When asked to look back on their earliest memories, most children (and adults) will think of their mothers – the smile on her face, the sound of her voice lulling them to sleep or those warm hugs that made their day complete. And every child will tell you, their mother is beautiful and always will be.
If only mothers could be made to think the same thing. I still remember when I used to watch my mother get ready for an event or simply to go out for the evening. When she would brush her hair, I would be mesmerised by the length and thickness of her silky black locks, but she would always say “I wish I had luscious curls like my sister.” I thought how wonderful she looked with simply a bit of kajol framing the dark eyes on her sunburnt face, but she would wish she knew how to make her lines disappear, like “those glamorous actresses you see on television.” I would admire how perfectly the sari would drape around her slightly plump body and highlight her curves, but my mother would always lament the fact that she was short, dark and not skinny, which meant she was not beautiful.
When my mother first told me she was not beautiful, I was confused. At such a tender age, I wasn’t really sure what beauty was meant to be. But as I grew up and was bombarded with the tall and beautifully shaped models turned actresses on television, as every smiling face on TV commercials, papers and the giant billboards plastered across the city were inevitably white and perfectly sculpted, I slowly accepted that maybe, my mother wasn’t as beautiful as I thought, or at least, not in the way society defines beauty to be.
And as I grew up, I realised I looked exactly like her. I was short, darker than even her and nowhere near being skinny. So I too, accepted that I was not beautiful, and never will be, despite what my near and dear ones said.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t try to be the very best I could be. In fact, maybe I spurred myself on even more to excel in academics and extracurricular activities, simply because I knew I lacked in the beauty department. Or maybe I tell myself that to make up for all those days where I felt inferior and unimportant when I looked at myself in the mirror. Or to make up for the time I completely messed up a job interview because I was so conscious of how silly I looked in the outfit I chose. Or even for all those moments when I was at my best, a tiny voice in my head said “but you’re still not beautiful”.
And it wasn’t until I was much older that I realised how unfair it all was. Thankfully, I grew up at a time when women were increasingly being accepted as men’s equals, and more and more women were finding their voices and standing up for themselves. We now live at a time where we fill our TV screens with impossible beauty standards but also question them, where we focus on healthy living rather than size zero living, and where women around the world campaign to be better represented in mainstream media, because dark IS beautiful.
Many of us have mothers who are unhappy with how they look, who feel fat (since when did ‘fat’ become a feeling anyway?) and who engage in incessant body shaming as a reminder to themselves to work harder to be pretty. Many of us have highly qualified mothers who still married ‘old’ because she was too fat, too skinny, too dark or too short to be the perfect wife. Many of us have mothers who have worked hard at their jobs and even harder at home, only to be shamed by other women for taking that extra spoonful of biriyani at the dawaat or not having the time to wear the perfect lipstick to go with that sari. Many of us have inherited the same insecurities because we, like them, didn’t know any better. But it is high time we stop body shaming ourselves, and stop letting the women we love do this to themselves. So next time you meet your mother, tell her that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is so much more than the shade of your skin or the curve of your lips or whatever impossible standard is being forced down our throats. Tell her that bullying herself and making herself feel small is doing her a great injustice, because it makes her forget all the amazing things that makes her the phenomenal woman she is. Tell her she is loved, not despite her wrinkles and stretch marks and curves, but because of them. Tell her she is beautiful, just like you always knew she was.