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Beauty and social acceptance don't come easy in India. One has to fit into several slots to qualify as beautiful. Here's how I realized I am beautiful, no matter what society says.
Beauty and social acceptance don’t come easy in India. One has to fit into several slots to qualify as beautiful. Here’s how I realized I am beautiful, no matter what society says.
If you met me as a little girl, you would not recognize me as the same person today. Back in school, I had thick, untrimmed eyebrows, unkempt hair, and pimples. Being brought up in Indian society, I was also used to hearing the occasional remarks on how “brown” I was and how hard it would be to find a groom for me with that brownness.
I ignored these comments on the surface, but they did hit me hard in the belly even as a little girl. I grew up feeling hopeless on the woman side of things, and felt like I would never be pretty, desired, or loved for the woman I was born as. And I was sure I did not want to use “Fair and Lovely” to be loved! I even remember a wonderful man telling me on a date in Delhi – how much he would like for us to be married, but he wasn´t sure how well his mother would agree to having a brown daughter-in-law! I didn’t see him again, if that made you want to throw up, just like me!
I grew up feeling hopeless on the woman side of things, and felt like I would never be pretty, desired, or loved for the woman I was born as.
However, in a context as disheartening and narrow as that, I believe that sometimes a powerful experience can come along, that can change the way we look at everything for the rest of our lives. It can cause alchemy – change within us, just from one moment to the next, so that we are altered into a new us, into a new reality forever.
This experience for me, was travelling to the United Kingdom on an AIESEC Cultural Exchange program at the age of 19. You cannot possibly imagine how shocked I was at the start, on being repeatedly told by the Brits how beautiful I was! In fact, I found myself feeling uncomfortable among the compliments, and wondering if they were joking, or worse, mocking me!
One fine day, my host mother in Sheffield decided that my misery was enough, and asked me to come along to a local super market. She said we needed to talk.
On reaching the make-up section of the departmental store, she pointed out to at least a dozen shelves jam-packed with bronzing and tanning products. There were tan-sprays that made the sun tan stick to your skin, there were after-sun lotions that protected your tan, and evening bronzers that mildly browned your skin for a party. There were several women standing at these stands, choosing their favourite brown. My host mother declared – “You see? Brown is beautiful. You are beautiful!” She picked up a bronzer for herself and we returned home.
That afternoon, I remember feeling quite stirred. The experience felt intense – for it offered me a new perspective, a radically new way of looking at beauty, and I was so not used to it. In India, brown was not beautiful, and there wasn’t much debate around this when I was growing up in the 90s. In England, my girlfriends could have killed to have my skin colour! This was catharsis happening to me, right there!
In the days that followed, I decided to observe my new-found reality more closely even though my long-term beliefs about beauty fought hard to return.
In the days that followed, I decided to observe my new-found reality more closely even though my long-term beliefs about beauty fought hard to return. I saw that it was true – that men were falling all over me, and wanted to date me. It was true that my host families told me that I was the most gorgeous Indian woman they had seen. And from one moment to the next, I believed them. I just decided to believe them.
And that changed everything! Most of all, it changed how I saw myself when I stood in front of the mirror. I felt like the best thing since sliced bread, and started having fun with self-expression through fashion, accessories, shoes; whatever felt good and nurturing to the beautiful woman inside of me who had been told she was ugly for so long. And I fed her with so much love and self-respect for herself and her uniqueness, that she has been growing self-assured inside and is reflected in this gorgeous woman that you see on the outside today.
I was recently in touch with my host mother in Sheffield on Skype. I told her how that one experience changed me forever. I also told her though – “I wish English girls too stopped browning themselves, for white skin is beautiful when they come to India.”
We both laughed. I guess in that moment we both understood. Both of us had been gorgeous all along.
Pic credit: Image of make-up via Shutterstock.
As a certified love and relationship coach, I help women reconnect with their feminine energy and attract, marry and keep their soulmates in an incredible relationship. I currently live in Paris with my doting husband.
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Mostly Normal is a book of innocence, longing, filial love, angst and acceptance, encapsulating a gamut of human emotions within its lightweight edifice. The book touches the human heart and will stay with you.
Some books enthral you till the last page, and then there are those that you stop reading after turning a few pages. Some books are a one-time read, while you carry some books with you long after you have read them. Then, once in a while, a book hits you so close to home that you find it difficult to slot into any category.
I will put Priyadeep Kaur’s Mostly Normal (BookSoul Reads, 2022) in this last bracket.
At a little less than hundred pages, Mostly Normal is a testimony of the power of words to inspire, irrespective of their length.
Most women do not get to live their lives the way they want, on their own terms. So why should they be tied down in their old age?
Every morning, while dropping the kids at the bus stop, I find a grandfather waiting with his granddaughter. I see him again when I fetch the kids. This has been the pattern for the last few years.
He is seen actively participating in his granddaughter’s activities, from morning and evening walks to attending her parent-teachers meeting, sending her for extracurricular activities to even planning her birthday party. He is admired by all. He is appreciated for making himself useful in his old age. People rave that the doting grandfather is doing his duty towards his children and grandchildren. The much-admired grandfather is also a widower, having lost his wife years ago to chronic disease. It’s also to be noted that both his son and daughter-in-law are working parents.
Every day, the onlookers appreciate his sense of duty and dedication. They say that this is how the elderly should keep themselves occupied. They should bring up their grandchildren while their children go off to work.
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