Inspiration: Pablo Picasso’s Girl before a Mirror meets Edvard Munch’s Scream.
Over to G from Mumbai.
“I look into the mirror. Come on – give me something, anything – why shouldn’t I claw this face out. The boy puts his arms around me and says “You look cute,” with the same sincerity that endeared him to me all those months ago, enough to agree to marry him. He continues to gaze at me in the mirror with a smile on his face. I smile at his reflection in the mirror and then my eyes return to the monster – the tormentor I must carry everywhere, everyday.
I’m in my room at the hostel when my sister calls. She is watching Oprah or Dr Phil – and there is a lady who has something called Body Dysmorphic Disorder. She thinks that’s what I have too. It sounds exactly the same, she says. I tell her that if the disorder is about a “perceived flaw” then I can’t possibly have it because my flaw is real. We argue and she tells me that I am suited to law after all – I can argue to no end. I tell her I see the truth. This continues. With many others. Over many years.
When I talk about this, some feel that I’m fishing for compliments (like your opinion would matter more than what I can see with my own two eyes, I think to myself). I tell them my face is not symmetric – simplest way to describe it. They tell me symmetry is overrated. Haven’t I heard this before – that magazines feed us lies, everything is photoshopped, movie star looks take pounds of make-up and a tonne of effort. I know this. I may have started the war with my face when I was 13 but I’m 30 now, living on my own, master of my destiny in all other ways.
I contemplate plastic surgery. Close ones try to dissuade me, support me, and let themselves be disappointed by me and my shallowness. I’m told that I’m too smart and accomplished to care about such things. “What do you know”, I think, “You haven’t lived a single day in your life with a hideous face. What would you know and how. You don’t see disgust on people’s faces when they see you. Although in fact, most people don’t even see you. You don’t exist. You are an insect. You are nothing. You don’t matter. Nobody will ever love you. Boys don’t want to get to know you. Girls look at you like they look at a five legged pig. People don’t want to know what the deformed being thinks.” I know I wouldn’t say these this to anyone else, not would I let someone else say them to me – I try to shame myself out of thinking the way I do.
I hate good looking women. My mind rails against the injustice and the unfairness – I feel a degree of jealousy I cannot describe. I avoid people. I avoid mirrors. I don’t let people take my pictures. I cannot help imagining how different life would be in other circumstances – everybody would notice me, people would want to hear what I have to say, I’ll be more confident, more successful, everything will become possible and achievable.
In office, a friend is surprised that one of our colleagues is hooking up with her married boss. He’s married and also quite ugly, the friend remarks. I feel like someone has slapped me on the face. He laughs when I tell him I’m offended on behalf of ugly people.
Sometimes I think about how different cultures perceive beauty. How subjective it is – from person to person. I remember the compliments – generous, earnest and unsolicited. I remember the boys – crushes based on little but what I looked like – I remember the glances, the nudges, the nervous fidgeting, the smiles, the declarations of love – many of them – too many to discount. I remember what someone said about Thoreau, (“his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty”) and feel at peace.
Then it starts again.”