One day as I looked out of the bus window, I saw an obituary poster. It was announcing the death of a newly married couple. There was a kitchen fire and the husband had tried to rescue the wife and both had died in the flames. They had been married for about a month. Quite saddened, I looked at the photo in the poster and thought, “So sad, she is so beautiful.” The next moment I could have kicked myself. What did the woman’s good looks have to do with anything? Death is death and hurts just as much whatever your face looks like. The poster had specifically mentioned that the man could have survived if he had not attempted to rescue his wife. If only one of the two should be mourned, it is his noble nature that I should have pondered upon. I should mention here that they were a particularly mismatched couple looks-wise. She was really pretty and he was very much normal-looking. That was a sort of epiphany for me. I saw that looks can change the way we live our lives as it changes the way people look at us AND treat us.
Why I took this personal epiphany pretty strongly is because it was in the back of my mind for another reason. My daughter was 6 months old and I had a small doubt that she may grow up to be slightly squint-eyed. When she was crying or was sleepy, it was obvious that both her eyeballs did not move in the same direction. I re-lived my life until then imagining myself as a squint-eyed Rahini. I imagined men looking away and women giving sympathetic friendly smiles. I imagined being ridiculed and avoided. I imagined the veiled jokes and sniggering. It seemed terrible. My hatred towards looks-bias is because of something very self-centered. I was afraid my daughter was going to be a victim.
Eventually a doctor prescribed glasses and admitted she needed a bit of eye-exercise. But he said something else that put my mind at complete ease. He said I was squint-eyed too. He had made her sit on my lap and as we both moved our eyes following his finger, he was able to see that my eyes did not move in perfect synchrony with each other either. That is all I needed. Perfect synchrony or not, my eyes were never ridiculed. She was going to be alright. My daughter may not become a pageant winning beauty, but she was not going to become a comic-relief either. This had been a false alarm.
But my wariness with good looks continued. I got to see the school photographs of my brother and realized that while the good lookers remained in my mind vaguely and the others did not seem familiar at all. There are some people who I see on the road and immediately think “Isn’t that guy’s name ABC?” That guy would have been in the same company some three years back and that too not in my team. And then there would be someone else who introduces themselves as from the same company and their face will not be familiar at all. I simply remembered the good lookers better. And it is not just me, everyone I know is like that. We wait for them to smile and acknowledge our presence. We stop the elevator for a few seconds more so that we get to be the same elevator for a few seconds. Most of us do this.
This can be a huge advantage to the good lookers and they supposedly move up the corporate scale faster as they fare well in interviews, they get more dates and they get more chances in the performing arts. But it can be a problem as well. My friend M and I would be walking down the path and a quite a few hostel-mates will throw a smile and a greeting and while they always seemed to know her name, she invariably didn’t use their name when wishing them. She told me that she was reasonably good with names but she really didn’t know everyone who was being nice to her. She knew that admitting that she didn’t know their name will actually hurt them. It was her belief that they would not take it lightly if their names were forgotten. I agree with her.
I met another bubbly young thing a few years back and every man in the vicinity seemed to have a crush on her. I witnessed the devotion and the help they used to keep offering her. I also saw that there was anger in so many male eyes that he wasn’t the only one she was being nice to and was spending time with. She was not dating anyone but the air was thick with speculations. It was that bubbly girl who planted the doubt if it was a good thing to be a good looker or a marked disadvantage.
Also, is it true that women are jealous of good-looking women? Do they find it difficult to introduce their husbands to their better looking friends? I asked a few friends I personally considered very good looking and none of the pretty women felt that the other women were treating them badly JUST because of their looks. A few admitted that some of the compliments did not sound very sincere.
This is actually a dangerous thing. When I turned to Google with this topic I stumbled upon this article that talks about a woman who committed suicide as she was always treated as a beauty and middle age scared her. The author seems to admire her. Then I heard about something called Pro-Ana. It is sickening. Women “help” each other not eat food by saying disgusting things to each other. Are we like these women too? Do we take the looks of the people around us and our own selves too seriously?
I know that the reason I bother to go walking and do workouts is to look good. “Being Healthy” is just an excuse. I just tell myself that I owe myself some honesty. I also owe myself good health. So I try to make the two goals go hand in hand. But as I read articles about fitness and see videos, one thing is clear. “Fitness” is almost always a euphemism to look good. This is what we are – obsessed with youthful good looks and flat tummies and firm butts.
I often see attempts that I don’t approve of, attempts with laxatives, attempts with the GM diet etc. I keep persuading people away from such shortcuts. But people are so obsessed with the deadlines these diets/fads come with. Is there a way out? Is it possible to see fitness as fitness and not a return ticket to youth? Is it possible to stop judging people by their looks? I keep wondering.