By Ponnu Elizabeth
When I was thirteen, my teacher told me that I should grow my hair long so that I could find a boy to marry. Though I couldn't make sense of that entirely, I supposed that long hair was considered a prerequisite for beauty and marriage. And, as a girl, my hair was always short, so short that I never even had to comb it. And I loved it that way. But somewhere inside, my thoughtless teacher kick-started my self-consciousness, just when my body decided to enter puberty.
As a thirteen-year-old, one could always find me in my shorts, playing cricket with my brother in the garden. Nobody stopped me. My parents let me do what I liked. So I continued to keep my hair short, wear shorts and play cricket. As I grew older, there were many others who suggested that I grow my hair. But I always wondered why women needed to have long hair? Does beauty lie in the hair? Are women with short hair not beautiful? My teenage mind couldn't get grasp of things, which I now realise are nonsense. Still, the world hasn't changed. People still put beauty in a box. People still put women in a box.
Why do most fashion magazines show women of a particular body type? Why do most ads feature women who are fair-skinned? Why do models have to be skinny? Why shouldn't women shave their heads? And why should they shave their armpits? Why are there so many requirements for what the world call beautiful?
We live in an age of commercialisation. But we still hold on to our traditions too. In a ghastly blend of both, a woman's identity, sometimes, takes a hit. If a woman cuts her hair too short, she is perceived as 'modern' (and sometimes 'not beautiful'), and if a woman wears a salwar kameez, she is 'traditional' (read 'boring'). As a society, we are experts at judging others. But we hardly ever look inwards. We are so good at setting standards for beauty and values. But we forget about the person beneath the makeup.
We are bringing up a generation of girls in a world that is bound to make them self-conscious. 'You are not good enough' – the fashion magazines shout at them. 'You are too odd' – the society marks them. Too dark. Too big. Too short. Too old fashioned. Too liberal. Nothing is ever good enough. As individuals, we all are responsible to change this perspective. As mothers, as friends, as aunts, as uncles, as grandparents, as neighbours – we need to tell those little girls that they are good enough. They can keep their hair long or short. They can wear skirts or salwars. They can be loud or quiet. They can play cricket on the streets or with Barbie dolls on their bed. What really matters is the person inside. And we need to teach that to little boys as well.
A few days ago, I cut my hair really short again, so short that I don't even have to comb it. I still have a man by my side. And having less hair has not affected the way I look in any way possible. So, for all those who put beauty in a box, I would say, maybe it's time to take the brains out of it.