“It's not my responsibility to be beautiful. I'm not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.”
― Warsan Shire
If you are a woman you will learn one thing that you are supposed to be desirable. It is a strange concept to grow up with. Before young girls are taught about health, they are taught to be pretty. It begins at birth, consciously or sub-consciously. It happens as if it is meant to be. The color of the skin is seen and approved. As if it is a measure to greatness. The “Gori ladki,” is a treasure. The “Kaali ladki” might be a burden to her parents as her skin is not desirable. It is a lie that we love black. We detest it. Little girls are not taught about healthy skin. They are asked to scrub their skins with “Besan,” it makes the skin fairer. Mothers are supposed to be apologetic about their daughter’s skin. They often dismiss the dark skin as “She plays in the Sun.” So, the Sun God has taken the blame for years. I went to meet someone for lunch the other day. She asked me, “Are you tanned?” I said, “No, this is my natural color.” She used her fairness app, while she clicked a few selfies. This is the level of confidence that young girls in this country begin their journey to womanhood. We are supposed to be desirable. It begins with our skin.
Our skin is the first thing we see as young girls. Now let move to other parts of our bodies. Our breasts and vaginas are always too much. You either hide it or preserve it for the right man. Your virtue lies there. Your family honor lies there. Come back before dark, as your vaginas might attract or seduce men. You are supposed to keep them safe, untouched and virgin as a gift of virtue to another man. But none teaches us how to keep it clean. Sex is dirty. Our vaginas are sins. Our bodies are lures for innocent men to sin. Sin is a word we carry from womb. And it has become a disease, for how do I love my body which is infact a stated sin? And how do one nurture which one does not love? This is a cultural question we refuse to address. And what you hate you either obsess about or neglect. Plastic surgery is on an all time high. Cosmetic industry now sells, nipple whitening creams and vagina tightening gel. Empowerment is the new word, the companies are selling. But I fail to understand how a fairer nipple or a tighter vagina will empower me. It infact tells me how less of a woman I have if my nipples are not fair enough or my vagina is not tight. It will make me less desirable. In the garb of empowerment we are sold desirability in other words we are body shamed each day. And we keep running to beauty parlors to feel enough about ourselves.
My friend Mira had a break up. Her boy friend fell in love with someone else. We all found that other woman on facebook. And all friends offered her the solace, that the other woman was too plain looking and she was much better than her. This is how we as women too carry patriarchy. We make our friends feel better about themselves with their looks. We forget to tell them, they are enough as they are. Even with broad hips and short hair. They are enough. We mean good. But we do what we have learnt. To feel better or make someone feel better we rant about looks. Patriarchy wins, we lose.
Now, we are groomed in a culture where our bodies don’t even belong to us. The question is, if something that does not belong to me, how do I take care of it? If you are confused, here is a reminder. The woman’s body belongs to the society, family and husband. And she is just a container to all the roles given to her. Why do you think Sita had to give Agni Pariksha in public? If Ram wanted to know anything, he could have asked her in private. Because the society had to know about the virtues she carried. I wonder why Ram never walked the fire, he too lived alone when Sita was in Ravana’s captive. But mind you, his body did not carry the honor tags her did. Rama’s body belonged to him. Sita’s to the society. Till date if we look closely that is the only difference between a man and woman which racked havoc in our lives.
Sita suffered to prove her purity. And thus suffering became our virtue. Good women suffer. And we train little girls that suffering is okay. So, when these little girls keep silent in abusive relationships as adults, we ask why? We question education and laws. No one questions what they were taught in homes. The 2012 National Crime Records Bureau report of India states a reported crime rate of 46 per 100,000, rape rate of 2 per 100,000, dowry homicide rate of 0.7 per 100,000 and the rate of domestic cruelty by husband or his relatives as 5.9 per 100,000.
A gentle reminder, violence does not thrive only because someone violates, but also because someone accepts. It is always a two way street. The question is how do I stand for something that is not even mine? A women’s body belongs to her husband first, so how does she stands up for it when he violates her.
The most confusing thing is that there are no one version of women’s beauty and desirability. In the 90s I was thin shamed. And when the 2000s came and zero size became a fad, I was the beauty standard for other girls. So how do we learn to nurture our bodies, love and respect it?
We need new narratives. Narratives of self love. Narratives of body love. Most importantly, narratives of that we are enough. Our bodies are attached to shame. And the immense need to be desired by others. Mostly men. So many girls lie about the marriage proposals they get. They lie to feel enough or to feel desirable, because they are conditioned that a man’s desirability is a standard for self worth. That is so sad.
We only need to teach little girls that they are enough. Their bodies belong to them. And that their duty in life is not to be desirable, but to be who they choose to be. That I assure you will change the destiny of the Indian woman. Girls, who grow up with self worth, become women with self love and creates a loving world for herself. She creates healthy boundaries with a healthy body. We need such women for a balance in society and world. We need woman who approves of themselves. Until then no matter what rules we formulate, what laws we make, we will be selling vagina tightening creams and nipple fairness cream. Because it tells us, our bodies are not enough, or in other words, a woman is not enough.