Featured on Feminism in India

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I have been publishing articles on Feminism in India since January last year. And I was featured as their Writer of the Month for March 2018!

Here’s a link to the interview.

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Sexual Harassment in the Classroom

First published on Feminism in India.

When I was in 8th grade, there was a new ‘joke’ spreading in my school. “Sone ka bhaav kya hai?” (What is the value of “sone”?) the boys would ask us girls, sniggering. The joke hinged on a crass pun, you see. Most of the girls would assume that ‘sona’ meant gold, and would respond accordingly. But ‘sona’ also meant sleeping. So what the guys were actually asking the girls was “What’s the price of sleeping with you?” or “What’s your rate?”

Classrooms are rarely free of ‘non-veg’ jokes and sexual innuendos. Cast your minds back to the good old school days, and your memories will be peppered with ridiculous songs (A and B sitting on a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G), words turned into cringe-worthy acronyms (IDIOT = ‘I Do Ishq Only Tumse’, a Hinglish version of ‘I love only you’), inappropriate and often offensive language (‘randi’ meaning prostitute and ‘gay’ among others) and uncomfortable physical contact.

WHILE MANY DISMISS THESE INSTANCES AS JUST PUBERTY, I CALL THEM THE BEGINNING OF NORMALIZED SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

There is a shared understanding of why this happens. That children are sitting ducks hit by the sudden wave of hormonal imbalance and biological change. They want to talk about sex, but no one else wants to talk about it. So the topic of sex becomes taboo, finding an outlet through humour and inappropriate touching. But while many dismiss these instances as a symptom of puberty, I call them the beginning of normalized sexual harassment.

Let me give you an example. When I was in 10th grade, a boy in my class decided he liked me. Let us call him X. X would stare at me all day in class, making me self-conscious. But that discomfort was nothing compared to the disgust I felt when he tried to touch me. You would say there was nothing inappropriate about him touching my arm (which is all he did), but it was a bad touch, the kind that would bring a huge smile on his face, after which he would turn around and look at his friends, who nodded encouragingly. His hands would linger, and I would flinch, and pull away from him. But he would keep finding ways to touch me; during conversations, and while walking past me in the classroom, or in a crowded corridor.

AT NO POINT DID IT OCCUR TO ME THAT I COULD JUST SAY ‘NO’.

I wanted it to stop, but I did not dare to go tell the teachers or my parents, afraid that they would think I was a ‘bad girl’ who consorted with boys. Deeply troubled, I confided in my friends, who promptly began teasing me with him. “He’s doing that because he likes you!” they said. I was filled with disgust and shame. I was finding it difficult to focus on my studies, and I blamed myself for not being able to ignore the whole thing.

But at no point during this entire ordeal did it ever occur to me that I could just tell him to stop. That I could just say ‘No’. I finally got X to stop, by seeking help from his bulkier friend, Y. Y then proceeded to follow me around for a year, believing that I had ‘chosen’ him over X.

Looking back, this incident and my inability to handle it well seems ridiculous, trivial even. But it was all-consuming for a harrowed student preparing for her board exams. And if you think that these incidents are just harmless distractions, think again.

In 9th grade, a boy in my class had started molesting girls who had the misfortune of sitting on the bench in front of him, by groping their butt. No one said a word, except for one girl. Let us call her S. She got up from her seat in the middle of a lecture, and gave the boy a resounding slap. The teacher paused, called S to the table, spoke to her briefly, then did nothing. The next time S slapped him during a lecture, the teacher ignored the incident and continued teaching. In the course of that year, S slapped the boy five to six times. Of course responding to harassment with violence does not always end well. But back then S was my personal hero. Because she could do what I couldn’t. She could say ‘No’.

We don’t think of such instances when we talk about sexual harassment. It has been relegated to the domain of the public; the deserted streets, the high-spirited bars, the crowded trains. But we forget that sexual harassment and molestation can also take place indoors; within the boundaries of our own homes, and in classrooms.

India and Child Sexual Abuse

Unfortunately, India’s legal system is far from equipped to deal with the complexities of sexual harassment. Until five years ago there was no legislation to curb or even acknowledge the sexual abuse faced by minors in the country.

