Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 43, Tuesday, May 3, 2005



The imperfections of a 'Picture-Perfect' woman

Dear Mother,
I am so much more
than a pretty bit of lace
diamond shine lips
and lavender perfume.
I am cuts and scabs
I am bruises and heartaches
I am beautiful.

Isn't it strange how some women tend to lose touch with their sense of self as soon as they have a man in their lives? How is it that the man becomes the be-all and end-all of one's existence, the focal point of every shred of energy, the center of one's universe? Are Bangali women doomed to a life that borders on servitude? If so, how have we reached such a devastating point?

No doubt, the answer lies in the fact that we have been 'conditioned' into somehow embracing the notion that a 'good girl' should act a certain way. These entail restrictions such as, not mingling too much with the opposite sex, not going out to parties, and so on and so forth. Even nuances such as sitting a certain way, or laughing too loud are constantly checked by our mothers or aunts. If we're not tied up with the all-consuming question of whether we should wear red stones with a pink sari, we are being minutely monitored for personal conduct. This lifelong grooming continues till it culminates into marriage.

I know I'm walking a fine line, and I'm also aware of the fact that not all women have had such a restrictive upbringing. And thankfully, not all women put their eggs in one basket and see marriage as the ultimate goal, the grand finale they've been eagerly awaiting all their lives. There are however women in their mid and early twenties who complete their basic graduation, only to sit at home and twiddle their thumbs and embark on a fascist beauty regime till the marriage proposals start pouring in. If they don't, frustration rears its ugly head, coupled with a flood of anxiety as the years start rolling and proposals grow scarcer by the day. It is almost as though women were live, ticking, 'ageing' bombs about to go off, saved only by the bell--marriage!


A dear friend of mine was married last winter. During her Holud ceremony, a group of friends sat around chatting about marriage in general and the discussion shifted towards single women in Dhaka. One of the girls who'd gotten married right after her A'Levels declared with much conviction that a woman is a spinster once she turns 27, and how difficult a time she would have in trying to 'catch' a husband. A shocking statement, but more so when many seriously agreed. A silence hung in the air and the expressions of a few grew grim.

The girl had opened a whole can of worms, and confessions began spilling out. One girl admitted she was worried, another mentioned how her parents were 'going out of their minds' trying to find someone she liked. It was clear that the subliminal message to all and sundry were, you're somehow not worth much, that you're literally half a being if you haven't found your 'other half'. It doesn't matter if you're an educated, self-respecting woman with a good job. You'll still be given sympathetic gazes or retorts such as 'her parents still can't get her married.'

A pretty young cousin of mine had it all. She was 27 at the time, single, with a great job at UNICEF. We'd met after a long time at someone's wedding, and she seemed content, full of mirth as she sauntered about with her group of friends. As I sat at a distance watching her with a degree of admiration, a relative sitting next to my mother sighed, indicated towards my cousin and declared, "Poor girl. You know, she's finally getting married!"

The pressure on women to look good--translate that as 'fair'--is relentless. The formula is a simple one. The fairer you are, the greater your chances of catching a prospective mother-in-law's eye, and the better your chances of acquiring a husband. (Ofcourse, add to that a degree of timidity or shyness--an indication that the girl won't 'talk back' or protest--and voila, you have the perfect specimen…
pardon, the perfect 'woman'). Weddings, dinner invitations, shopping malls, salons, fast food joints, banks, you name it--it has all become a veritable surveillance ground for prospective mothers-in-law and ghotoks eagerly scanning for prospective brides.

As a result, mothers become ruthless with the fruit and yogurt packs, and criticize every morsel of snack that enters your mouth. Indian television screen goddesses and women's magazines dictate what the proper width of your hips and your waistline should be. If you don't like the man your relatives have set up for you, you get a hard time and are labeled 'picky'. A friend was literally nagged and made to feel bad when an ambassador's son she had refused got married to a much younger girl. An otherwise intelligent and independent woman, she was suffering from self-doubts and low esteem by the time her parents got done with their grilling session.

So what does it all come down to? Self-distorted body images, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, and finally, a lot of grief if the marriage does not last. If it does, consider yourself the one born with a silver spoon in your mouth; after all, there seems to be no dearth of schizophrenics, abusive sociopaths or closet homosexuals nowadays. But hey, we're not going to let it stop us from our ongoing quest of moulding, re-shaping, and re-constructing our daughter, sister, niece, wife and daughter-in-law into the 'picture-perfect' woman…
The need to belong is inherent, but it should not be so overpowering as to consume us entirely. To consider ourselves nothing more than trussed up Barbie dolls enclosed in glass showcases, is to stifle the spirit completely, for in the end, all one is left with is a card board cut up residual image on the mirror.

By Rubaiyat Khan




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