Beauty with Cruelty

My beauty routine had(s) always been a good wash with soap and water and some ‘vanishing cream’, which was a sort of  moisturizer available in my younger years. I never bothered to look in the mirror even to check if the bindi was crooked. Then one day fate intervened and I decided to go to a beauty parlour for a facial and I was scar(r)ed for life.

The first part was enjoyable,  with generous amounts of cream slathered on my face and massaged gently into the skin — till she began pinching and pummeling and then slapping my cheeks, ostensibly to stimulate the circulation! If I thought the ordeal was over, I was mistaken.

Next, I was asked to sit at a table where a contraption was bubbling with hot water with my head under a thick towel. Soon my nose, and eyes began watering and I felt my face slowly getting boiled. When I emerged out of the towel, my face looked like a boiled lobster. A dash of salt and pepper and viola! I would have been a fit dish for a cannibal! I was immensely drowsy and all I wanted to do was to lie down and go to sleep. But did I have any luck? Nah!

She produced an instrument and attacked the black-heads on my nose with a vengeance. I could see the disgust on her face at this specimen. I kept dozing off but was rudely awakened by the sharp instrument digging into the boiled flesh.

Then came the threading session and after she was through, I felt like a boiled lobster and a plucked chicken rolled into one! I paid a hefty amount to the girl for torturing me for more than an hour and beat a hasty retreat.

Soap, water and ‘vanishing’ cream were more than enough for me, thank you and if I had a ‘black nose’, in the bargain, so be it!

I have always been baffled by the cruelty associated with beauty, even if it is a simple facial.  But my ordeal is nothing compared to what some women and sometimes even men go through to appear beautiful.

Get a load of what people around the world do to be considered beautiful:

The Chinese bound the feet of their young girls, so tightly that the bones got crushed and healed themselves within the confined space. The resultant foot when the bandage was finally opened was not more than 4 or 4.5”, with 3” considered the ideal size of a foot! The girls grew into women who couldn’t walk properly and teetered on their tiny feet. It is beyond me how such misshapen feet could be deemed beautiful by any stretch of imagination and how such a barbaric custom thrived till the early 20th century?

Corsets worn by European women well into the 20th century, were a painful way of constricting the body into an hourglass shape and give them impossibly tiny waists, sometimes as tiny as 14”!

Many tribes in Africa file their teeth to tiny points – a painful process that entails each tooth being shaped by a knife and hammer to

Giraffe neck woman

resemble shark’s teeth. The practice of lip-stretching to wear wooden and even clay plates in them as ornaments is considered to make a woman beautiful! Some of these plates are as large as six inches in diameter. When they are removed the lip hangs down.

Then there are the neck stretching rings worn by tribes in Africa as well as the Kayan Lahwi tribe in Burma. The latter are also known as giraffe neck women. The rings only create an illusion of a long neck as they push the collarbone downward. The practice starts as early as five years of age and some women can’t hold their necks up without the rings after they have worn them for several years and sometimes decades.

Scarification, the practice of making intricate scars on the skin is prevalent in many African tribes. It has cultural as well as aesthetic significance for them.

Body piercing and tattoo are also forms of painful procedures undertaken in search of beauty.

(courtesy flickr.com)

Lip Stretching

Today we have silicone and botox trying to make a woman ‘beautiful’. The other day I saw a crummy flat with a board proclaiming to offer ‘Botox beauty treatment.’ I shudder to think of the gullible young women who must be subjecting themselves to the dangerous procedures at the hands of quacks. Don’t they have any regulations for these places, I wonder.

The zero size and anorexic looks have taken beauty to dangerous health levels, not to speak of whitening creams and bleaches to lighten the skin. What a sad state of affairs!

Incidentally, body piercing has made a modern day comeback and so has scarification and of course we have the modern equivalent of foot binding in the pointed-heels and impossibly high stilettos. And while we can cite culture and ethnicity for the earlier practices, we have only vanity and insecurity to blame for the modern versions.

The quest for eternal youth and beauty is a source of unfailing amusement to me. When I watch ageing men and women trying to look young by dyeing their hair, their beards and even moustaches, while their wrinkles and sagging skin gives away their ages, I am tickled pink. I’m happy to look my age and had looked forward for years to get my first grey hair!