But a study conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 across 13 states showed that 53 percent of Indians between the ages of 5 and 18 reported facing some form of sexual abuse, out of which 53 percent of the cases were reported by males and 47 percent by females. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law was finally passed in 2012, criminalizing child rape, harassment and exploitation for pornography. Now it is slowly garnering attention, with mainstream movies like ‘Kahaani 2‘ bringing the issue to the forefront.

UNTIL 5 YEARS AGO THERE WAS NO LEGISLATION TO CURB OR EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.

But the discourse is still limited to minors being harassed by adults in positions of power and influence (such as relatives, family friends and teachers). A study in the schools of Goa in 2003 showed that 33 percent of students studying in 11th grade said that they had been verbally abused by fellow-students in the past 12 months, while 18% reported physical abuse.

This kind of abuse has been normalized and often glorified in popular Bollywood movies, from the recent ‘street-harassment’ songs to the earlier ‘college-harassment’ ones. Songs like Khud ko kya samajhti hai and khambe jaisi khadi hai have normalized harassment of girls in colleges for being too rich, too smart or too fashionable.

The conversation around similar harassment in schools is negligible. There is a growing awareness about this in the US, where a survey showed that 48 percent of students faced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year. But while US has acknowledged the importance of curbing abuse at a young age, India is still several steps behind.

Understanding Consent

The obvious step that India can take is to establish committees in educational institutions to address such grievances, like the ones made mandatory for work spaces. But this only serves as a band-aid to the problem, and a very poor one at that.

The first step towards addressing these issues is to acknowledge that these instances of sexual harassment do not appear out of the blue. They are symptoms of a much deeper problem – a lack of understanding of personal space and consent.

When our peers crack dirty sexual jokes in front of us because they think we are cool and one of them, we do not want to dispel this notion by expressing our discomfort. When someone stands a little too close for comfort while talking to us, we force ourselves to get used to it, because that is how they talk to everyone. These are minor negotiations that we start making in school, and continue making in our lifetime. We choose likability over comfort, because that is what we are taught to value.

This reflects back in our schools, where teachers themselves often fail to understand consent. In 7th grade, a boy sitting behind me in class would touch me at inappropriate places between the waist and shoulder (think sideboob). He did not understand why it was inappropriate for him to touch me there, when the boys did not mind it at all. In fact my annoyance seemed to encourage him further.

Fed up of his tactics, I walked up to the teacher one day and complained about him. But the teacher addressed the situation not by shouting at him or explaining what he was doing wrong, but by simply asking him to sit somewhere else. I went back to my seat feeling extremely dissatisfied. I knew this wouldn’t change anything. He would just torment another girl who might be too frightened to report him.

IN A CULTURE WHERE ALL SEXUAL CONTACT IS BAD SEXUAL CONTACT, TEACHERS DO NOT WANT TO BE THE ONES EXPLAINING SEX TO CHILDREN.

This is a pattern we see all through school, where issues of body and personal space are left unaddressed, and often ignored. This discourages students from sharing their concerns with the teachers, who themselves are unsure of how to deal with such incidents. In a culture where all sexual contact is bad sexual contact, they do not want to be the ones explaining sex to children.

The change we need will happen slowly, with seminars and workshops for teachers to sensitize them to the concepts of the body and consent. Maybe we can develop a set of guidelines that teachers could follow when such incidents occur, to ensure they are handled in a firm and sensitive manner.

Maybe we could have videos for students on consent and what is considered appropriate or inappropriate in the classroom, like the period video they show adolescent girls in school, but less annoying. A few non-profits are already working in this direction, by providing gender sensitization workshops for teachers. But looking at the state of educational institutions in our country, and their sheer number, we have a long way to go.

Towards a Better Future

Sexual harassment is only a small part of the abuse that can be faced by minors in schools today. I cannot even begin to enter the domain of the sexist, homophobic, racist and casteist jokes and slurs thrown around often. And with the rise of social media, the abuse becomes more creative and violent by the day. The continued acceptance of such humor shapes the way we look at others and ourselves. It creates divisions of us and them, and generates an atmosphere of intolerance.

