A while ago an acquaintance’s post on Facebook spurred an intense debate about what constitutes the ‘adaa’ or the grace of a woman. Of course, adaa cannot be summarized by the mere word grace, but it suffices for our purposes.
I was rather offended by this woman’s interpretation of what constitutes grace, and how she called women who smoked, wore jeans and swore ‘unwomanly.’
All my life, I’ve struggled to match up to the definitions of being ‘womanly’. I neither had the body build of those who grace the silver screens, nor the easy feminity of some of my friends. Nor was I able to learn those ‘feminine’ gestures and tricks to make yourself look more feminine. I experimented with different clothes. I tried to wear make up. I tried to wear dresses and skirts. I painstakingly waxed my legs and hands. And while some of this left me feeling good, outwardly I still remained the slight bodied, tomboyish female whose best description on a good day would come up to ‘cute’.
Every women aspires to be womanly. Perhaps it is the flood of stereotypical images that are thrown at us from the first moment of awareness, or perhaps it is an innate thing. As I grow older, I’m not so sure that it is an innate thing. Even in the most ‘unwomanly’ woman, I’ve found something so graceful that I wished I had.
I went through a stage in adolescence where I wished I had longer legs. Then I wished I could be fatter, so I could wear a dress and not look like a 8-year old. I was forced to use fairness creams by ‘well wishing’ relatives, that left my face greasier than an oil pan.
As women we experiment with at least 10-15 brands in our lifestyle. We try out different shampoos, hair creams, moisturizers, facial creams, body washes, conditioners, face wash, anti ageing creams, eye make up, lipstick, lip gloss, mascara and so many other products. And then we settle somewhere, telling ourselves that it suits us. Or is it that we get tired of looking and we accept that this is the best we look and focus on other things.
I saw a woman when I was driving home tonight. She did not have waxed arms or face. She was wearing a shabby salwar and a outdated denim jacket as her concession to fashion. And she wore a pod of jasmine on her hair. It reminded me of another image a while ago – when a woman was crossing the street, clad in a sari, with flowers in her hair. She wore an anklet. I don’t remember her face or if she was fashionable or if her arms were waxed and what products she used. But at that moment all i was struck by the little things of our culture that made us feminine. It seemed quaint and for a moment I wished I could make such an effort. And then I realised I couldn’t. I did not have the patience or the attitude to put flowers in my hair and even if I did, it never made me feel feminine. My idea of feminity was not related to flowers in my hair and a bindi on my forehead. At least not completely.
Years passed, and I grew comfortable with my physical self. I accepted my short stature and my ‘cute’ description. But every now and then, with conversations like this, I’m forcibly reminded of my ungracefulness and I wonder why … why these definitions exist. It makes me miserable sometimes. It makes me miserable that I have hair on my arms, even if I’ve been working a 14 hour day and have had no time to go to the parlor. It makes me irritable that I do not have the perfect hair, that I do not know how to blow dry my hair into that clean, straight, shiny mass. It makes me cringe when I look at myself in the mirror, with my tanned skin and black spots. It makes me feel inadequate. It reminds me that I have not made it to the parlor in days. But how sad is it that I cannot even look at myself in the mirror?
Some claim that it is your duty to take care of yourself and present yourself well. I do agree. Every woman on TV showing how perfect you can be. But aspiring for such beauty led to years of heartache or worse for most women I know. We never get that glowing skin. We never get that perfect hair. We never have shiny teeth. And honestly, none of that has anything to do with your job. Glasses are taboo. Bad skin is taboo. Body hair is taboo. Wearing clothes that are last season’s taboo. It just depends on where you want to draw the line, right?
Grace isn’t about how you look or how shiny your hair is. With ample time and money, every woman can get there. Grace is how you are, stripped of everything. Grace is in your smile, in your eyes.
Of course, most people don’t see that if you don’t enhance it with $50 eye shadow from Mac, but well, as long as you can see it… Or least that’s what I’d like to believe. I’m still searching for it. At heart, perhaps I’ll always remain the gawky, uncoordinated tomboy. Will I be content with that or not? 50 years from now…