I was dismayed to find that most moisturizers come with an anti-wrinkle formula or skin lightening ingredients these days. The other day, I went through a whole lot of jars and tubes looking for a simple moisturizer. The baffled salesgirl could not fathom this crazy middle-aged woman who scorned the creams that promised a wrinkle-free youthful skin!

Not as baffled as my hair dresser who shakes her head at the profusion of white hair every time she gives me a trim. From cajoling to teasing to sarcasm, she has tried everything to make me change my mind about colouring my hair. ‘It will be so natural that even you will not notice it,’ she told me once.

‘But I am happy with my white hair,’ I remonstrated. Growing old gracefully is something I believe in.

Can we honestly say that the carefully ‘prepared’ beauties of the beauty pageants are really beautiful? I can’t be but look at them with skepticism wondering which part of their face was altered and which has got a shot of Botox. Compare them with women of the earlier generations who were naturally beautiful despite some having large noses or wide mouths, even crossed-eyes!

To be beautiful one doesn’t have to inflict pain on oneself or spend mega bucks at the parlours and health spas. Just be unselfconscious about your looks, and be happy. If not happy, at least carry a smile around. I have a dear friend who has a smile on her face no matter what she is going through and she is one of the most beautiful women I know.

(Courtesy: connect.in.com)

A smile is an ornament

In Tamil we call a smile punnagai. Nagai means both a smile and an ornament. So if one wears a smile, one is automatically wearing an item of jewelleryl!  Where is the need to subject your body to all kinds of pain to achieve some elusive parameter of beauty, when you can be beautiful most effortlessly? A smile invariably draws the onlooker’s eyes to it. And if the eyes smile along, it is icing on top of the cake.

I have a soft corner for all those bloggers on my comment page who sport a smile – the wider, the more beautiful!

Finally, as long as those who love you think you are beautiful, you ARE.

Some years ago, I was agonizing about my misshapen face, with a tumour near my left ear and one eye diverging horribly due to loss of vision, when the L&M said most matter-of-factly: ‘No matter how you look, you will always be beautiful to me and the children.’ The operation on the tumour left a scar but whenever that, or my eye bother me, I remember his words and feel beautiful again.

Beauty with cruelty has always held a morbid fascination for me and so I thought  of sharing it as part of  the Yahoo-Dove Real Beauty contest on Indiblogger.

65 comments

  1. hi, nice post and you seem to have done a lot of research too. I laughed about the facial bit, and in a way it is so true.

    I think what bugs me most about the beauty business is that all companies who make the products, make them sound as though they are doing this for the good of humankind, for nature and of course for human relationships, notwithstanding the whitening cream and dandruff shampoos which must become the most trusted friends of all men and women in India.

    I do use beauty products so I will not pretend to be a non user but I would like to retain my choice of what I want rather than being dictated by what the media and the popular consensus seem to suggest. today making a choice has really become a non choice as the products that are available are decided by the organisations rather than our choice.

    good to read you after a while. take care.

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    1. Nice to have you back here. It is a manufacturer driven world and we are made to feel we HAVe to buy the product or else…

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  2. Amzing post. Very true what L&M said about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.It is more insecurity and a sense of limitation than vanity that make a woman to take so much trouble over her appearance. and media is responsible for this looks obsessed state of affairs. The heavily made up and beautifully dressed women even when they are at home in the innane serials give her a complex.and hence this ‘selfinflicted torture’to the body.
    God has made every creature unique and not even the identical twins look alike .Isn’t that real beauty?
    by the way it is a great previlege to get comments on my daughter’s blog from a prolific and very talented writer like you.

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    1. Nice to have you here Rashmi. I used to read your comments on Richa’s blog and had asked her if you blogged too. You should. I like the posts of Richa, they are simple and easy to identlfy with. That’s why I am subscribed to her blog and comment on every one of the posts 🙂

      Beauty is certainly in the eyes of the beholder — external beauty, that is. But that is because the beholder can see the inner beauty too, isn’t it?

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  3. Though the title hits harsh on the face (nevertheless, goes well with the rolling pins ;)), the content makes me wonder the neat research you’ve done with illustrations. I tend to feel low amongst other girls when the discussion is about beauty parlour strategies. I wasnt daring enough so far to get even a facial done for myself. Probably I dont have to feel that way anymore 🙂

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    1. Hey Nadhini, what is that supposed to mean? That I propagate beauty with cruelty 🙂

      Well, I find it futile to try and look like a doll in order to impress others. Turning out well to please oneself is perfect, but not to conform to some preset norms of beauty.