If schools are our first step into modern society, then adolescence is the perfect time to cultivate ideas of inclusivity and acceptance. To build a more nuanced understanding of gender, sexuality and the body, and to weed out sexual violence from our vocabulary. If we are able to make our classrooms harassment-free, the deserted roads, the crowded trains and the entire internet would become much safer for us all.

People Ruin Beautiful Things

Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one, people ruin beautiful things.

– Khalil Gibran

She wore her pink earrings. The bright pink ones, that looked like tic-tac clips hanging from her ears. She wore her yellow kurta and her white leggings, her blue eyeliner and her red lipstick. And after she was done wearing everything she wanted to wear, she examined herself in the mirror.

Not bad, she thought, proud of her new creation. She enjoyed it, this intuitive mixing and matching of parts to create a new whole. It was the reason she enjoyed cooking; throwing ingredients together to create something unexpected.

She twirled in front of the mirror, appreciating how the clothes fit on her curves. Her mother would say she’s not conventionally pretty. But then Meera never wanted to be conventional.

“Are you done?” Mother had popped her head into the room. “They’ll be here any second!” She paused to give Meera a disapproving look, before rushing back to the kitchen. She had asked her stubborn daughter to wear something nice, something that would make her look beautiful and feminine. But Meera insisted on being her usual flamboyant self. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, her maternal instinct reared to protect her daughter from her own criticism. “They should like her for who she is.” The mother just wanted her odd child to be happy.

Meera was still admiring herself in the mirror when mother called her outside. She burst into the living room like a blast of air, to find a roomful of people staring at her. Taken aback a little by the sheer number of people (she’d expected 2-3) and the silence that followed, she tiptoed to the only empty seat in the room, right next to her mother.

Once she had settled herself comfortably, the questions began. How old was she? What was her plan for the future? (This one was asked by the boy) She turned to him with glittering eyes and a passionate voice and began talking about her hopes and dreams. By her third sentence she saw his eyes glaze over; a blank expression now stood in those intelligent brown eyes.

Meera’s voice faltered, unsure of what she’d seen. The woman to his right, presumably his mother, took this opportunity to ask the next question, cutting Meera off mid-sentence. “All that is fine beta. But you’ll be taking care of our son as well. We’re a modern family, so you can work part time if you want.”

Meera turned to the woman with creased eyebrows. “You can cook, right?” the woman persisted.

“No.” Meera stared defiantly into the woman’s eyes. Her mother suppressed a smile. Meera had made her decision.

Every question after that was met by staunch opposition, and obstinate denials for things that Meera could do, and did in her own house. And when that intelligent brown eyed boy tried to sneak in a question of his own, her eyes bore into his with a blazing defiance, causing him to stutter. Her mother observed the growing tension in the room with growing amusement, making no efforts to diffuse the situation. Her daughter seemed to have inherited her knack for making people uncomfortable and watching them squirm.

The outsiders could finally take no more, and politely announced the end of the meeting. Finally! Meera sighed as the guests headed for the door. “This is a good thing.” she heard an uncle whisper reassuringly to the boy’s mother. “She’s a bit fat for him, don’t you think?”

Meera headed for her room, and positioned herself in front of the mirror again. She took a long look at herself as she began to wipe the color off her lips.Her cheeks were a little too chubby, her kurta a little too bright, her body a little too big, her breasts a little too small. She smiled, as her critical eyes found fault in every part of her body. “People ruin beautiful things.”

I’m a Prisoner of Kaajal, and I Love It!

My tormentor has many names; eye pencil, eye liner, eye color. Sometimes it looks like a pen so you can’t call it eye pencil, and the advertisements call it kaajal, but it’s apparently not kaajal. But let’s not delve into the confusing world of eye makeup more than we have to. For the sake of my sanity, and yours, let’s just call all of it kaajal. Because I’m a prisoner of that (mostly) black curve we draw under our eyes, and sometimes over our eyes, to make them pop, whatever that means.

