So next time you are busy lambasting your face in the mirror for being less than perfect, do think about what a burden it would have been if you were a beauty queen.
Where do beautiful women go after one birthday too many? In an old-age home mumbling incoherently about the good old days when they were a centrefold?
In all fairy tales, princesses are stereotypical stunners of their time. Princes we are less aware of; not many fairy-taleists waste their breath on describing the hotness of kings. But a princess’s delicate hand (springing from a scenic shoulder) or gentle smile (set in an arresting face) are always exaggerated. Eyes are big, nose slender, cheek dimpled, ears discreet, the teeth never buck. The waist is cinched, legs are long, skin free of eczema. Everything from top to toe just tally-ho, as Shammi Kapoor once said with that inimitable nod.
But what are these women of legendary looks up to in their spare time? Unless one is what's without irony called ‘a woman of substance’, a continuous high-pitched harping by others on looks-looks-looks may place a fatal importance on externals.
Imagine the tragedy: one day you are a pimply adolescent struggling with maths and the next day you are declared the Aishwarya Rai of your avenue. You are feted and crowned and spun like a top on a spindly table. The future looks… topsy turvy. Everyone needs a job, but when the job is to just look a certain way forever, how does one keep that job?
A number of people go for a surgical fix and jog up a storm on the treadmill to maintain what has been hyped as their assets, but o what a scary thing it is to meet a perennially teenaged nose in the middle of ancient ruins.
In Bride of the Forest: the Untold Story of Yayati’s Daughter, a delicious new book by author Madhavi S Mahadevan, heroine Drishadvati narrowly escapes being a prisoner of her fate, which includes self-renewing virginity and an appeal that draws the male gaze. She rejects the cloying strictures society routinely strangles young women of child-bearing age with and reclaims herself in time. She calmly walks away from the good marriage, the settling down, the boring future that awaits the beauteous. By choosing the wilderness over handsome suitors, she circumvents the inlaid expectations from members of her gender. Without a spine, without a rebellion, what are we?
One hopes for their sake that Cleopatra and Helen of Troy preserved their looks to the last, that they made glam corpses at their funerals. Else, mourners may murmur: ‘But she used to be so pretty!’ Us plain Janes have it good. Not being legendary beauties or photographed constantly frees us up to live our disorderly life how we want.
So next time you are busy lambasting your face in the mirror for being less than perfect, do think about what a burden it would have been if you were a beauty queen. All your life, people will compare you to how you looked last year, when you were twenty, when you were in the pram. The ghost of the beautiful woman you used to be will haunt you till you die.Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.