Mirrors lie every time; I do not look into mirrors for weeks or months at a stretch. If your authenticity is an “abnormality”, then is it not your biggest achievement over the years? Who are you? Only you are the only one who truly knows that. You are never the illusion your mirror tries to make you believe in. I will not comb my hair for weeks, I will not buy into marketing gimmicks that tell me to un-love my curls and straighten them like a chart paper. I have dollops of self love, why would I want to colour my hair, why would I sacrifice my monobrow? Erm, to get ‘civilised’; to make my body a site of hyper-coloniality? I want to indulge in self-love and not apply makeup at all. After all, who wants to consume arsenic, nickel, cadmium and the entire periodic table of elements in the name of ‘beautification’ and ‘self-care regimen!’ For a lazy person, it takes less effort to be yourself; it is easier to be authentic.
For two decades, a question has been imposed. The problematique of “normal”, “beauty” – such subjective concepts have always made me question everything normative. The first taunt of abnormalcy might have come at around age five.
Half of school life seemed like rebelling without a cause, but I knew I had my own battles to fight – asserting my ‘individuality’. Wearing my skirt too high, socks too long – such frivolities were huge irritants for my fellow peers. To think that they belonged to my own gender meant that I hardly ever had friends.
Women were too conscious about how they looked, even at that age. I was conscious too, hyper conscious to not lose myself in everyday advice thrown at me throughout school – about uniform, facial hair, hairstyle, and so on. I somehow always had an inner resolve to retain these.
It was fun to have a monobrow till the age of 19 because it made people uncomfortable! It was also fun to retain my facial hair in its pristine vegetation till I was 20. Alas, what a day it was when I was “normalised.” This purposive act was done when I was in an all-girls College. After all, my conscience had to ensure that I was not doing it for societal validation.
Yet, even after the removal of my facial hair, sometimes when I venture out with a large overgrowth, it challenges notions. One such incident confirmed that what I was doing was nothing less than being a walking sociological challenge! Blimey, no pressure!
One evening while waiting at the university bus stop, a two-year-old with her mother walked up to my friend. She befriended her. Then she looked at me and asked whether I was her brother. I asked the kid why she thought I was not a girl and out came the stereotypes. It should not have come as a shock; society indoctrinates norms of “boyhood” and “girlhood” at such a young age that the two-year-old, in all her innocence, told me that I was not wearing female clothes, did not have kohl filled eyes and had short hair like boys do. After this detailed but quick assessment, she told me to go play cricket with the boys at the playground across the bus stop.
Consequently, I was intrigued by how a 2-year-old had made such an outright heteronormative assessment. So, partly giggling and partly in awe, I inquired that since she had a buzz cut herself, why would she think that she is not a ‘boy’? She replied rather forlornly that she did want long hair, but she was still a girl. To prove this she said “Look, I am wearing pink”.
Instances like this strengthen my resolve to always be who I am. I’m thankful that I could have such an intricate and pertinent conversation with a two year old. I hope she will remember that she met a woman who challenged her notions of femininity and masculinity at a young age. I had initiated the process of unlearning in her mind the moment I had questioned her understanding.
I know that I have made a powerful statement by being true to who I am, but it comes at the cost of marginalisation in peer groups, and trying to find a peer group is a monumental task.
Such behaviour and reactions from my external environment has always made me want to delve into the making of the human mind. In my daily interactions with people, many comments have been shocking, some have been more than entertaining, and still others have given me a sense of accomplishment – ‘mission accomplished,’ perhaps I did become a medium for problematising the ‘norms of normality’.
While in college I found an unusual acceptance for who I am, the usual continued while commuting in the metro or other public transport. In the middle of a busy market, a lady stopped and told me to not feel offended by what she was going to advise me on, next. I was shocked at the evident precaution thrown my way. I was not expecting such politeness, regardless, out came a simple homemade remedy for my facial hair from a complete stranger while I was making my way to the metro station. This did not stop once I entered the ladies’ coach in the metro either. For a couple of minutes, middle aged ladies threw furtive glances at me and at least one or two, on lucky occasions, had the courage to confront me with it. There they were again – the homemade remedies.
The society we live in is embroiled in self-hate; people do not like themselves as they are and cannot bear anybody who is comfortable in their own skin. It dawned upon me later that I was triggering people who were not secure in themselves.
It is a lonely battle, no doubt – a battle that I need not have ‘endured’. I keep assuring myself that I voluntarily chose to be a walking political statement, not that all of us are not doing the same; but I was always conscious of it since a very young age.
After university and my conversation with the two year old girl, I have not had any difficult experiences revolving around how I conduct myself. Sometimes I wonder whether such questions hold relevance when we get into the greater depths of life. At the age of 30, when I feel that wearing sky high socks and skirts was my way of ‘rebelling’ – it will only leave a smile on my face. Of course, I do not mean to discard the questions of youth in the garb of projecting my future.
Each age brings with it pertinent questions about our individuality, environment, society, and conduct as responsible individuals. Individuality in a society is a heavy word to live by, when even I know that we live in an interconnected and ecosystem-based life.
One regret that I will never have is that I suppressed my individuality at a time when the youth was busy answering existential questions. I refused to compromise early on in my life and did not assign gender to a false binary.
It was only in the first semester of college that I found a grounding theory – an explanation for all of this in Judith Butler, Kamla Bhasin, and Andrea Dworkin. I felt accepted at first, not by my peers but by theories and books: a lifelong pattern in school and college.
All in all, I managed to retain my own personality throughout school, college, and university. Nonetheless, it feels as if greater strides towards “normalisation” as I grow older are going to rob me off my authenticity. Should I be dreading this, will I no more be a walking sociological challenge to a two-year-old, a middle aged lady, my fellow peers? Ah, this “normalisation”has robbed me of my inner joys.
Once you spend your life on the margins, you look at life from the margins. Getting accepted for who you are feels like a wonder and it takes me back. I created a comfort zone for myself in life. If there was any discomfort in being non-normalised, I built my comfort zone and home on the very edge of that discomfort and owned it. Life at the age of 25, after post graduation seems to be getting normalised more than ever and this is a territory I do not known yet.
It is time to take myself seriously when all I have known is to take myself less seriously than my ego would have me. The most that I miss is not being able to make jokes at monobrows, moustaches, and facial hair. Now I have less content for my self-entertainment and that is the least of my worries. Without it, I will not be able to make faces at myself in the mirror, I will become boring to myself. It is as if the joy of being a rebel with a very serious cause has been taken away from me.
Ahhh, the thought of being the ‘normal’ girl who ‘does what normal girls do’. I have been unable to configure what is ‘normal uniformity of womanhood’ and ‘to be a man’, it seems like uncharted territory. Courage seems to have been replaced by fear of the unknown. It seems daunting to me, but as that sweet girl said “it is so easy baba, listen….”
Getting normalised has its own challenges, when I have spent a quarter of my life problematising and questioning the precepts of ‘normal womanhood’ and ‘abnormality’. Somebody, please return my facial hair and monobrow to me! It is my self-love begging me to return to my authenticity. I do want to abandon who I am to replace it with what society expects me to look like. Mirrors will decay and break, but this soul will not.
Vani is always trying to unpack non-duality, excavating the self from mundane ‘normal’ paradigms. She prides herself in being a lifelong learner. She has completed her M.A. in International Relations and Area Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and B.A. (Hons.) in Political Science from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi. She has been awarded the Randhir Singh Prize for Political Analysis in her under graduation. Currently, she is pursuing M.A. in Gender and Development from IGNOU.