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?
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.
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.
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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
So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete.
Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the pictures! And thank you, Neha.
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And now that we know them by the cities they live in, the professions they pursue, the interests they devote their time to and the languages they speak, what’s left? The women they love of course! Here’s a look at what you can tell about a man by his favorite Bollywood pin-up.
Sushmita Sen: Isn’t it really obvious that is this a man who likes strong personality in his woman? I’m inclined to think that he’ll also be a shy sort, the still-waters-run-deep kind but also a tad laid back. He has no qualms in letting the woman run the show and what a good job she does of it, too!
Rani Mukherjee: She played a prostitute in a number of movies and yet she retains the image of a ‘good girl’. She was also the glam-ma’am who settled down to matrimony, motherhood and err..mortis. I’m hardly surprised that she’s one of India’s top actresses since she personifies the most common Indian male fantasy – the Barbie/Behenji. If the Munch girl is on his walls, you can be sure that Mr.Munchkin ain’t going to like your mini-skirts post marriage, even if he chases you only when you wear them!
Aishwarya Rai: I’m no fan of this green-eyed diva. But she sure is popular with the boys. This one appeals to the kind of man who wants a trophy partner, the kind that will be delighted to turn cartwheels for his marble princess but freezes when he realizes that she breathes, feels, talks and – horror of horrors – thinks too! Freeze in place and don’t even adjust your mascara till he’s out of the room, ladies. This man doesn’t believe that a real woman should perspire, shed hair or do anything that a marble statue wouldn’t.
Mallika Sherawat: Now I bet you won’t find too many men who admit to liking her. For that matter how many men actually admit to watching porn? You know I think the lady does have quite a nice face but well, who ever looks at her face? Watch for the dude whose eyes are permanently fixed a few inches beneath your chin. That’s not shyness, that’s a Sherawat fan. Quite likely he’s comparing you with her…down to the last millimeter. On the other hand, if he openly admits to liking her, he might be the ‘I do it differently’ sort. Fun boyfriend to have if you run with rebels. For all that though, a man’s basic instincts don’t change.
Kareena Kapoor: Now I don’t actually know a single man who professes an admiration for the Kapoor babe (except Saif and he doesn’t count since he doesn’t know me). And yet as reigning queen in Bollywood, she must have her share of hearts. I imagine she’s the kind that a lot of men fantasize about but won’t talk about it since they don’t think that she’ll ever ‘ghass-dalofy‘ them and what man would admit to that? The average Joe (or Janardhan, Jaani etc) who sniggers at the mention that he could have an eye on the firebrand is probably mixing some nervous laughter into that as well.
Bipasha Basu: This is one surprising one. A dusky woman who rules the roost in a country obsessed with fair skin. Raw sex appeal meets ubercool. But ooh, I’m nearly drooling. Hmm, what can I say about the man that likes her? They all do! If he doesn’t, assume he’s gay!