenage girl torn between red shoes or green and finally, after polling all her friends, picks purple).

I always held a superior attitude above such frippery. For after all, wouldn’t my brains (read angsty poetry, weird art and heavy books) establish me in a far more solid, fulfiling life than the Barbie dolls around me? Not only would I have a better education & a more secure future, I’d also be an independent, respect-earning, awe-inspiring, equal citizen in the world.

Ah, how have the mighty fallen!

Over a decade later, I’ve flipped over to the other side. Breath-taking beauty (if one had a choice in such matter) seems to me the sensible choice for a woman. The world does treat you differently if you are fairer, slimmer, taller and in any other way better on the current norms of beauty. Service staff is a little extra genuinely ‘happy to serve you’ (especially if you don’t carry an attitude along with that face). Studies have shown that it affects your employment prospects positively too. And the men, need I even go there?

On the other hand, let’s look at what happens to a woman who is an absolute brain and euphemistically speaking, not much elsewhere. In her younger days, she’s put into such choice social roles like ‘the beautiful girl’s ugly best friend’, ‘fallback option’, ‘just one of the guys’ (notes-taker, proxy-giver, ego-booster, shoulder to cry on). There’s also the delightful ‘stooge to be played as part of Grand Master Plan to snag another girl’. No amount of Einsteinian grey is going to keep the average girl from falling into at least one of these pits. Unless of course, she’s one of pop culture’s horrorshow geek girls that is sexless, emotionless and robotic in every way.

Things really ought to get better as adulthood approaches, right? I mean this is the path of delayed gratification reaping big results later. But no, wait! What is the true measure of a woman’s worth, socially speaking? Is it how successful she is? How accomplished or talented or successful?All of that is nice, of course and hey, it could even add to the girl’s matrimonial prospects! Has it occurred to anyone that ‘single’, ‘unmarried’ and ‘unattached’ are labels more commonly hung on women? Not that there aren’t men who are these things but does a man’s relationship status really form as big a part of his identity and how society sees him, as it does for a woman?

Who are the biggest female icons around? Are they scientists, entrepreneurs & writers? Or are they supermodels, socialites, filmstars and manufactured pop sensations? A nice-looking photograph gets more social value (attention, compliments, awe, nice behaviour) than a well-written story. The new hairstyle is of more interest than a book deal.

We were told that it would be an equal world for us to grow up into but honey, it’s not. I speak as someone who has ventured at least a bit into each side. I’m not Einstein and neither am I a supermodel. But between ‘Smart Girl’ and ‘Babe’, I’ve laid my claim to both labels. And I know which one works better.

Pass me my compact please.

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Body Image

She tells me about her struggle with weight, coming to terms with it. And she quotes another friend who said that she had to stop obsessing over it, to stop making it the be-all or she’d never be happy. I point out that I said the same thing, a year ago. She pauses and in equal measures of honesty, vulnerability and courage, says,

“You are….a slim person.”

I know the unspoken words, I can complete them in my own head. How then, do I explain, how do I prove to her, that I really do understand? Let me tell stories, instead.

~O~O~O~O~

Age 7

“Let’s play StarTrek. I’ll be captain. You be the pointy-ears guy.”

“Who’ll I be?”

“There’s only two women, one fair one and and one dark one.”

“I’ll be the fair one.”

“But…”

“Yes, you can be the fair one. Let her be the dark one. She’s quite black anyway.”

“I don’t want to be the dark one.”

“Fine, go away. No one wants the dark one, anyway.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 22

“You are so black. And all these pimples….13…14…15”

“Don’t count them! I can’t help them.”

“17…18…19…”

“Please stop. Please, please, please stop.”

“I’ll won’t be seeing you for six weeks. Get your face cleaned up by then.”

Two hours later

“Bye, I’ll call you once I get settled in.”

“I brought you a little bye-bye gift.”

“Eraser face cream?”

“My dad recommends it to all his patients. Be sure to apply it every night. I want to see your pretty face without having to count those scars.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 13

“You can’t wear that!”

“Why not? It’s a great print! I love tie-ups!”

“It hangs on you. Look, let me show you how it should look. You…you don’t have the figure for it.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 18

“Put your shoulders in a bit.”

“Why? That’s bad posture.”

“A decent woman doesn’t put her bust out to the world.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 23

“You walk with your boobs thrust out. It’s like carrying a signboard that says ‘I’m easy’.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 23

“You’re ugly. The only reason a guy would be nice to you is because you look easy.”

“You are so ugly.”

“My friends don’t think you are hot. So I don’t want them to know about us. Don’t talk to me when they’re around.”

“Don’t hold my hand. I don’t want to be seen with a black girl.”

~O~O~O~O~

At every age

“No, madam, we don’t stock that size in ladies wear. Your feet are too big.”

“Why do you have to wear those ugly army boots? You just like to scare people, don’t you? They make you look like you have polio.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 12

“What are those things on your legs?”

“My knees are like that!”

“They look funny. People like you should not wear tights.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 16

“Where are you? I lost my friend!”

“Ha ha. It’s a loose kurta, okay? It’s comfortable.”

“You look like the pole inside a tent. Seriously, girls like you should not wear loose clothes.”

~O~O~O~O~

Age 16 onwards

“Madam can I show you something for those scars on your face?”

“Dark people should not wear red.”

“What are those marks on your upper arms (pointing to stretch marks)?”

“Open pores. Blackheads. Acne. You need help.”

“Is that hair on your back? Don’t you wax?

“Bags under your eyes.”

~O~O~O~O~

Red is my favorite colour.
Most of my garments are sleeveless.
I buy facepacks and lotions and scrubs. The skin stays mostly the same, give or take a few spots.
The knees are generally concealed in denims or attention is diverted away by a bold neckline.

No amount of exercise or dieting or bleaching or creaming is going to change my skin. Well…it holds my organs in. I try not to think about it. And I cover my thin skin with a thick attitude.

Yes, love, I do understand. Really.

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