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  4. Hi !!
    amazingly written 🙂 I felt am the most beautiful..by the end of the post as i smiled broaaaad!!
    I always wondered at those cruel methods thinking how can inflicting a pain give beauty in ancient times..not to mention the problems with those rings in neck and those tiny uncomfy china feet… People are mad and remain mad …They take lot of pain and think No pain No gain!! In this journey they dont even realise whom they are pleasing why and what next!!!
    AWESOMELY written..This is the best of lot there 🙂

    my story if time permits–http://afshan-shaik.blogspot.com/2011/05/love-makes-life-beautiful.html

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    1. Thank you for the comment. And good that it made you smile 🙂 Keep smiling.

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  5. Loved the line…”Smile is an ornament”…in fact I actually love wearing that ornament all the time… 🙂 This post is as good as all your other posts *BIGGG* 🙂

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    1. Thanks Punit — for the comment and the smile 🙂

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  6. You are right. To look beautiful and smart people tend to go overboard at times. Men are not far behind women in this regard. Just see the number of ‘Men’s’ fairness cream, talcum powder and soap advertisements now-a-days on TV.

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    1. is it insecurity or vanity? Whatever, the parameters of beauty and fashion are blurring today.

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  7. Self-inflicted pain is not as same as cruel pain inflicted by one person on another. Its sad that in most of the cases its the women who bear the brunt of beauty.

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    1. You have out it so rightly! But look at it this way: when women inflict pain on themselves, they are probably doing it to conform to some standard of beauty set by someone else. And that makes it cruelty inflicted by another person, doesn’t it? any which way you look at it, subjecting one’s body to such pain is not worth it, don’t you agree?

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      1. Yeah, I agree. You have put it nicely.

        Today’s educated women self-inflict pain based on standards they set for themselves. yes, the media does force those standards. But, ultimately it is they who take the decision.

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  8. Beeeeutiful post this one! The lengths women go to make themselves look appealing! I still look longingly at the stilletoes that so many women walk in, but bringing myself to get rid of my flats even for a bit, is too laborious a task (and the fear of falling smack on my face with the first steps!).

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    1. Even looking at the stilletoes gives me a pain in the leg! I tried the ‘platform’ heels when I was in my 20s but gave it up when I realised that it was pointless killing myself to look taller. If I am short, so I am. so there!

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  9. What can I say but agree with every word. I hate to torture my self for beauty’s sake other than getting my eyebrows done. We havent seen you but through your posts we know that you are a beautiful person. And that’s what matters and that’s what lasts.

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    1. Why, thank you Alka! That’s a wonderful compliment 🙂 One should look presentable and not slovenly and I take care to do that. Beyond that, I am oblivious to how I look, Yes, of late I have become conscious of my eye because sometimes people come right out and ask what is wrong with it. So I have started using slightly tinted glasses to take away attention from it and prevent embarrassing questions.

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  10. Loved your post. Being simple with a smile can make a real beauty! As a saying goes : I’ve never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful.

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    1. Right on! No one with a smile can be deemed ugly. Thanks for the comment Prathima. Visit again!

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  11. Very well researched and a wonderful post..The women and men will continue to conform to society no matter what.If it is beauty for women,it is power and ambition for men..ever heard of a man talked aboiut respectfully when he is satisfied with seemingly mediocre life..

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  12. It’s really beautiful. I always wonder so much pains to look beautiful…how can people take that. Really beauty with cruelty, but after such cruelty still they don’t look beautiful.

    All the points are really so nice and message should be spread.

    About coloring hair, oh it’s fashion now, with diff. colors even.

    I always wonder how girls can use high heel sandals still they how they can walk. even tight dresses, how girls can manage this god knows.

    To take so much pains for beauty, is a slavery.

    Thanks for such a Beautiful message, and ya! Smile is best make – up. 🙂 🙂

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    1. Welcome here Mohini. You have rightly said that taking pains for the sake of beauty is slavery. But the slavery is not to someone external but one’s own vanity and insecurity and of course, ego 🙂

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  13. AMAZING!!!!! loved ur post and its the only one i love despite reading more than 20! kudos. respect you and here’s my 10000000 watt smile for u!

