Friday, June 3, 2011

The thing about beauty...

I always thought I had a pretty standard perception of beauty. Smooth skin, pretty eyes, shiny hair, a pleasing face. Being nicely put together and well groomed just added to the overall picture. Then I got to thinking of all the times I’d felt beautiful myself. Really beautiful. It wasn’t the day I got my first terribly expensive haircut in preparation for an important job interview. It wasn’t the day I got dressed to the nines for my wedding. On both of these occasions I’d made sure that I had ticked all of the right boxes. My face was perfectly made up, my hair was straight and silky, and you couldn’t have found a fault with my attire and make up. But I didn’t feel beautiful. I felt cosmetically correct. Actually, to be honest, on the day of my wedding I felt like a cross between a chandelier and a Christmas tree in my heavy lehenga, overtly made up face and chemically straightened hair. But my eyes were shining. And it wasn’t because of the mascara and the three inch thick eyeliner, it was because of the overflowing happiness that I felt inside. And this got me to thinking of all the times in my life that I had felt really beautiful. The day the boy I loved held my hands and told me that he loved me too. It was a windswept, rainy afternoon and we were on a trek with a bunch of friends. We’d been caught in two showers already and a third loomed menacingly, imminent in the brooding, dark clouds hovering above us. I was drenched through, my hair looked ratty and fell in limp strands across my face and in my heavy and wet trekking gear I was probably as close to looking and feeling like a (wet) sack of potatoes as I ever would be. And yet, when I received that declaration of love I felt beautiful. I felt like the most beautiful girl in the world.

I can remember too, in vivid detail, the moment when I saw my daughter for the first time. For nine months before that moment I had dreamed of seeing my baby for the first time ever. For many months before that moment I had thought about and imagined this baby, falling in love with my own creation of her in my mind. Always, I imagined a chubby cheeked, cute little cherub with bright sparkling, mischievous eyes and a pert, impertinent smile. The baby that the doctor brought to me was nothing like that. Eyes tightly shut, fists clenched, a facial expression of immense displeasure at being hustled out into the world like that, taken away from the welcoming cocoon of the womb that she was hitherto accustomed to, my daughter was as far from the mental impression I had had of her as a real, newborn baby is from a touched up, photo shopped Anne Geddes model baby. And yet, at that moment, there was nothing more beautiful to me than the sight of my newborn baby girl and all I wanted to do was revel in her innocent beauty.

When I urge my mind into the past I remember some of the images of everlasting beauty that have stayed with me. My grandmother, with her silver hair and her warm, grey-blue eyes will always be one of the most beautiful women to me. I remember one of my friends in school being slightly disappointed when she first met my grandma. Having heard countless tales of her ‘beauty’ from me in the past she had probably expected to see someone along the lines of Maharani Gayatri Devi when she first came over to meet her and I think she was a little let down with the frail, slightly stooping old lady she met instead. But if she had seen my grandma through my eyes she would have understood what real beauty means to me. To me that very same frail old lady was beauty personified. I saw beauty in those loving grey-blue eyes that had waited eagerly for me to come back home from school every day since the very first day I started going to school, in the smile that lit up her face as I’d turn the corner on the last stretch of the path that led up to our doorway, in the wrinkled hands with which she would insist on feeding me herself, in that tinkling laughter and soft voice that never failed to enquire after my day, even many years later when I’d started working and she probably couldn’t understand exactly what it was that I did, and in that silver hair that I had loved playing with as a child and that had born testimony to years of loving and nurturing her children and then their children after them.

There are other little vignettes that flash through my mind when I think of what beauty really means to me. A face in the crowd that captures my eye and, oftentimes my imagination, that is beautiful in that moment, because of those shining eyes or that serene smile, reflecting an inner spirit and contentment that no cosmetic makeover could ever hope to achieve. Sometimes it is a beauty that reflects character and resolve, sometimes a quiet contentment, sometimes it is just a moment of pure joy. Real beauty then, is something very personal, unique to each of us and our perceptions of it, slightly elusive and a little indefinable, and all the more beautiful because it is so!

Quite honestly I don’t understand the whole brouhaha over looking good, to feel good, especially when that looking good entails confirming to certain norms and predefined standards. And that’s probably why I’ll never colour my hair or get it artificially straightened, because I’d never feel beautiful if I do. But I do know that I will find beauty in the silver of my hair, a beautiful, visual reflection of a life that’s been hopefully well lived. I find it a little hard sometimes to express or even fully understand the reasons behind those occasions when I feel beautiful. It could be after a great workout, or after a great head massage, when I feel beautiful even though my hair is dripping with oil! Maybe it’s the feeling of well being that comes from within, the feeling of caring for myself that makes me feel beautiful at these times.

Someday I want to sit my daughter down and try and tell her, as best as I can, what real beauty should mean. It shouldn’t be about fitting in or standing out. It shouldn’t be about short skirts or long legs or poker straight hair. And it shouldn’t matter what everyone else thinks it is. But it should be something that has meaning to you and resonates with you. It should feel right. And it should come from within. And as long as it does, it will be real.
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This is my entry for the 'What does real beauty mean to you?' contest on IndiBlogger. Read more about real beauty at http://realbeauty.yahoo.com/ Aaaaand vote for me, do, here.

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