As a child, I remember playing with “pretty” dolls. That changed my definition of pretty and I recovered quite late, that is, when I indulged into serious research after I was angry with how the world sees women. And the world sees men and women differently. When you hand a girl a doll and you let her dress up the doll and design clothes for the doll, you sow the first seeds of objectification. How the girl sees/dresses up her doll is how she thinks an ideal woman must look like and is how she would see herself in the future, constantly trying to live up to an image that is inanimate. This doll, this object that she tries to personify, is indeed what she has already seen in the movies, which, again, is not an image perfect in reality. We all know how barbie and other dolls look–replicas of supermodels. This is how we change the definition of beauty for her. But the girl’s endeavour has only started soaring… She inadvertently becomes the object and not the subject.
It’s personal taste to like a face but it’s social crime to define it as the only beautiful one. If perspective is what makes one beautiful, why do girls roam around loaded with mousse, rouge, and blush? Why do they enhance their eyes, hide acne and scars, dye their hair?
A healthy skin is a sign of good health but is instead treated as a standard of beauty.
This is how we create an implicit pressure on girls to look good, to satisfy a certain criterion of beauty, and not preserve/embrace what they were born with. These insecurities give birth to more insecurities and a boost to the cosmetics industry.
We have an obscene affinity with fairness in India. We consider it normal for boys to play football in the sun but advise girls to prevent sun tan by playing indoors (usually with a teddy bear). (I believe that playing with replicas of humans and animals stimulates emotional quotient of a child but that sure is an independent topic. )
Many mothers make their daughters believe that they indeed fit into the category of beautiful girls. They tell them they are beautiful because “they have such a facial feature”. The society later breaks the girls’ faith.
And all this happens while the girl’s little brother is encouraged to play a sport, to strengthen his body, to solve math, to show courage and bravery. Many of us will argue that we do encourage girls to take education seriously and to equal boys in all arenas. I will agree with the point but insist that it is not enough.
Some of us are raised by parents who know everything of what’s written here and yet the society, the external influence of relatives and friends dissuade the child from being anything but a girl.
From the beginning, a girl is made to believe that she is physically weak, that her final retort is weeping, that she is beautiful only if she fits in the definition of beauty. It takes an effort beyond normal to overcome this belief. A boy is made to believe that he is powerful, that weeping will make him weak, that the responsibility of earning a living is on him, that he has to be more educated than a girl, that a girl looks up to him for a better life, and that a real girl is beautiful according to the standards the society has made.
This is where we define the space for each.
What am I up to? I was always curious about kids growing up to be boys and girls, and I wondered if the chromosomes have a part to play. No, they do not. I was never sceptical that human psychology is induced and almost every human behaviour can be traced back to one’s childhood. So this is one woman’s ambition to shred this psychology and lay every detail open. What may follow next is now-insurmountable and a huge dream I am nobody to speak of as of today. Maybe tomorrow, until I have realized that I have the potential to pronounce it. I will know it by trying it and I might fail, but I have hope that something might come out of this endeavour.
As part of my research, I am bringing to you thoughts that can change how you see your actions. Since not everyone likes to read fat books, I will document highlights in short.
Dorothy had a warm body. She felt cold even during the soothing months of monsoon and those that followed. Her mom would wrap her in layers of winter clothes if it started drizzling outside. However, she wouldn’t slip into those layers to school. This was as much out of a fear that school children would tease her for the ‘bunny-bear’ that look she carried as the teenage blues she was going through. She presumed it was easy to bear the coldness of weather than to bear the tantalisation that her garb would invite. On days when she felt it was difficult to sit in the class without shivering, she would wear a nylon shirt under her school uniform to fight the chill. On other cold days, she would rub her palms under the desk.
Winters would bring her joy, for she would be able to wear warm woolen fabric, thick coats, muffler and scarves without fearing any raised eyebrows.
On a Sunday morning Dorothy caught fever, or fever caught her, as she insisted to word it. Dorothy had to be injected so that she could write her examination the next morning. That night, Dorothy was wrapped in the blue blanket and spent the night wondering if she would have to wear sweaters to school. Throughout the night she would try to come out of the blanket to experience the magnitude of cold outside it and then crawl back into it, quick enough to escape the harsh air.
The next day, fever had subsided but she couldn’t drop the sweaters. She realised it was too foolish to appear for the exams without looking like a baggage of clothes.
At the school gate, she fumbled with her heavy legs, overburdened with fear and trepidation. Once in, she scurried groggily to vanish into her class room. She noticed that except for a few surly boys and girls, nobody appeared to give her look any serious thoughts.
The day passed without any fuss, leaving her astonished.
This experience imbibed in Dorothy the courage to wear sweaters. She tried her luck again in the same sweaters, and later made it a practice. She would don that ‘bunny-bear’ look whenever her skin felt cold. It became less of an effort for her to muster the courage to wear that garb. To her surprise, some other children of her school too started wearing sweaters during a cold day of monsoon or early winter, as if they were waiting for her to fuel them with bravery. Dorothy had never felt this proud to wear coats on a non-winter day.
She now wears what her body asks for, not what she thinks others would be pleased to see her in.