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From Dolce & Gabbana to ‘Smart Like Shabana’: How I Embraced My True Self

She was seeking validation from men for the 'perfect' feminine appearance... until she realized that pandering to the male gaze was eclipsing her own identity.

Like most people my age, I grew up admiring Poo and Shanaya – the Bollywood women who had straight and shiny hair, manicured nails, glowing skin, perfectly painted lips, and a flat stomach all the time. I believed that’s how girls had to look in order to be desirable.

Something else I believed was that attracting metrosexual men named Rohan, who also happened to be the sons of South Delhi’s fictional business tycoons like Yash Raichand and Ashok Nanda, was the only ambition that a twenty-year-old woman needed to have.

Let’s not forget that, according to KJo, a Rohan Raichand/Nanda could only fall for girls like Pooh and Shanaya who opened their mouths just to say “How dare you? Tumhara koi haq nahi banta ki tum itni khoobsurat lago” (How dare you look so beautiful?) or “Wo (boys) mere liye chillaaye, seeti bajaaye, that’s more my thing.” (The boys whistle and go crazy for me – that’s my thing). 

The ones around me in high school, through their actions and words, constantly confirmed my beliefs regarding desirability – my juniors gave me a lot more attention after I got my hair permanently straightened and the number of strokes of concealer on my acne scars became directly proportional to the compliments I received about my looks.

My self-consciousness led me to wake up thirty minutes earlier than the rest of my dormmates just so that I could make my hair look neater and my skin clearer. Soon, I started waxing my legs every alternate day in order to ensure that I had absolutely no body hair. I even refused to play holi with my friends in 2019 because I feared that the colours would harm my skin and stayed indoors to wax my legs, instead. 

I didn’t expect things to be any different at university. So, I spent more time on perfecting my ‘college looks’ than I did on learning how to write academic papers (and how not to plagiarise). Validation from the boys my age became much more important than appreciation from my professors.

Throughout my first semester in college, I rushed home on Friday mornings just so that I could make myself more appealing for the week starting from Monday. Once at home, I would spend hours oiling my hair, shaping my nails, and applying skin lightening face pack. I can never forget how much I had cried after gaining a little bit of weight at the beginning of my college life. When I now look back at my first year, I realise that it was I, more than anyone else, who subjected myself to these regressive and unhealthy notions of femininity

It took me a while to understand that the Rohans who just had money and looks cared only about money and looks at the end of the day. In other words, if they were attracted to me for the way I looked, they could never see the person I actually was – they could only see the image I had created of an ‘ideal KJo girl’.

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I applied to myself what Laura Mulvey referred to as the ‘male gaze’ and felt the need to fit into the mould of a woman whom most men would find likeable. Two years of male-gazing myself ended with me feeling lost about my own identity. 

I spent my entire end-semester break at the beginning of 2020 watching every random chick flick on Netflix. They, despite being light mood-enhancers, made me feel extremely hollow from within. I somehow couldn’t find myself in any of the female protagonists in those movies. That made me feel scared and worried because if I wasn’t a ‘delicate darling’, I would never end up with a  handsome and shallow man who was absolutely nothing without his father. But, then…had my self-worth been reduced to how many spineless men I could attract? When I heard myself think, I realised how empty-headed I actually sounded.

My story doesn’t end the way Sanju’s did in Main Hoon Na because mine has a happier ending. While she unwent a physical transformation to attract a mindless man who had mocked her physical appearance earlier in the film by referring to her a jhalli, I became conscious of the fact that men like Lucky would be unlucky for my personal growth.

Over the past two years, I have slowly and steadily changed my definition of self-care. Today, I can say that not straightening my hair, not waxing my legs, cutting my nails every week, adding extra sugar to my coffee on bad days, and staying far away from Rohans and Luckys are all a part of my new self-care routine.

Top image is a still from the Hindi movie, Student Of The Year

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About the Author

Upasana Dandona

A literature student who spends most of her time watching (and thinking about) Bollywood films. read more...

23 Posts | 102,759 Views

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