Now I’ve never been one to high dive into the pool of makeup products and trends (as is evident from my earlier mini-rant). I was the girl who would be happy with dipping her toe into the water and calling it a  day. I’m talking about black kaajal and lip balms. And of course, flavored lip balms for those days when I felt a bit adventurous. I kept it simple, because I was fortunate enough to consider myself fairly pretty. And I was too lazy to make an effort.

Then I went to stay on a campus, and things changed considerably. When you live with people your age 24/7, you lose all sense of shame and decency. And because they see you at your most hideous (think uncombed hair, unshaven legs and armpits, bra-less and possibly covered in food crumbs), you lose all motivation to look good. But somewhere down the line, applying kaajal became as routine as brushing my teeth. Because those were the two things I would do before rushing for an early morning class.

But I didn’t realize how dependent I had become on this tiny little stick, until tragedy struck. A few months ago, I underwent Lasik surgery, to correct my eyesight. And just like I had to abstain from technology for a few days after the surgery, I had to abstain from wearing kaajal for a month.

Yes, a month. And although it seemed like a small price to pay, that month was, for lack of a better word, disastrous. My confidence decided to jump off a cliff, leaving me alone with self-image and body issues that I never knew I had. I would look at myself in the mirror with critical eyes; my eyes were too baggy, my face was too dull. I would actively avoid stepping out of the house, because I didn’t feel good about myself. And if I did, I would keep asking my sister or friends if I looked ‘bad’.

I know all this sounds superficial, but this insecurity stemmed from an idea that I wasn’t good enough as I was. That I needed something extra to me make me look even presentable. That anything more than the little black line was too much, and implied that I was trying too hard.

Now I’ve become bolder, and my collection has widened to colorful eye pencils and lipsticks; lots and lots of lipsticks. I’ve received flak for wearing them, because I’m not supposed to be a “girly girl” who likes dressing up. Because it’s my intellect that makes me interesting, and my IQ drops every time I color my eyes and lips. Because I’m giving in to consumerism, and beauty ideals propagated by patriarchy.

But it doesn’t matter. Because now when I look in the mirror and apply that black curve, I do it for me. And sometimes when I don’t apply anything, I still look beautiful to me.

From Tongue Twisters to Mind Twisters

Feminism. Femininity. Feminine. Feminist. Feminazi.

These words keep ringing in my head. Over and over like the constant ringing of bells at a temple. String them together and try repeating them over and over, and they sound like the tongue twisters we used to struggle with as kids.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
Feminism. Femininity. Feminine. Feminist. Feminazi.

What do these words even mean? I ask myself. Do they really mean different things? Are they the same? Do they mean anything good? Is their meaning ever not negative?

Why should they be negative?  I ask myself. Why should my identity, my existence, be doused in such poor a light? To be cast into a mould named ‘feminine’, and be labelled as weak and submissive, unintelligent and incapable, words I would never use to describe myself. To be cast into the other mould named ‘feminist’, and be labelled angry, bitchy, man-hater, lesbian, words that still fail to do justice to everything that I stand for.

On and on it goes, the donning of one label after another, until the boundaries begin to blur, and all that remains is an umbrella of nothing and everything. Of delicate strength and furious weakness. A label of contradictions that engulfs you and me, and holds everything we stand for.

Feminism. Femininity. Feminine. Feminist. Feminazi.

I repeat the words in my head again. Stringing them together to blur the lines between them. Waiting for a new identity. Hoping for a new existence.

Sita Sings the Blues: A Modern Ramayana

Adaptations mean different things to different people. Some like them, some don’t. Some do not care enough to have strong opinions about them. Personally, I dislike adaptations; especially book to film adaptations. They are either boring  and lack creativity, or they are too concise and unfaithful to the original. But what irks me the most is that the movie is never as good as the book.

Since I’m interested in mythology and folklore, the Ramayana and Mahabharata hold a special place in my heart. So when I was told to watch Sita Sings the Blues for my Film and Literature course, I grudgingly obliged. I was surprised to see that the film was not what I expected. It was so much more.

The film had me hooked from the start, with its artful animation, satirical elements and the beautiful blues songs. I loved Nina Paley’s understanding of Ramayana as a breakup story, drawing parallels between it and her own life. I loved her interpretation of the Hindu gods, especially the sassy dancing Shiva.

