The other day I walked into a yoga class and right past my instructor of several years. Not until she had struck up a conversation with me did the familiarity of her voice jolt me into recognising who she was. Her nose was different, as was the jawline and so were the newly acquired almond-shaped eyes. Accompanied by an almost 10kg weight loss, her transformation was complete. She was a different person and she looked good, no doubt. Only she looked like a clone of a 100 or more other girls I had seen looking rather similar, sometimes even the same.

So much sameness, that they lacked that vital ingredient that makes each of us an individual – special, unique. Like the crooked smile, the broad nose, eyes that are too small, too large or too closely set, the peculiar turn of the eyebrow that distinguishes one from the other all flattened and homogenised by Vogue and Vanity Fair standards of beauty. Brain-washed to turn themselves into just another indistinguishable piece of baggage on the conveyor belt of the beauty industry hard-sell.

Quiddity. That’s the word. That’s what these women had lost in the pursuit of marketed definitions of beauty – they had lost their quiddity. The essence of themselves, their what-ness or who-ness. Their uniqueness.

Many of these girls/women I see are rather young to be going under the knife so soon, but in a world that is enslaven to the diktat of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry that feeds on human insecurities, plastic surgery is almost de rigueur. There’s even a clinic in Mumbai that calls itself “Designer Bodyz” and promises to help people achieve their life’s objectives through plastic surgery.

Near-starvation and punishing workout routines are not enough. I remember seeing a video a while ago of a very well-known cosmetic doctor in Mumbai, walking around with a syringe in her hand, injecting young “Miss India contestants” indiscriminately. Some of them were as young as 18 or 19. And once you start you can’t get off. It’s a common phenomenon- these injections and fillers. I see it in other echelons of society too. The society ladies. Bee-stung lips, cheek pads, lifted eyelids and frozen foreheads, all competing with each other in sync with their Gucci bags, 40 going on 100, but trying to look 25 all over again.

It’s a world where you can never be too thin or too rich. And you dare not age. Ageing is a shame and showing your age a crime. Gerascophobia – the fear of ageing and losing one’s beauty it’s called. So rampant is this phobia that the opportunistic have turned it into a billion-dollar industry. They fuel it by promoting the notion of the “thin ideal” and their “cosmetic fairies”, an ideal propagated by perverse men obsessed with  bodies of pre-pubescent girls and gay fashion designers trying to make grown women look like young skinny boys.

An ideal that women all over the world have fallen into and are killing themselves to achieve. Living on coffee and two salad leaves, their brains anesthetised with starvation. Why?

Ever heard of the “cat woman”, Jocelyn Wildenstein? One of the richest women in the world, she went under the knife over and over again to transform her appearance to look like a cat, with a surgery called Canthopexy (a procedure that elevates the eyes to look more cat like). The husband liked big cats, you see. So, she apparently decided to look like one. That marriage of course ended in divorce when she caught her husband in bed with a 19-year-old model. Last heard she was undergoing some more surgeries to reverse the feline look. Google the name, the images say it all.

Whatever rocks your boat they say and, yes, every person has the right to do what gives them happiness. But it is also important to recognise and understand what causes these needs. The pressures are not always external, they come from within us too.

I myself have gone through various stages of despair about my appearance and rushed to hair care experts and plastic surgeons. But I am lucky to know some very ethical doctors – Dr Anil Tibrewala, Mumbai’s leading plastic surgeon, here I must mention. Over the last few years, I have repeatedly called him in various emotional crisis situations – “Doc, I want to have a knee-reduction done. It’s horrible that I cannot wear that short dress.” Then “Doc, I want to have my naso labial folds corrected.” “Doc, I think I need this”, “Doc, I think I need to do that”, and every time he has heard me out patiently, served me tea and sometimes samosa, and flatly refused saying in his opinion I don’t need any of it. And always the moment has passed and sense has prevailed and surgery prevented.

Over the years I have recognised that every time I have called Dr Tibrewala and insisted on some cosmetic procedure, I have been going through a phase of very low self-esteem. We all go through it, some more than others. And act upon it in different ways. But the trigger for each and every time I considered a cosmetic procedure was always low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. And despair.

It was in one of these despondent “Doc-I-need-to-get-rid-of-my-frown-line” states of mind that I went to see the just-released Tumhari Sulu. At first, I was rather taken aback, shocked even, by the leading lady Vidya Balan’s weight that filled up the screen. All my preset notions of the exacting size and measurements a heroine is supposed to be and have and the box she is supposed to fit into were being harshly jolted – initially I found it anaesthetic even. But then as the movie progressed I found such true and deep beauty in what I was witnessing it made me gasp.

In today’s world for a woman to be so comfortable in her skin, unaware of the protruding belly or double chin, is a revolution in itself. An act of extreme liberation. Frown lines, crow’s feet, love handles they were all there in 70-mm technicolour and yet it all suddenly seemed so beautiful. I gasped at the freedom and magnitude of such beauty. Its power. A power that is not dependant on external validation, but instead feeds serves and nourished itself. It felt like I was stepping out of a jail after a long stint.

And it made me think. Imagine a world where women were not so confined by notions of how men dictate our bodies and faces should be? Imagine if every woman shunned the notion that growing older or fat or having body hair was shameful and embraced life and its beauty in its myriad forms – not just what pleases the men and industry.

Feminism is not just about being equal to the men. It’s also about not giving a shit about the world they confine you to and creating an authentic one for yourself – free of preset testosterone-driven notions of feminine beauty.

What a beautiful world it would be, sistah! Throw away that razor already and show the world the magnificence of your quiddity.

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