By Kameswari Padmanabhan Feb. 08, 2017
Had puberty not been so cruel, would I have chosen differently? Would I have bothered with “interesting” if “hot” were available?
Puberty is a time of reckoning. When it came calling, I had to contend with what I saw in the mirror every day. I was fat and had acne that could be seen from outer space.
Hitting your teens can be grossly unkind. I was considered an extremely cute child until that oh-so-lovely thing that comes as a gift every month, came calling. It turned my smooth skin into a landscape of ugly body hair, and my once childlike face into something ravaged by hormones.
This metamorphosis brought along with it an important choice. I had to, in that rough year, decide who I wanted to be – the hot girl or the interesting one. This is a choice many millions of women have made before me and many will make after. It comes down to a cold evaluation of your assets and a survival choice based on the shrewd probability of which one is likely to succeed. I chose the latter.
So, in my adolescent years, I gravitated towards what my comfort zone would eventually become. The gang of boys became my shelter. I denied my “girliness” and hung out with them so much that I became one swaggering mass of testosterone. As “one of the guys” I wasn’t a threat to any of the girls and I grew up learning dirty songs and a whole lot about sports I never really cared about.
But I learnt a few other good things. Friendship and brotherhood, duh, but also, the fact that one needn’t try so hard with appearances. I grew to love my acne, my body hair, and my body and never felt the need to blend in or feel like I was not beautiful. Beauty was not demanded of me. Just so long as I could talk dirty and backslap I was good.
Comfort became a priority and I turned into some sort of an amalgam of Garfield and Hobbes. I would see the girls in college strut their stuff when it came to make-up. What lip shade went with what, the different brushes required and what a marvel of an invention the eyelash curler was. To me make-up remained technical, time-consuming, and an outright lie and I had no problems continuing with its almost complete rejection. The only tool of make-up I had started to use was the kajal. It lit up my eyes and gave me a hint of mystery, when in reality I wasn’t mysterious at all.
I allowed my anathema towards make-up to evolve into playful curiosity and I graduated to adding a lipstick and a moisturiser to my daily routine. Soon, my dalliance with make-up was a full-blown affair.
My personal battle with make-up reached a crescendo when I was told, during one of the rare occasions that I stood at a make-up counter to look for a kohl pencil, that I had large pores and scars and I should cover them up. That for some reason enraged me. I had battled cystic acne as a teenager and in my head I was wearing the battle scars of teenage rebellion and angst with pride. Why would I want to hide behind a mask pretending to be someone else? How could I explain this to the lady whose craft was the art of make-up? I kept angrily silent, judging the woman for not understanding the pivotal choice I had made all those years ago.
But then, a short time later, my skin and body began to do surprising things. I stopped having explosions of acne and I lost all the excess weight. I discovered I was nice looking in my way and that maybe I didn’t really have to wear those farmhand shirts anymore.
I allowed my anathema towards make-up to evolve into playful curiosity and I graduated to adding a lipstick and a moisturiser to my daily routine. Soon, my dalliance with make-up was a full-blown affair. I tried the primer, the foundation, the moisturiser, the bronzer and moved to different lip shades, eyeshadows and what not. Some days I was the innocent young flower, with rosy cheeks and nude lipstick. Some days, the seductress, with the maroon lipstick and dark rimmed eyes. The “interesting one” was fast disappearing and her place – in a distinctly filmy kind of way – was slowly being occupied by… the “the hot one”.
I was now at a crossroads in my young(ish) life. My old comfortable, trusty self, the one who got excited by trivia fought valiantly against the new, sleek, fraudulent, “hot” self who got excited by Sephora. The split personality battle wore on until the end of my early adult years and I confused many a people, including myself, about the person I wanted to grow up to be.
Has it always been this hard for women, I wondered? The need to blend in sometimes or the need to stand out? Conform to society’s outlandish views of beauty or be true to your original ragged self? What was my original self? Had puberty not been so cruel, would I have chosen differently? Would I have bothered with “interesting” if “hot” were available?
It took me many years to realise that the chasm between interesting and hot was never such a wide one and there was never any need to push myself into either extreme corner. I could be both, depending on nothing more earth-shattering than the way I was feeling. I wish I could tell that to my angsty 13-year-old self standing in front of the mirror, trying desperately to decide who she wanted to be. The acne will go, the weight will disappear and the person you really are will slowly emerge, I want to whisper.
All you gotta do is, wait and watch.