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    1. Thanks for the appreciation Sandy and for the smile. 🙂

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  14. Thanks for the comment, Someone is Special. 🙂

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  15. Such a ‘beautiful’ post. 😛
    I too never used to go to any saloon. But then I noticed people looking oddly at me (whilst in Mumbai), Was rejected in interviews, so finally one day go the ‘works’ done and viola next day I landed up with a job. I dont know why so much stress is given on looks when content matters.
    And yes dandavt pranam to the L and M

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    1. LOL We say that a personality of a person is half the person and half the clothes 😀 It is indeed unfortunate that looks take precedence over substance, isn’t it? But Mumbai? People are a lot more casual and accepting in that city than say, Delhi 🙂 I found it really hard to adjust to the formal Delhi culture when we shifted here from Mumbai. I will pass on the pranams to the L&M 😀

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  16. you never fail to impress me with your writing Akka. Coming here after a long time and it sure was worth it. loved the post. lots love and remembrance.

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    1. Hey Tikuli, nice to see you here too and thanks. Hope you are doing fine and having a great time 🙂 Take care!

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  17. Pratibha · · Reply

    Good post.
    But I have a difference of opinion.
    I go to the parlour and I also colour my hair, because of ‘feel good factor’. My husband cant even make out the difference in ‘before’ and ‘after’. (Probably his theory matches with your L&M).
    You wont believe, but the first time, I got my facial done, I slept and they let me sleep as they did not have any clients. You see, inspite of trying hard, she is unable to find black heads on my face. Of course, now I tell them to wake me up, as I invariably sleep during facials. I find the whole process sooooo soothing & refreshing.
    I dont wear high heels, because I run, no time to waste in walking.

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    1. Hey Pratibha, what I love about your comments are your delicious way of disagreeing 🙂 I never said anything about going to the beauty parlour or even dyeing the hair. Only about how I hate the former and I find it amusing when 70 and 80 year olds dye their hair black! You are still a young woman and not trying to impress the world or torturing your body, are you? And yes, the real L&Ms can see the beauty of the person they have married. 🙂

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  18. A fantastic post ! If only men & women became more aware of just how cruel they are being to their bodies in the name of ‘beauty’.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Dazediva. Going through a beauty routine is fine as long as it makes you happy, not to conform to some elusive parameter of beauty 🙂

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  19. Nice post. Beauty is not only for women. Men love beauty. From ancient days to till today men giving importance to beauty.

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    1. You are so right. There are any number of male parlours catering to the men too. Trying to look good and being obsessive about it are two different things. I am only against being cruel to your body to appear beautiful 🙂

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  20. Lovely post Chithi! Agree with every word and essence of the post. 🙂

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    1. If the sunshine girl with the 1000W smile doesn’t agree with the essence of the post, who will? 😀

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      1. I totally agree on the 10000W smile! 🙂

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        1. You have added another 0 to the watts! Is Delhizen reading this? 🙂

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          1. of course she is reading this and blushing! :)) Chithi & Vinni, you guys make me feel as if i am blessed with the best smile in the world!

            Special one… only for you two :))))

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          2. I would have loved the real smile. How about mailing me a latest one? and yes, you are blessed with the most radiant smile. 🙂

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  21. I hopped on to here from your wordpress.com blog! and yes, my first comment on your cybernag. The theme there is lively compared to this one.

    I am one who believes spruced up beauty never holds true and i dont believe in “artification” of one’s self. I dont let my mom and sister [(girl)friends too] wear a lipstick too, I hate to see that. “Why you need to wear a lipstick” is always my stand. I does not make you look beautiful, the chemicals are just waiting to go through your esophagus.

    I once had read a book (dont remember the name) about strange customs around the world involving women and the were really strange, strange to the level that the women of the house had to pee and clean the legs of the Guest! real shame… all the customs you mentioned are absurd, and seeing the elongated lower lip was itself painful…

    Brilliant post mam…

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    1. Welcome here and sorry for the round about way in which you had to reach here. Wonder how you were directed to my old blog, though.

      I just posted my comment on your blog about letting your mother and sis and girlfriends wear lipstick if they want to 😀 You are perpetuating the argument that women feel compelled to fall into stereotypes envisaged by the males 🙂

      As for the customs I have outlined, they are not obsolete if you see the ‘then and now’ pics. They have changed forms that’s all.

