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The Garden Of Eden Within

I spent a few hours at the salon this week. Ostensibly for a haircut but I ended up getting my feet, face and self pampered as well. I came out feeling…the way I very occasionally have felt in the company of a good friend or (even more occasionally) a boyfriend. I felt cherished and cared for.

I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of my ‘I’m really just a tomboy in the girl’s room’ mentality. The parlour is an on-schedule visit for me most times with all kinds of things to be taken care of with a side-whine of “If I was a guy, I’d never have to worry about all this!!” I barely have time to fit in all the things that need to be done into my schedule.

Yesterday was different. Owing to the fact that I did have a lot of time and had made a conscious decision to not rush through things, I just sat back and let myself be taken care of. First came the hair-styling with my wonderful mind-reader of a stylist. A trim with a hair-colouring, he pronounced and proceeded to silver-foil my tresses. While I was waiting, I got a pedicure and foot massage in the bargain. That done, he shampooed and massaged my head. Everyone knows (or should know) that few things make a woman feel as wonderfully cared for as a luxuriant shampoo in warm water; better yet if done by a man. There is something special about having large, otherwise rough hands touching your sensitive scalp so gently. Even if it your hairdresser and not your boyfriend or husband. The pedicure was actually done by a lady but ah…who can resist a foot massage?

I won’t get into further details of what else got done but suffice to say, I left a good 4 hours later (with a hefty bill of course). I realised a few things. Firstly, I really indulge myself so little. I have to force myself to enjoy things ‘just because’ without my mind jumping to an immediate cost-benefit analysis. Secondly, I realised why women love visiting beauty parlours. It is a well-known fact that women crave the feeling of being cherished and appreciated and we look for it in all our relationships. It is probably a less acknowledged fact that most of us don’t receive as much of it as we would like or indeed, need.

A beauty parlour is the physical equivalent of a therapist. The latter is someone you pay to listen to you while the former is where you pay to be pampered. Even if the best things in life are free, they’re not available easily. So with our newfound economic power, who’s to stop us from buying the next best substitutes that money can indeed, buy?

~O~O~O~O~O~

On another note, I also went shopping today. A chance remark from a friend also got me thinking. He said,

I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear any footwear other than sneakers.

And yet, I know I have a shoe-drawer full of sandals, kitten heels, mules, slippers and block heels. But I just haven’t been making the effort lately. Drowned in practicality and pretty much just barely keeping my head above the water, I have been pulling on my sneakers and rushing out with little attention to my looks. My make-up drawer lies neglected, my dresses and skirts from an earlier shopaholic phase haven’t seen daylight in ages.

It may seem shallow to think that my femininity lies in dolling up, shopping till I drop and spending hours at the spa. It isn’t entirely that. It is the attitude that drives it. The desire to look and feel good physically. With no little modesty, I already look and feel good mentally. That is to say, I can hold my own in a conversation, I have ‘personality’ (which in some circles isn’t exactly a compliment but sucks to that crowd, I make my own rules. I have attitude as well.)

My vanity is what has been missing. It hasn’t cost me anything, externally. Quite truthfully, I have been getting my usual share of compliments and male interest coming my way. But it is something within, something invisible to other people. I think it is the idea of doing something for myself, of wanting something just because I do, without having to explain myself to any group of people, without having to fit into a norm of intelligence and practicality. It is that realization that I’m as intelligent, worthy, successful, respectable and admirable as I’d ever want to be or to prove. And now it’s time to spend time just doing things that make me feel good. Not for a reason but just because.

Suddenly I have a whole new understanding of why beauty lies within. It’s got nothing to do with how other people see you. It has everything to do with how you see yourself. The Garden of Eden within you, how do you cherish and nurture it?

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A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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Everyone Wants To Get Into My Wallet!

Late one night as I was driving down the city, I looked up at a huge billboard of Sushmita Sen, an advertisement for Kiah jewellery, which said,

You are the occasion
You are the celebration

I told him,

I really love that ad!

He smiled and said,

You would. It celebrates you, after all.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Earlier in the month, I wrote about my first experience with luxuriant self-indulgence, the retail therapy way. I wear my diamonds with pride, a pride that comes not exactly from their aesthetic value but from the knowledge that I earned the power to buy them for myself.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A few years ago, I wrote about the Superwoman. I don’t know whether to be happy or not that it’s turning out to be prophetic. Take a minute to think about my words..

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

We are indeed, the hot new consumer demographic. Urban women, financially self-sufficient with all the trappings of our successful professional status – the need for new status symbols combined with the ability to pay for them.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Our parents’ generation saw the upsurge of women at work and all the initial beginnings like the glass ceiling, women bosses et al. Our generation in contrast is the one that gets to enjoy it (and be taken advantage of). We’re prominent for our purchasing power and marketers have been quick to pick up on the need for our own set of status symbols and paraphernalia. I speak as the target group of a woman who earns and has the independence to spend. I also speak as a marketing professional, seeing the other side of it, so to speak.

Successful men who earn well have been well tapped into as a market and are induced to spend on everything from their own selves (personal gadgets, cars), social settings (restaurants, pubs, sports activities) and all sorts of dating-related paraphernalia (presents for women, tokens of what makes them an ‘ideal partner’). What do their opposite numbers in our sex have?