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My favourite thing about this film, though, are the three shadow puppets. A fusion between narrators and spectators, they take the story forward while raising questions that we, as readers or viewers of Ramayana in the 21st century would ask.

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Masked with satire and humour, their profound questions stayed with me long after the film was over.

Why did Sita not go back with Hanuman? Why did Ram send Sita away? Was Ravan really as bad as he is believed to be?

The three puppets have different opinions regarding these questions, and discuss them just like I would discuss this with my friends.

As if this wasn’t enough, the movie is from Sita’s perspective, and is a feminist adaptation, which gives it more points in my book. Although the representation is taken too far at times, dramatizing certain actions to emphasize Ram’s cruelty. The songs are beautifully heartbreaking, and the entire film is simply a treat to the eyes, ears and mind.

The film ends with Lakshmi or Sri relaxing on the Shesh Naga while Vishnu massages her feet, while in the beginning of the film, we see the exact opposite. This scene could mean different things. As a feminist adaptation, it  could signify the hope of women empowerment. Or it might signify that the story does not end here and they meet again and are united at last.

I would like to believe in the first interpretation. But no matter what you believe, the movie is definitely worth watching.

P.S. You can watch the movie online or download it here.

Why India needs Feminism

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend, and the conversation somehow turned to sexual harassment. (Yes, that does happen!) I asked him if he’d ever been sexually harassed. “Not as far as I remember” he answered.

I began narrating my first encounter with sexual harassment, as one of those incidents in your past that you look back and chuckle at. Before I knew it, instance after instance flooded my mind, and I began recounting every single time I had been sexually harassed: in school (multiple times!), in buses, rickshaws, crowded places, you name it. And this was without even considering the times I had been leered or whistled at!

As single incidents, they had seemed inconsequential, trivial even. Why get riled up about something that was now a part of daily life? But grouped together, they implied one simple thing that has been overlooked for too long. There’s something terribly wrong with our society.

I had always heard the stories, the statistics. Joked with my friends about how getting harassed in public places was a part of daily life. How it happened at least once to every girl. And since this was not going to change, how we had to learn to protect ourselves.

I still remember ‘holding the bag’ technique, which my mum had taught me that when I was barely 12, as men kept ‘accidentally’ touching my chest as I followed her around the crowded market. You basically maintain a guarded stance with your hand crossed in front of your chest and your elbow jutting out, under the pretense of clutching your bag. And whenever a man brushes too close by, you hit him with your elbow or fist, just enough to keep him at a distance.

I thought nothing of it at the time. Until last year, a friend from Chennai came to stay at my place for a few days, and I had to teach her the technique. “Warrior pose” she called it, laughing at my serious face as I insisted she maintain that pose whenever we were in a crowded place.

But “warrior pose” was an apt term for whatever that was. Because although we don’t realize it, we are at war. We’re at war if every time we enter a public space, we are scared, or worse, oblivious to the ‘male gaze’. We’re at war if sexual harassment is so common, we don’t even recognize it as harassment anymore.

And that’s why India needs Feminism. Because no person; man, woman or other, should feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a space that’s fundamentally meant for everyone.

Feminism: The Flip Side

Four years ago, I was tagged in a note on Facebook. It was written by a girl from my school; one that I had never really spoken to before.

Girls are so special.

I was surprised and curious, and not sure what to expect. ‘Probably something feel-good,’ I thought, ‘like chocolate!’

It started off with ‘We can use tears as a threat…. most guys wont hit us…’. Bewildered, and a little annoyed, I read on. ‘We can always find someone to pay for our drinks…’ the note continued. ‘No matter how mean we are we can always get someone to fall in love with us.’ It went on and on. A never-ending parade of sentences that left me with nothing but a horrified look on my face and anger in my heart.

Today, the note caught my eye again. Just lying there innocently pinned to my profile. And all the anger and frustration that I felt came rushing back.

Because I knew. The content and attitude of that note is why Feminism is failing, why it is not taken seriously. Why men are attacked or hurt every single day under the name of Feminism. Why feminists are called men haters. For every woman out there who is being abused or raped or denied an education, there is a woman berating or manipulating men to get what she wants under the guise of empowerment.