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  22. Just be unselfconscious about your looks, and be happy…that is so very true, that is indeed the real beauty… 😀 Sorry, Doesn’t get wider than that 😀

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    1. Ha, ha. We must get wordpress to come up with bigger smiles, shouldn’t we? I love them, even if they are just emoticons 🙂

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  23. So true… why torture yourself to look beautiful. Of course, you can never make everyone happy with your appearance. So keep yourself and one more person happy and that is enough to make you beautiful 🙂

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    1. Why even one more person than yourself happy? Just be happy and you will be beautiful and the one other person will be too!! 😀

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  24. Thanks so much for mentioning the ways in which women pay to get tortured, or in other words beautify themselves, in the present age. Threading of eyebrows,bikini wax,facial…and whatnot. All done for the sake of a dolled up artificial look. And irrespective of what I’m writing in this comment, I know I have to honor my appointments at the parlor this month. Or else live as a social reject. 😦 I wish this whole outlook towards beauty would change soon.
    Best of luck for the contest!

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    1. That was an honest comment, I must say 🙂 I have another friend who is always well turned out, not because of her need to be appreciated, but because she loves looking good. she would be impeccably dressed even when at home and all alone! Oh, I hope I haven’t kept you away from the parlour appointment 😀

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  25. 🙂 indeed! 🙂

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    1. Thanks 🙂 🙂

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  26. Isnt it wonderful when you read some one who wants to age gracefully..I have spotted white hair on my head at 29, but I am definitely not colouring it..mehendi is an option but more because of its cooling effect on my hot head 🙂 Lovely post I so loved it!

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    1. Thanks R’s Mom. Go easy on the henna. it can make your hair a bright orange within no time as the grey spreads 🙂 early grey hair is due to some deficiency. A good naturopath would be able to help.

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  27. That is a really good post. I agree people’s perception of what is beautiful just seems to change as per the ages. Even the Renaissance paintings of rotund woman are so different from the French models today.

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    1. But what gets my goat is why women have to feel so insecure as to try and conform to silly notions of beauty? Of course, I am not saying that one should appear slovenly and unkempt, but why go to all the trouble to look like a doll?

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  28. Lovely post Aunty 🙂 I totally fully agree with you on what you have said about being beautiful. And same pinch on the fact, that even I think a smile is the best that can happen to anyone! 🙂

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    1. Hey Niru, nice to see you here! A smile is a wonderful thing and so easy to don, isn’t it? Btw, where is your lovely smile? What is this impersonal gravatar doing on my blog? 🙂

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  29. tell you what – I didnt read any post on this Dove beauty thing and it was only when i saw the end of the post that i realized yours was part of that too ! but then it was such a beautiful post… a good mix of ethnic practices, modern mannerisms and your own personal story. Great to have read that Zephyr.

    Unfortunately even companies like Dove are in same space wherein making someone beautiful is about making you fair, soft, radiant, pure -by washing your sins err… grime on your face. But I can tell ya nothing would change.. !

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    1. You know what, Mayank? What prompted me to write the post was not the contest per se, but the fact that women lament about being made to conform to beauty stereotypes by the male of the species. i find it to be the most hypocritical statement when it the innate vanity and insecurity and one-upwomanship with other women that makes them go ahead and doll up. Men who can’t see women for what they are better go and take a hike! ditto with women who talk of inner beauty without believing in their own words. for instance it was my insecurity that made me lament my looks, wasn’t it?

      Things will change when women change, not by being strident but by believing in themselves and their worth. but of course, worth is measured by the hair colour you use 😀 😀

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  30. Lovely post!

    Aging gracefully is something I, too, believe in. A neighbour of mine was so obsessed about keeping the grey in her hair from showing that she frequently coloured it. Every time, it came out a slightly different shade! Instead of admiring he hair, people used to find it funny!

    I agree- no need to wear ornaments when a smile makes person beautiful.

    There is a Subhaashit that says- no ornaments, nor garlands, nor flowers, nor hairstyle really decorate a person. These are shortlived. “वाण्येका समलङ्करोति पुरुषं या संस्कृता धार्यते |” Only the cultured/ refined speech that a person adopts decorates him.

    I think, as in the case of a smile, refined speech is indicative of inner beauty!

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    1. I love women with a head of white hair and the same with men too. It gives them dignity. but then there are those who use that as a style statement and go ahead with all kinds of anti-ageing routines 😀 I love the way you quote from the scriptures on almost all the things 🙂 Gentle speech certainly makes for dignified beauty.

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  31. Ha – i am the first one. Nice! Now i will go and read the post! 🙂

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    1. LOL I didn’t know being first was such a big thing! But that makes me feel good, thanks 🙂

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