"Beauty is only skin deep" they say – yeah sure, easier said, I would say. Is there anyone who actually does "look" beyond the external and see the person inside, for all he or she is worth?
From the approximately four decades of my existence in this world, I have mostly encountered people who take one sweeping look at you from head to foot (that’s not much where I’m concerned), and deal with you based on some weird judgement that they quickly passed. By the unmistakable tone of it, you’ve probably have guessed it right, yes, the treatment is unfair. Sigh.
For me, life has sure seemed kinder to the fairer ones (which I’m not, if you hadn’t guessed by now). Back at school, the fairer girls were teachers’ pets and they literally did get away with everything, right under our very noses, while those of us with darker complexions had to slog it out just to get noticed! That’s probably the reason why I felt I hardly existed.
As a child, I would overhear conversations about how someone was looking for a "fair" bride , but they also sneeringly referred to those few, fair ones as being the result of some "cross- breed" somewhere down the line. Oh yes, caste-ism and being pure-bred (apart from having enough dough for dowry), were very vital in match-making, which by the way, wasn’t always made in heaven.
Growing up in conservative south India we girls never bothered about the way we looked or the way we dressed. Some of the pictures from my teenage years actually make me cringe now as I see a scrawny girl in an oversized sack-like churidar, well-oiled hair tied into a tight pony tail and absolutely no make up on at all. No wonder I was uninteresting to boys! But the best part was that all my friends dressed that way, so I didn’t feel the need to compare or have standards to meet.
So strict were the rules in our society that, standing in front of the mirror for more than a minute was considered narcissistic, dressing to flaunt your figure was frowned upon, dresses had to cover you down to your ankles, and basically, anything and everything that you did to enhance your appearance was "indecent" as it would draw unnecessary attention to yourself, which was totally uncalled for. All right, I’ll give it to them as just being cautious in bringing up a girl, and seeing to it that nothing untoward happens – a protective umbrella, if you will.
Going out with friends (all girls, of course) for movies or just hanging out at their place was banned, for fear of trouble with….the ‘B’ word - BOYS. Having by now established the fact that boys were taboo, my fear factor of them was so strong that I would try to hide whenever we ran into them for fear of not knowing what to say. I considered them as another species that happened to co-exist with us girls on this planet. Having studied in an all-girl's school and an all-girl's college didn’t help much in my paranoia of the opposite gender. I happily went on with life, blissfully unaware of all the black heads, white heads and facial hair on my face - which I incidentally was made to believe, made me look more beautiful!
It was a couple of days prior to my engagement, when I first stepped into a beauty parlour, that I heard the word "facial" for the first time. I decided to go ahead with it, in the hope that it would make me fair and beautiful, beyond my wildest dreams! Well, a couple of (painful) hours later, I reached home with a red, swollen face and my folks were shell-shocked. When they finally recovered I had fire breathing down my neck from all quarters - apparently, applying make up and trimming your eyebrows was…. unChristian-like from their perspective. Feeling guilty, I vowed never to touch my face again, except to powder it occasionally. And yes, I did look like I had jumped off of Mars on D-day.
My husband and I moved to Delhi three years back, and that’s when I realised how I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everywhere I looked, I saw beautiful women flitting by like colourful butterflies. I was caught many times by my husband (who was by the way, thoroughly amused by all this), ogling at the slim, long haired, chic and stylish Delhi girls. He had been trying his best to change the way I dressed, for a long time now, and had almost given up. Finally, something stirred in me, and I too wanted to look as good as them. It was a painful and slow transition, going against all the rules that I grew up with, to start dressing well, comb my hair differently and try to look attractive. I felt that it was not wrong to look good for your husband or dress smart, as it did a great deal of good to my confidence.
A few desperate attempts later, it dawned on me that I couldn't miraculously change my figure (or the lack of it thereof) or the way I look or walk. I struck a moderate cord in-between looking shabby and looking gorgeous. I called it - looking presentable.
I have finally come to realise that there is no use trying to copy someone else’s style just to blend in or be accepted or loved. God loves me just the way I am as I have been intricately woven together in my mother’s womb by my Creator, to look the way I do – skin colour et al. I started focusing on all that I have been blessed with, rather than dwelling on what I lacked and I was pleasantly taken aback.
I am grateful for the blessing of a wonderful family, good health and above all, the gift of salvation. I am thankful for all those qualities in me like patience, flexibility, gentleness (not always though) and many more, that are all His gifts that make me, ME. He wants me to use these gifts in spreading His love and compassion around me, instead of sitting around, moping about trivial issues that do not matter.
I have also come to realise that outer beauty will fade in due course but inner beauty stands the test of time. God is more concerned about how beautiful my thoughts, mind and heart are rather than my external appearance . 1 Peter 3:4-6 says, "But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious."
God’s word makes it clear that we are all beautiful to Him and He loves us - red or yellow, black or white, we are precious in His sight – as the words of my favourite Sunday school song often remind me of this simple fact.
Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
When my heart is filled with all the above thoughts, it will overflow into a beautiful, radiant me that will reflect on my face, enough to infect those who I come into contact with, and ultimately make them feel cherished as well. There are still many desirable qualities that are work in progress. I need His strength and guidance every day as I try to constantly renew my mind and strive, to one day look drop-dead gorgeous on the inside! No moderate stand there.