The idea that victimization of women can be resolved by victimizing men instead is incredulous! We tend to forget that for centuries, if women have been restricted to being ‘feminine’ because of gender roles, men have also been restricted to being ‘masculine’. Our fight isn’t against men, it’s with them.

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So this is a call to all women, and a reminder to myself, that our fight is against the system, not the man.

Why don’t I just untag myself from the note so I never have to see it again? Well I thought about it, and decided not to.

That note still sits on my profile, acting as a reminder of the flip side of feminism.

Pink: A Feminist Rant

Being a feminist can be really complicated.

Anything and everything can piss you off! From people organizing rangoli making and threading the needle competitions for Mothers’ Day (how dare the emphasize outdated gender roles?! Is that all women are supposed to do or be good at?!) to women having to take their husband’s surname and live in his house (just shows how strongly patriarchal our society is!)

Let’s just not get into the pink for girls, blue for boys debate! I like blue AND pink AND yellow. Deal with it.

We want women and men to be treated as equals. No doubt women have suffered horrific ordeals through the ages and some still do. But in the quest for equality, are we, the so called ‘feminist’ urban women (lower classes rarely have the time or energy or knowledge to proclaim themselves feminist) ready to give up the benefits we now receive for being women?!

We are trapped in a warped society where attempts are made at giving us an edge over the men instead of changing people’s mindset in general. We receive free education, reservation in colleges, workplaces, trains, buses, you name it! But that holds true for all the women, no matter the class.

We, the feminists, have clashing ideas and values. We want men to treat us as equals, but like them holding open doors, pulling back our chairs or lifting our heavy luggage.  We get enraged when we hear of a guy ‘beating’ up his girlfriend or wife, even if it may be a playful punch or a whack on the back. But we have no qualms hitting guys ourselves, knowing well that they can’t hit us back because that’s not what gentlemen do.

I’m not saying that these problems don’t exist. Domestic violence is super underrated and prevalent. But it doesn’t happen to us. We have no right to give guys who don’t hit women a hard time because others do. When we hit guys it’s funny. Would it still be funny if they hit you?!

The worst problem is the sexualization of women, which quite frankly, happens a lot everywhere! We don’t want to be looked at, nay leered at, like sexual objects waiting to be possessed by whoever wants some. We want some respect, that as fellow human beings, you have the decency to look at our face when you talk to us and not let your eyes trail down there. Most of all, we don’t want to feel embarrassed if and when this happens. Why should we be embarrassed that you are a douche?! And why should we feel embarrassed of having normal physical parts of the body?!

But here occurs another double standard. We don’t want them to perceive us as sexual objects. But we dress to impress! I DO NOT want to get into the debate of women getting raped because they wear revealing clothes, which is BULLSHIT. And we DO want the freedom to wear whatever we want and not be judged or raped or ogled at for it. But let’s face it, if a guy which a great bod walked on the streets without a shirt on or wearing an unbuttoned shirt, the thoughts running in our head would not be very nice.

Imagine Hrithik Roshan walking past you on the road shirtless. Your thoughts are NOT gonna be –

Oh look! Hrithik! He’s such a good actor! Super emotive, also a good dancer. I bet he has a great mind. I would like to discuss current events with him over coffee someday!

Not what you’re gonna be thinking. So if you wear something that almost or completely shows your girls, the boys are gonna look!

I have no solution for this. These are just questions my feminist mind raises.

Do the other feminists out there have an answer?  Comment below!

Happily Ever After…? Part II – The Beauty Ideal

There are so many things wrong about fairy tales, that we don’t even realize. I don’t even know where to start!

P.S. If you’re confused, you should probably read my previous post on this topic – Happily Ever After…? Part I

If you already have, carry on.

Take the Beauty ideal, for example. What do these women really do in their lives, to have such happy endings? Just sit there helplessly and look beautiful? Simply looking pretty gets the prince to fall in love with them, whether they are awake, asleep or dead! And then they live happily ever after.

