By VENU AGRAHARI DHINGRA
As I look back on my last few years working on women empowerment, one thing that definitely pops up in my mind is “body shaming”. We Indians take the cake for this, with the cherry on top too and will probably relish them both!
I faced it too as I was a petite woman, short and dusky with “Ghehuan Rang” wheatish complexion as they say colloquially. My mother being a very fair woman would ask me to apply “cheeronji and kacha doodh ka ubtan”, a homemade remedy to become “fair” and “lovely”. From a young age onwards, the strong belief that beauty has nothing to do with one’s complexion started taking firm root in me. The thought that I may not be beautiful as per societal standards awakened the rebel in me. I did not participate in any of the kitchen chores unlike my cousins or daughters of my parents’ family friends. Nor did I take to supposedly feminine activities like singing, dancing, embroidery, or painting during the holidays.
So, basically, I was a “good for nothing girl”, by all standards, at the ‘prime age of getting married’ with absolutely no interest in cooking, singing, dancing, embroidery, painting, to name a few. In short I did not qualify to be called “sarv gun sampan” as I lacked these skills.
But, yes, I was a voracious reader, thanks to my wonderful friends in school who introduced me to Mills and Boons, and to the novels penned by Sidney Sheldon, Jeffery Archer, etc. I remember “Woman of Substance” being my favourite of that time as I was impressed by the fact that a woman can achieve so much even when left alone. To be honest, I still pick up one of the old Mills and Boons from my own collection and read it once a year, as a light read to clear my mind.
During the course of my work with women achievers, I have come across many women who can strike a sensible, deep conversation and can engage with intellectual minds. Many of these interactions left me wondering about how one does not really focus on “the skindeep beauty” while talking with them. The skin colour, height, body shape, body weight or even the skills like painting, singing or embroidery or any of those so called “qualities” do not come up even in the remotest corner of one’s mind.
Oh no, I am not against painting, singing or embroidery and such like. Many women are accomplished painters, singers and so on. But forcing a girl to learn all these to be “sarv gun sampan” so that she could find a good husband was always beyond me even during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. A big salute to all those women who made a conscious choice to put in a lot of effort to excel in these fields. But please do not measure a woman’s worth solely on these parameters. Even the 10th, 12th or college board marks a woman has achieved don’t crop up in any discussion later at any stage of her life.
So, why has education and a mindset change still not changed the perception of how a woman should be? Why is a woman’s body shamed even in today’s world? Before body shaming her, does anyone ask or try to know if the woman has any health issues which may have caused the weight gain? In the 45 to 55 age bracket, when a woman is menopausal, even the husband doesn’t understand the havoc going on in the body of his own wife. The hot flashes, the mood swings, the food cravings, the weight gain, bloated feeling all the time, the sagging of the skin and so many other problems are all due to the hormonal changes occurring in a woman’s body. And, yet, through all this, a woman is expected to always look beautiful…..bah…why? A female body goes through a hormonal change every 5 to 7 years, since birth. It’s a known biological fact. Yet, we all just shame, claim, and blame the female body.
And when will anyone understand that genes also play an important role. If the parents are dusky, why do they expect their daughter to use the “ubtan” and become fair? And the same applies for her height as well. Isn’t it ridiculous that parents who are short statured should expect their girl to be tall?
Many times, gynaecological issues like PCOD also play a role in one’s look and shape. Who is to blame…no one. And yet “look good” is always important, from the age of 10 to at least till one is 60.
Whereas, the man has it easy. What’s laughable is that he may have a huge ugly paunch jutting out of him like a sore thumb and yet he will sit around and pass insensitive comments about women gaining weight after 40! Dear Men, I forgive you because I know that you are neither educated nor sensitised about menopause by your mother or our education system. And the sad fact is many women also are very judgemental about other women. Rather than being supportive and understanding towards other women who may be going through some major health issues, and probably they themselves are going through, most women concur and accept the societal standards set by the patriarchal world of the men and focus on “skin deep beauty” for their daughters in order to be “saleable” in the marriage market.
Wondering when this will stop. Intellectual compatibility rather than looks and financial status, is more important for a successful marriage.
Many organisations are now trying to create awareness against this “Skin Deep Beauty.” An example is Dove’s #StopTheBeautyTest campaign. And yet the tier 3 towns still seem to be stubbornly holding onto the regressive standards of beauty laid down by patriarchal society. Seems, all these awareness campaigns are futile!
Even in 2022, when society and the nation have taken large strides in every field, be it science, technology or arts, the marriage market and its rules with respect to beauty are still the same. The girls of small towns still concentrate on the new “ubtan” recipes rather than their careers. They are expected to always look “beautiful” for the prospective fat, paunchy, paan chewing, bald grooms who may be earning well and yet demand a huge dowry. The girls do all this just to please the elders.
Well, this is the real picture of all Indian small towns even now. And scary, too. Hey, men and women of India, why don’t we try to get over this mindset and change our perspective of the beauty of a woman.
Every woman is beautiful. A homemaker mom is beautiful, for she is creating a warm nest for her family. A multitasking woman is beautiful for she is juggling different tasks in a remarkable way. A woman managing a business empire is beautiful. So is a mother looking after her kids lovingly, teaching them to be good human beings. A woman in her 50s, after having sacrificed her prime for her family, and now trying to get her career back on track is beautiful. A woman in politics, following her passion and ambition is beautiful. And the list goes on and on. In fact, bold is beautiful. Intelligence is beautiful and sexy.
So, dear society, stop beautifying a woman by her looks only. It’s high time we change ourselves and our perspectives. Success is glamorous. Know that when a woman becomes successful, she looks glamorous and beautiful.
(Venu Agrahari Dhingra is the author of ‘Power Women – India’s Political Winners’)