BENGALURU: Women who are reading this, let me ask you: do you remember the first time you had your eyebrows ‘done’? Do you remember the cocktail of giddy excitement and nervousness that coursed through your body as you waited to be called to that padded throne? I do.
I was about 14. A cousin’s wedding was coming up and I no longer wished to have the fuzz on my face accompany me wherever I went. So, after intense tantrum throwing, my mother reluctantly made the appointment.
If anyone had told me before that session that an innocuous length of white thread could wreak such pain I would have laughed. But that day, I learned otherwise. After a few seconds in the chair, I had tears streaming down my face and was begging to be taken home. Instead, I was held firmly in place, and the job was finished. At the end of it, I was puffy eyed and covered in welts. The picture of beauty.
Oddly enough, a few weeks later I was back. And I’ve been going back again and again, ever since. Over the years, I have added things to the appointment (waxing, facials, pedicures) and removed them (I’ve made peace with my sideburns and said goodbye to facials and Brazilians). But I am unable to let go of threading and waxing those parts of my body that are on display for public viewing. I can’t help myself.
A comic strip by illustrator Gavin Aung Than called ‘Strange Like Me’ made me think about how we so easily allow society’s standards of beauty to pass on to our children. In this particular strip, he uses the words of Frida Kahlo (unibrow Goddess) to tell the story of a young girl who wants her unibrow lazered off. Her mother relents and the young one is thrilled in the car till she realises she is actually being taking her to the museum and not the clinic. The girl’s anger turns to awe as she beholds a room filled with self portraits of
Kahlo. She leaves, the clinic flyer in the bin and a book about Kahlo in her hands.
I have two boys, so this particular situation may or may not be down the road for us. But I have nieces and know wonderful, bright, fierce young women in the making. I wonder, how many of us will be able to do for them what the mother in the comic does for her child?
I’m not finding fault with the mothers who take their children to the salon or clinic here. If anything, they are being well-intentioned and hope to spare their daughters the pain that comes with being mocked and ridiculed for ‘shudder’ having hair on your upper lip. Society, these mothers know, has low tolerance for anything but physical perfection. Or the illusion of it.
But we seem to be inducting mere babes into the beauty myth these days. Spa birthday parties for 8 year old girls is the norm. I find it more and more imperative to talk to and show my sons about different choices and that making the sometimes difficult choice to be different, won’t leave you all alone. Because, as Frieda so beautifully put it, ‘I’m here and I’m just as strange as you.’