This happened years back. I was about 10 years old. It was summer holidays. The smell of mangoes was in the air. The neighborhood children were all playing in hot afternoon sun and would drop by at regular intervals to ask me to join them, but alas I my grandma would not let me go. She first wanted me to do 100 skipping jumps, followed by hanging from the iron bean in front of our house! Can you guess why? Well of course she was worried that I would not put on height and would succumb to genetic traits. Are you shocked? Well if you are gifted with the good tall genes then you probably won’t understand, but if you fall on the vertically challenged category then you might know what I am talking about. I have met more than one mother who is worried that her 2 year old daughter may not become tall, because well it’s not her genes.
Though most people understand to an extent about the helplessness of those who are vertically challenged, horizontal issues are dealt with far less leniency. Every class has a fatty (Boy or girl) who has been driven to tears by constant badgering and teasing. Many of these children outgrow this stage and loose all the fat in the later years but there are some who cannot help it due to medical conditions. I once knew a dear friend who was reasonably tall ( 5 feet 4 inches) in Indian standards and had beautiful hair and sharp features. She would often break down in tears because more than one marriage proposal went awry due to her weight problems. The stress full bridegroom search affected her and she quickly lost all her luster and became a shadow of the person she used to be. Her own parents turned against her and became her worst enemies. She could not reduce her weight much, in spite of diets, exercises and what not. Weight problems can be caused by hormones, metal health, genetics and many other reasons which can be managed but have no permanent solution. Fortunately for her she did find the right guy who could look beyond all that and appreciate her for what she was, her lovely hair, beautiful eyes etc. She has now regained all the lost confidence and is more comfortable being her.
All those who have escaped the above two common problems are faced with yet another. This one is very easy to guess as we Indians are notorious for our obsession with fair skin. Every girl, irrespective of her skin colour is advised against too much sun exposure, turmeric and yogurt pastes for the face and lime for tanned skin, right from the tender ages of 8 or so. After all being fair not only increases the chance in marriage mart but also in every other spheres of life. People in general are more drawn towards fair skin in our country. The innumerous advertisements on billboards and television don’t help and these days there is a fast growing market for fair and handsome too! As if targeting women was not enough this has now become a uni-sex obsession! I know of a cousin who was perfect in every way (very tall, very slim etc) but was dark. Predictably she had some issues in getting marriage proposals but guess what she did not want to marry anyone dark! She wanted to ensure that at least her children would have a chance to break free. As luck might have it, she married a very fair guy who did not care much for her skin color but god had other plans for her two daughters. Both took after their mother. I remember her lamenting over that particular point more than once. Her children are still young and I hope she does not pass on her insecurities to them.
Do you remember there was a time when singers were appreciated for their singing skills alone and writers could look as ugly as sin? Not anymore. Singers are as image conscious as any film celebrity and I have even heard of writers who have a double to help them with a media friendly image. With, in your face media explosion, it is difficult for the society to not get influenced. It would amount to a crime, if I didn’t mention the upside of all this is; we have become more health conscious. Even in a highly conservative city like Chennai, every street now has a fitness club. There are numerous health and nutrition related internet sites and advisors to help us decide what is the perfect diet and how to beat the obesity, cholesterol etc.
The downside is that people have become more insecure about themselves and are forever striving to attain the perfect hair, the perfect size zero and pretty much perfect everything. Some with money can even afford various cosmetic surgeries to look just right. As grown ups many of us can handle the obsession and even though I am sure it takes a toll on our mental health most of us can fairly get by without any serious consequences. After all, our childhood was cocooned in innocence and fun. We had that advantage.
For the children and teenagers of today it might not be as easy to cope. They are brought up to believe in an image no less than perfect and strive for it. This often results in troubled youngsters who never become comfortable with themselves. On failing to become what they think is ideal, they become self deprecating and unhappy. How can a young girl whose first love is Barbie (an epitome of impossible standards) ever cope with the real world?
I understand the concern and the need for parents to feel that their children should do better than them, look better than them etc…but really what about the children? Are we not giving them a complex? There is not much we can do as individually to change perceptions and trends in the society but I think we can control how we react to it. It is as important to equip our children to deal with things they cannot change like physical traits, as it is to teach them not to accept defeat easily in other areas.
I for one never did cross 5 feet 2 inches much to everyone’s disappointment except mine. For some reason the rebellious streak in me helped me build my defenses against family members who would have to comment on my height, on classmates and cousins who thought it cool to crack jokes etc…but how many children can do that on their own?