When I was born, my relatives had mixed feelings. Some felt sorry for my parents since they now had two girls at home (my elder sister and me), and a few felt relieved that I was “fair”, as compared to my sister. They said that I was lucky since I had been blessed with my mother’s skin tone.
Nevertheless, we spent our beautiful childhood amidst the foggy mountains of Idukki in Kerala. Later, my father got transferred to Kochi.
Thus began the second phase of my life.
When I was suddenly uprooted from my comfort zone, I felt lost. The city life robbed me of my innocence and as my skin colour started getting darker, I started seeing the darker shades of life. My skin colour bothered people around me; about how I was losing my fairness and becoming thinner as I grew older. Eventually, I learned many new words – words that demeaned women and turned my body into a symbol of shame. And then, puberty hit.
Thus began the third phase of my life.
I became a very hairy person, I still am. The line of dark hair above my lips invited taunts from my peers, who were simply a part of the system. People advised me to shave my hairy hands, wax it, or even use the chemical hair removal creams. Thankfully, my mother always found my body hair perfect and kept telling me to not be bothered by such comments.
Also read: My Body Hair, Why Do You Care?
However, my body was also a problem for other people. My barely visible breasts were named ‘tiny’ and received their fair share of judgement. And then when I started menstruating, I would bleed heavily – I was confused about how my body was functioning. I remember how my mother had to clean stained sheets secretly. This led me to believe that blood is to be hidden. During my periods, I would constantly ask my friends to check for stains on my clothes. They would do the same, clueless of why we were hiding our sanitary pads and were always gestured at to hide our bra straps.
Another subject that invited a lot of attention was my long curls. They were often mocked for being a haven for birds. Some wanted my hair to be straightened. Others asked me to always braid it so that it is out of the way. Since they were quite thick, my mane proved to be a task to every unsolicited stylist around. Strangely, I adored my hair. I loved how my hair couldn’t be tamed, and were simply existing without any worries of the world.
Just like everyone else, I was fed with the same prejudices and false beauty standards. I believed that men should be a certain way and women should be another. I did not know about anything in between these poles. Unconsciously, I was being part of the world of binaries. I remember an incident where I teased one of my male classmates in school for running strangely, not masculine enough. I even ended up rejecting a boy who loved me, because of his feeble voice – a not-so desirable quality in men as per the baseless social norms. It was only later that I realised I was wrong.
Thus began my fourth phase, a time of unlearning.
Also read: My Body Hair, Why Do You Care?
I got admission to a central university in India – a space where binaries were broken, standards were questioned and everything suddenly became political. A dear male friend of mine used to a wear a bindi with a wide smile and I realised the beauty of doing what you love regardless of what the world thinks. I understood the true essence of consent when I realised that every time the power to make a decisions involves me, I should be the one taking the final call. I have to be honest, this confused me because I was not used to being asked what I wanted.
Back in Kerala, I had to always dress “modestly”, covering my whole body and even pinning up a shawl in the right places, otherwise, I might be tagged as “she is asking for it”. I already received the honorary title of being a thepp (translating into someone who cheats in a relationship, especially given to women) when I ended a relationship respectfully due to several reasons. The relationship also gave me trust issues, as I struggled to figure out honesty around me.
Soon, I left behind my inhibitions and started doing things my way. It was the taboo of sleeveless tops at first, and slowly I started baring my stomach with the chickenpox marks while wearing crop tops and my dark knees while wearing dresses. I understood that being in love and being in a relationship are two different ideas altogether. I also overcame my year-long battle with trust as I finally gave in, to not be bothered much about the future and to embrace my flawed self.
But most importantly, I realised that being yourself required one to feel safe, and I felt safe as I was surrounded by people who encouraged me to think beyond the boundaries; to constantly question the set order of the society. But then, I admire my curls, which started out on this journey way before, and playing along with the light breeze.
How beautiful it is to be so strong that even when the whole world is against you, you stick to simply being you. I hope that one day I can match the endurance of you, my lovely curls. And I believe that day is not so far away.
There, I will begin my fifth phase.
Sruthi Madhu is a postgraduate student of English literature at Pondicherry University. She is from Thrissur, Kerala.