I grew up with mixed feelings about ‘prettiness’ and ‘beauty’ and what it meant to be a ‘good girl’. Most of it was not nice. I’m still trying to figure out where I stand on those.
Age 6-9, growing up in Trini, I stood out as ‘the Indian’ girl in school. I had brown skin. Not black. I had brown eyes, not black or blue or green. I was plump, and under developed. Ergo, I wasn’t pretty.
At home, I was, the ‘fat’ one. My skin was too dark – wheatish, not fair. My hair was a flaky black. Not a thick jet black. It definitely wasn’t silky, shiny, long. My eyes were brown, not deep black pools. I wasn’t the dainty, pretty, prim and proper, flutter-your-eyelids kinda girl my Mom wanted. Add to it, I didn’t ‘enjoy’ dressing up. Forget being inquisitive about Mom’s makeup, I hated it. I hated dressing up. Maybe, because even when I did, I still got pulled up – for not being pretty enough. There was no hope for me. How on earth would anyone every like me!
As a 8 yr old, then 10, then 12 .. I didn’t know what to do about my weight. Or hair. Or skin. I didn’t know how to respond to the constant teasing about being fat. I didn’t know how to respond to ‘well meaning’ friends and relatives who nick named me ‘moti’ / ‘ motu’. So what if I liked boondi ladoos!?!
Somewhere down the line, I told myself that looks didn’t matter. I’d make it up to Mom for having such an ugly daughter by being useful and obedient. And I’d make up for it, to the rest of the world, with my brains. And anyways, their approval doesn’t count, right!?! Coz I don’t like them anyways. So there. And I retreated into my shell.
6th to 10th std, I was in a girls school. Again I stood out. I just couldn’t talk about the usual stuff. I was embarrassed because I wasn’t pretty. I didn’t dream of inheriting my mom’s sarees and jewels, and I wasn’t searching for Prince Charming. Because plain girls don’t get the Prince.
In junior college, one fine morning, Vday/Rose day or something, I found a bunch of red roses on my desk. First reaction – oh wow! Pretty roses. Looks like someone goofed up! And I promptly handed them out to the other girls, keeping just one for myself. It didn’t strike me, till much much later, that maybe, just maybe, someone kept them there for me.
Through college, if I ever got a compliment, “Oh really!! And now what do they want from me.”. I’d wonder what’s wrong with the other person. Why on earth are they saying that. They couldn’t possibly mean it. There has to be some hidden agenda.
Self image… I don’t quite know what others thought of me in those years. I wasn’t willing to give them a chance. In my head, I wasn’t pretty. Mommy said I wasn’t. And that was final.
Yes, there were guys who tried to approach me. And yes, I shooed them off – how could they possibly like me. There were very very few who made it through to being friends. I’m sure I was a bit of a puzzle to even them.
The girls, I was always envious of. I just assumed everyone else was prettier than me. They somehow all just were. They knew how to dress well, they knew which make up to use, and how; and they were sure of themselves. I wasn’t. And all the brains in the world didn’t matter. I just wasn’t pretty and never would be. It just didnt matter what anyone else said.
Somewhere after 33, something changed. Thanks in part to Louise Hay and Linda Goodman. Ya, strange that. And also to finally losing a lot of that stubborn flab. I changed. I changed the way I thought about myself. That changed the way I felt about myself. And that changed how I looked at myself. Hmm… come to think of it – that face in the mirror aint quite bad. I do have good skin, no pimples, no care required; clean sharp features; the smile does look rather nice; and oh – there’s a bit of a twinkle in those eyes. Hmm.. not bad. Not bad at all I say!!!
Just getting to that, took so much effort. Facing myself in the mirror. Accepting myself. Months of mirror work and a lot of affirmations.
Once I changed the way I think about myself, so much else changed. Approval. Once I approved of myself.. The confidence, the clarity came through in other ways. Smiling became easier. The eyes got a sparkle. There was a bounce in my walk. It changed the way I carried myself. It changed the way I felt about myself. It changed the way I looked. To myself.
After all those years of beating myself up, I’m now learning to love myself. To approve of myself. And to appreciate myself. And once you feel beautiful within, it reflects on the outside as well. Who you are, how you feel, about yourself, and the world around you, reflects, in everything you say and do.
Till now, every 5 years or so, I’d have panic attack and go do a half hearted attempt to learn about cosmetics; or revamp my wardrobe. Half hearted – coz I’d be too embarrassed to ask, and I’d binge buy random stuff; only to let it rot in my cupboard for the next 5 years. After a few such cycles – I learnt my lesson. I’ve figured out just enough about what kind of clothes and colors and cuts look good on me – on my body type and skin color. I find sticking to that assures me a certain grace. I just cant be bothered about cosmetics. And it’s ok to not know. I’m comfortable with my kajal. And the 1 lipstick I have, will last me another 5 years. Maybe 10. I don’t like that ‘chemically’ feeling on my lips. Or my nails. I like my skin to breathe. I don’t use conditioner. I’ve stuck to a basic shampoo. No hair products, no special skin products – I’d really be the marketer’s nightmare. But it’s ok. I’m fine just the way I am. And darn pretty at that.
I still oscillate. I still hesitate to think of myself as Pretty. But I know, I am. I’m still quite clueless what to do with a compliment though. I either ignore or turn it into a joke or head for the knife.
It shouldn’t have been so hard. It shouldn’t be a choice little girls – and grown women – have to make. Between pretty and smart. But it was. I’m still figuring it out. I look back at my photos from those decades. Yes, again. And I see the same grin I have today. I see the same sparkling eyes. Beauty, is a state of mind. It is how I feel. It is how I feel about myself.. I kick myself for being so blind. For being so out of whack. For not believing in myself.