A Young Woman Discovers The True Essence Of Beauty
How fragile is our beauty that it must be framed by social conditioning and pre-set standards?
There was a mild sway in the air around me—almost joyous. He had come to walk us back to the car. I worked hard not to blush, but could not stop myself from turning back to get another glimpse of him. There he was, staring back. The gorgeous golden moon of the September sky was so close. It must have watched the sparks fly.
He was 17, I was 14. It was our first meeting. His parents had invited our family over for dinner. I would rather be having instant noodles at home instead of attending house parties with my parents. Being forced to go, I thought I should rebel. So, I decided to heavily oil my hair and tie it back and wear a dress that I made me look like a strawberry cake.
Yet, I saw admiration in his eyes, as we started discussing our favourite books. Something, ever so gently, shook me a little that day. This was quite different from the jolt I had felt, at 9 years, when one of my best friends told me to hide my pictures from our beach holiday, because there was “so much showing”. She was my best friend, she had to be right, I thought. Immediately, I started hiding myself. It took years to be myself; to not need any validation from others.
Years later, I was playfully told by a man that I should “do something” about the few strands of hair on my chin. I could feel my radiant smile as I told him, “Or, maybe not”. Oh, the irony—he had been declaring that he had been smitten by me, even though I didn’t meet his standards of beauty. While I refuse to give in to their norms of beauty anymore, what is it that they find beautiful, then? Do these norms filter through a set template?
“You look so beautiful!” beamed my dad as I stepped out of my room in the dark blue sari, with delicate motifs hand-woven on it. I smiled and walked towards him. He smiled and hugged me, and kissed my cheeks. “Why don’t you get rid of these few strands of hair on your chin?", he added. Must have been the closer look.
I knew where he came from. I knew where this conversation was headed. I smiled, and asked, “Why?”
“Oh, just. You know... you will look good if you do.”
“But you just said that I look beautiful.”
“Yes, but you would look even better,” he insisted.
I just lifted my chin towards him, and declared with full gusto, “This makes me gorgeous. You just need to learn to appreciate it. It’s acquired taste.”
He laughed. After all, it was he who instilled this confidence in me that spoke up for a few nonchalant strands of hair. Though this confidence did not save me from being scarred when I was body shamed, it did help me recover. Was it also this confidence that people found beautiful? Was it this that made me beautiful? And my unabashed banter on things big and small? And could it be my curiosity of things around me, or, just my joy when I notice and celebrate beauty? Do notions of beauty take a beating when our hearts find something beautiful? As I started liking myself, every inch of me, owning who I was, being who I wanted to be, compliments came showering in on me. I didn’t have to look out for them.
As I started liking myself, every inch of me, owning who I was, being who I wanted to be, compliments came showering in on me. I didn’t have to look out for them, writes the author. Photo: Shutterstock
During the lockdown, there were many social media posts that could be tagged “appearance anxiety”. No salons, no make-up routines—so many stressed about it! Is beauty so fragile?
In the midst of video calls—for work, with friends, and family far away—it has been better than a mirror for me. I see myself as I am with the other. Every call has been a little different—I felt a little different, looked a little different. I have been a little different, in each one of them.
On my last video call today, a dear friend added just before we parted, “Even at the end of the day you look radiant. You are beautiful!”
“Cheshmâtun ghashang mibine*,” I said, as I smiled at the corner of the screen, where I looked at myself through a tiny window.
(An Iranian tradition of politely accepting compliments; literally meaning, “Your eyes see beautifully”)