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!
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 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…?”
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.
Like every good Mumbaiker, I would spend about an hour and half commuting to work each morning. Once I got in, I’d perch on my chair, waiting for my colleague to arrive. She’d walk in about 10 minutes later, switch on her computer, rearrange her desk and give me a little nod in the direction of the door. And we’d get up in unison and leave.
I’ve heard about this from several amused (and puzzled) men. We call it ‘The Loo Community’. The question is,
Why do women go to the loo in groups?
I suspect the real question is,
“What on earth do they do in there???!!!”
It is a good question.
So what do we do when we ‘go’ in groups? Well….we talk. We giggle. We compare notes on men (boss, colleague, client, boyfriend, husband, friend). The sneaky suspicion men have, that women are having a good laugh at their expense in the loo, is correct. The washroom is a great place for female bonding. After all, that really is the only place the men can’t interrupt our thoughts or conversations. (Down with the unisex!!)
Frantic damage control can be administered and strategies discussed. Ever heard of the following? If it’s familiar, you’re probably female.
“I got an oil stain on my dress!!!”
“Here….use some talcum powder on it! It’s great for matting away all kinds of oils – facial or vegetable!”
And there are questions of earth-shattering importance which need privacy and seclusion to be dissected and pondered over. Such as…
“What if he calls here and wants to talk?”
“Say “Oops, I hear my boss calling!” and hang up!”
Sample the following titbits from real lootime conversations:
I tried some crunches yesterday & got a cramp. I hate these damn tyres!
Hee hee…bet he loves those love-handles though!
Yes well, and we play the fool sometimes too. One time we went out for a drink, the women went to the washroom together (of course!). There we discussed who was drinking what, who was sloshed, who could be lulled into saying something interesting in the present state of drunkeness. We giggled over some of the things the men were saying. Then we looked at the mirror together and appraised ourselves. One of them said
“Security guard is a bloody letcher…did you notice?”
I put in,
“Bully for him, there’s a bevy of beauties passing by after all.”
Rightttttt… she retorted,
“We look more like Charlie’s angels!!”
A minute later a sturdy matron in a grey salwar-kameez walked in on the three ‘beauties’ posing like Charlie’s angels and trying to photograph the mirror (without the camera showing).
Though coming back to the point, this loo community is really obvious at work. All the guys smoke and there’s tremendous bonding happening over a shared cigarette. Strangers walk by and ask my male colleagues if they could share a light and then chat like they’ve been friends for years. My cubicle neighbor (who is male and smokes) has the in on the office gossip practically seconds after it happens. When he gleefully accounts something that he’s apparently known for ages and ages and I ask him how he knows, the answer always lies in smoketime conversations. A few of the women smoke but somehow they are never included in this camaraderie.
But I don’t worry. We have our own version of the office grapevine. I’ve managed to get to know most women in the office, across floors and departments simply because we share the bathroom mirror in the mornings. Great friendships are born from that small-but-useful tip over how to get rid of pimples. Intellectual conversations start from a discussion on the best way to hide a hickey (horrors!…giggle giggle). An unexpected ally may be made from that emergency safety-pin passed over the toilet stall wall.
Female-bonding is a good way to start and end the day.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“You are so black. And all these pimples….13…14…15”
“Don’t count them! I can’t help them.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Put your shoulders in a bit.”
“Why? That’s bad posture.”
“A decent woman doesn’t put her bust out to the world.”
“You walk with your boobs thrust out. It’s like carrying a signboard that says ‘I’m easy’.”
“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.”
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.”
“What are those things on your legs?”
“My knees are like that!”
“They look funny. People like you should not wear tights.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
I wasn’t a pretty child. Oily skin, stringy hair, gangly long limbs. Then puberty came along, and like a fairy godmother, bestowed me with a complete makeover. Suddenly I had the passport into BabeLand.
That was an eon ago, long enough anyway to make me wonder whether the fairy godmother was really a wicked witch in disguise…such is the two-sidedness of her gift. Let me explain.
The love of my life was my dearest friend for many years. Then we got together and shortly afterwards broke up. It was a shattering experience and the final knife in my heart was his parting shot,
“Someday you’ll make some guy really happy…in bed.”
With that one statement he had reduced over six years of warmth and affection, of loyalty and empathy, of buried pride and caring gestures to something as frivolous and fleeting as my body. It still haunts me.
Another time, my best friend who is one of those few people who was born beautiful, was at the receiving end of the attentions of a guy I knew well. She didn’t reciprocate and so didn’t bother prolonging the conversation with me. Later, I heard him complaining about what a frigid ice queen she was. I found myself chiding him with,
“You know that’s not true. I could never be friends with someone like that. She’s just reserved, that’s all.”
He shrugged and in a rare moment of honesty admitted,
“I suppose so. But no guy likes taking no for an answer. And if the girl is good-looking, it’s even more of incentive to bitch about what a cold creature she is.”
I’ve had a chance to speak to someone I almost dated a few years ago. Almost I say because he ended it before it had begun, so to speak. Recently we got talking about the times back then. He said,
“I thought you were very attractive and I was tempted to give it a shot. But I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere so I decided not to. It wouldn’t have been fair on you.”
I always held him in high esteem and my regard for him grew even further after this conversation.
And for my final story there’s someone else who I’ve gone out with a few times. I discovered that he is already in some sort of relationship. When I pushed him, he admitted to it. I was left in a quandary when he told me,
“I think you’re attractive. You are quite hot, you know. At least I didn’t kiss you or something.”
Yes, I am deeply grateful for that. But the fact remains that I am left feeling a tad humiliated as well as quite insulted.
There’s a pattern I see in all of the above. Except for my wise never-boyfriend friend, all the other men have treated women as desirable objects, strong temptations. There’s a part of me, my vain, feminine side that basks in such glorious admiration. Unfortunately that’s only a part of me. I’m more than my face and my body and my sex appeal. What none of these men seem to have considered is that the woman, regardless of how hot she is, has actual emotions like any other human being. It seems basic but why don’t they get it?
A pretty face does not insulate you from being hurt. A great body does not protect you from feelings of rejection, abandonment and humiliation. My looks are not your excuse for bad behavior. And yet much of the bigger half of the population seems to think so.
- A thing for chocolate – hot, sizzling, dark, rich
- A fetish for shoes – expensive, gorgeous and uncomfortable
- A love of all things khatta: Neembu, Imli, Amla, Kamrak
- Sex and the City
- Long phone conversations with friends and texting only for mushy SMSes, naughty SMSes, sweet SMSes
- Bacardi Breezers, Vodka-with-lime, Red wine, White wine, any wine
- Inappropriate crushes (gardeners, colleagues, bosses) at inopportune moments (board meetings, spring-cleaning, funerals)
- Chick Lit
- Lingerie – slinky, stylish, comfortable, physics-law-defying
- Lipsticks with names like Cinnamon Toast, Chocolate Drizzle, Mocha Kiss, Divine Caramel, Passionate Purple, Sweet Lily, Plum Heaven, Red Siren and Lucious Cherry
- P(re)MS-ey mood swings, P(ost)MS-ey mood swings, ‘during’ mood swings, ‘It’s bloody well not PMS!’ mood swings
- Guilt trips
- Shoulder shrug, raised eyebrow look accompanied by “Men!! Honestly!”