So basically, since childhood we’re being taught that we need to be beautiful to be happy. Really?! And it’s not even your own standard of beauty. You have to be what the society considers beautiful. Back then it was long hair; black or blonde, sometimes red with super-fair skin and red lips. Now, it’s being super skinny!

But what if I don’t want to be skinny? What if I consider myself beautiful and am happy with the way I am? Does that mean I’m not gonna be happy in life?

We girls/women (whichever you prefer 😉 ) sit and watch the world tumble around us. We see girls, pretty girls, waste away their lives trying to meet someone else’s definition of beautiful.

We see ourselves being labelled every single day by men, by society. Heck! We label them ourselves!

We make fun of girls who put on way too much make up. Fat girls are ugly. Skinny ones are bitches. Athletic ones are manly. Feminine ones are girly. Bulimic girls. Girls who eat their pain away.

We try different hairstyles; straighten, curl, iron our hair, use a variety of beauty products, wax, bleach, wear tight dresses, uncomfortable heels for what? Just to be called ‘beautiful’? I’m not saying that we only do it for male approval, or that we shouldn’t do it at all! Making that little extra effort to look good makes me feel confident too. But why go through physical pain for all of this?

Let’s get this clear in our heads. We do not need to look ‘beautiful’ to be happy. We’re all beautiful, and we all deserve to be happy!

It’s time we unlearn this idea. Because it causes immense unhappiness.

Don’t believe me? Just look around.

Happily Ever After…?! Part I

Fairy tales. Stories of magic and happy endings.

We all grow up with them. Especially the girls! Dreaming of colourful dresses and glass slippers, of being the fairest in the land and dancing with Prince Charming! And with the Disney films, we don’t even have to imagine how beautiful it all is! We watch these movies with wonder and joy, imagining ourselves as the gorgeous princess in her beautiful clothes.

It all sounds so rosy; a picture of perfect innocence. But is it?

Have you ever wondered who came up with these stories? These are folk tales from all over Europe, passed down from generation to generation, until they were recorded and compiled by the Grimm brothers.  If you read the original tales, which are easily available online as the Grimm’s version, you’ll see how gruesome they are. Completely inappropriate for the impressionable minds!

In the Grimm version, which could very well be the original version, Cinderella’s step sisters cut their toes off to try to fit into her dainty little glass slipper!

In Sleeping Beauty, the princess does not wake up to true love’s kiss. In fact, her ‘prince’ who is a married finds her asleep in the castle and ‘cannot resist the sight of her ravishing beauty’. In plain words, he rapes her while she’s asleep and goes back to his own kingdom. She becomes pregnant but remains asleep until childbirth, when somehow the poison is ejected from her body when her children are born. Yes, she has twins.  And she lives with them in that castle. One day, the king is passing by that castle and he happens to see her and the kids living there. So he brings them home and keeps them there, right it front of his wife’s eyes! Long Live the King!

And it doesn’t even end here! In a fit of rage and jealousy, the queen tries to kill Sleeping Beauty and her children. (Wouldn’t you?) But the king saves them on time. They kill the queen and live happily ever after!!

Such are the gruesome folk tales, that were passed down generations, to teach the women to be chaste, to be pure. To teach them the result of jealousy. To warn them of the consequences of not adhering to societies rules. To teach them how to behave.

You should be like the princess, innocent and happy to meet the king and go to his kingdom, raise his children. Not like the queen, who was jealous and hateful, or you will meet a horrible end just like her!

The stories have changed over time; their brutality has been masked with beauty and innocence. But those teachings still remain, lurking in the shadows. Which is even more dangerous!

They don’t explicitly tell us how to behave. But they create certain notions in our minds:

I need  a man to complete my life. Only then will I be truly happy.

Oh I’m in a problem! Not to worry! I will just sit here feeling helpless waiting for someone to come and fix my problems! Maybe a handsome prince! Or a fairy godmother?! Because what can I do by myself?

Oh how can I trust other women? Women are always jealous and hateful! Look at all the stepmothers and stepsisters. Is there a single story where a woman is nice to another woman?

Being the Damsel in Distress isn’t in anymore. We need to write our own fairy tales. We need to rescue ourselves.