We have shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, jewelery, make-up and personal grooming services. If the men-targeted products homed in on the traditional masculine need to be macho and an alpha male, we are being targeted for our vanity and need to be ‘the babe’.

Of course, the more complicated dynamics of women actually competing with each other in these stakes is well played out. What else do you think Bhala uski saadi meri saadi se safed kaisi is?

The more expensive products are obviously affordable only to a certain type of woman – she has a career, she’s ambitious and wants to be respected for her intelligence, she doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow, she has a personality of her own. And hence diamonds, super-expensive shoes and clothes come with the messages that they respect your individuality, celebrate your independence and will take Visa as well as American Express.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

I was invited to the premier showing of the big Hollywood release of Confessions of a Shopaholic. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and all of us identified with the heroine. We would, she’s based on us after all. While the movie is meant to be a really light-hearted comedy, it points to something deeper.
I got to wondering about the phenomenon of shopaholism. Is it a reality that we’re likely to be facing very soon? All manner of excess is driven towards filling a need that hasn’t been satisfied earlier. So women who binge are thought to be unconsciously compensating for a lack of affection in their lives. What unmet need are we trying to plug with this excessive buying?

Becky Bloomwood in the movie nails it on the head when she explains her addiction,

Because when I shop, it feels so pretty, so nice, so good! And then it doesn’t so I have to shop even more!

True to all successful marketing strategies, this one also gives us a taste of what we like and then leaves us begging for more. Shinier hair! Higher heels! Bigger (and smaller) bags! Cooler sunglasses! Brighter make-up! Lotions, creams, gels, powders, liquid liners, sticks, brushes, concealers, colorants, rinses, crayons, cakes, gloss, sequins, beads, rhinestones, denim, silk, linen, velvet….the list never ends.

So for all our gloss and gorgeousness, we are nothing more than the product of a very successful marketing program designed to relieve us our newly-minted paychecks. ‘Fabulous’ is the bait they use to lure us in and the looming bill at the end of the month is the hook.

It used to be about too many people wanting to get into my pants.
Now everyone wants to get into my wallet!!

Manolos And Sindoor

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My latest obsession is Sex and the City. For the past few days I’ve been wrapped up in the love lives of Carrie, Samatha, Miranda and Charlotte, dazzled by the wardrobes and their lifestyles, amused by their incessant man-izing (!) and thoughtful over the dilemmas they face. Okay, I know I know, I’ve taken the late train, but hell I’m driving it!!! I’ve been watching the early seasons of the show back-to-back. Desperate Housewives (still on air I think) didn’t do the same thing for me. The other program I liked so much was Ally McBeal.

Do these two have something in common? ally.jpgOh, apart from the fact that they feature sucessful, rather neurotic, ‘with it’ urban women? Errrm, it’s the same life. The same story. So Ally sees dancing babies in then midst of a courtroom drama on human interest issues in New York(?) while Carrie and her friends explore and demonstrate the vagaries of Manhatten’s delights. Ummm…and I battle Mumbai’s crowds, enjoy its movies and pubs and obsess over my men. Oh and I also enjoy Sapna Bhavnani’s column where she shows us a glimpse of the mayhem within our own heads.

So why do we identify so well with these women and their lives? And why not with the protagonists (and victims) of the K-serial brigade? We turn up our noses at their over-the-top antics, their crazy plotlines and their melodrama. But of course, getting sloshed on Cosmopolitans the night before a photo-shoot, maxing a credit card on shoes and running after dancing babies is very rational.

Their fashion sense is disastrous!!! Think plate-sized rings, think snake-shaped bindis, garish sarees and pantomime make-up. We think they’re too painted up! It’s Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and let’s not forget Manolos only for us, dahling.manram.JPG

Their value systems are oh-so-archaic and warped!! kyonki.gifThey make it sound like the only way a woman can be strong is by being bitchy and venomous!!! Ah yes, it is very progressive to obsess over the ticking biological clock , go into depression over a good-looking man’s committment-phobia, benchmark ourselves by the bedroom standards of ‘how-many-notches-on-the-bestpost’ philosophy and live with erectile dysfunction, cheating and abuse just for the magical ‘MARRIED’ tag.

Now before I get branded a woman-hater as well (the anti-feminists are up in arms already!!!), please go back and read the first paragraph of this post. I, like most other women in this set, watch and enjoy these shows. I echo these sentiments. But I have to wonder, what makes me so different from the ‘typical Indian bahu’ who supposedly watches the K-serials with the same fervour that I devour SATC? Is my mania with lingerie and perfume that different from her obsession for jewellery and silk? Are my television idols any less insecure, confused or noble than hers are?

I’m blessed with all the insecurities of my gender and I relate to women who live these out on-screen, in lives that look like mine. And they do the same. But I’d turn my nose up at their taste and they’d probably right me off as trash (brown trash since I’m Indian?). We’re all as hypocritical and shallow as each other. Or no, that’s not fashionable. They’re cynical but I’m just jaded, dahling….pass me another cocktail.

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