Red Lipstick

I had this very uncharacteristic epiphany as I passed by the Sephora near Times Square, on a bone-drenching Tuesday afternoon where I was trying to navigate past the stampede of DSLR-bearing tourists without an umbrella. I don’t know why, and I perhaps can’t explain this is in any other way except for a sudden uprising of my feminine side, but I really wanted to wear a red lipstick. Call it a flashback of Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Stefani and every other woman in the world who has wielded the red lipstick, but it doesn’t just ooze color, it oozes confidence.

I hope this post doesn’t make me appear superficial because I seriously am investing my words and time into describing red lipstick and what I feel about it. But honestly, I had never experienced such a strong, inexplicable feeling from owning, wearing or even using a tube of red pigment.

There’s a milieu of research and articles and information about how red lipstick has been known to boost self-esteem because many women deem themselves worthy of self-care when they apply it. There has been research that shows that in times of economic hardship, red lipstick is the most frequent and common impulse acquisition. Corroborate this with the fact that red lipstick brings attention to our mouth and what comes out of it. Lastly, red lipstick serves as a marker of sexual arousal. Therefore, women who wear red lipstick are perceived as sexually confident, attractive, dominant, assertive and feminine.

And I, a straggling, awkward, wet, somewhat lost, umbrella-deprived just-barely-post-adolescent decided, right after finishing a $5 pad thai and battling the screeching wind, that I wanted to wear red lipstick.

As I’m a poor non-financially independent college kid, I decided that making my virgin purchase from Sephora from New York City (8.875% retail tax, thank you very much) was pushing the financial freedom I had been bestowed a little too much. So I splurged on an affordable stick of Revlon. To be honest, I was overwhelmed with the shades and colors and variants. After all, what is the difference between lipstick, lip-butter, lip-tint, lip-stain and basically every other item that is prefixed with a “lip”?

The next few seconds found me frantically asking Google which generic red would serve my purpose. I say generic because there apparently exists a whole other science in color-matching with skin-tones, which seemed to require another college education to master completely. Honestly, I just wanted a red lipstick and I wasn’t having any of the baggage or expertise or qualification that came with acquiring one humble tube of the stuff.

I almost felt shameless in ripping off the packaging as soon as I had swiped my credit card for it, but I did. I was so scared of being judged for putting on red lipstick in public, that I sneaked into a cubicle at a public restroom and used my phone-camera as a mirror. I don’t understand why I should feel safer putting it on inside a cubicle, when I very well could have used a public mirror outside the stalls, But I eased myself into it gently.

One swipe. Deep gasp. Too much color. Look at that, you look like a vampire after a lunch buffet. Blot. Blot. Blot. Blot. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Then blot some more until the tissue paper is wearing the entirety of the one swipe and my lips look reassuringly normal. In an instant I felt as though all my stupid, naive and momentary dreams of sporting red lipstick had faded. For that one crushing moment, I remembered how I had been labeled “not pretty enough” and instead of a noble quest to discover the feminine, I felt as though I was part of a cheap charade. That somehow my awkwardness had made me unworthy of desiring to be confident, let alone desired.

But I didn’t give in to the cowardice. Everybody has to start somewhere. The only person judging me is myself. If I don’t experiment at this age, then I will never experiment at all. Fostering what could perhaps be called a scientific curiosity at the outcome of the experiment, I tried again. Half a swipe. Blend with finger. It took me a while, but I added on layer after layer until my lips had reached what I deemed as a very appropriate shade of red. Not vampire drool but just red.

And I wore it home. I promised myself that once it was on, I wouldn’t fidget with it. Leave it alone. You can’t see what’s on your face anymore, so it’s not your problem. I didn’t think it would last for more than an hour, but once I verified my reflection in the waning daylight, I actually felt happy with myself. I actually felt as though I wanted people to see and validate my red lips. It’s stupid and I know it sounds very silly, but as a few heads turned, I wanted to smile and tell them, “Look, I’m growing into a woman now.”

But I didn’t. For making baby steps, I surpassed my expectations and maybe someday, I won’t even need to tell people aloud. Even if I might look like another girl with make-up on, at least the mirror smiles back knowingly to me.

Reference Links (all the historical lipstick knowledge didn’t dawn on me from nowhere):

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html

https://psychologies.co.uk/body/the-power-of-red-lipstick.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick

Real research here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431912000497

And another one: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijps/article/viewFile/15080/11738

 

Rainy Neon Dreams

I have a memory of the rain. On every day that we moved from one city to another, it would rain. I remember staring at the blurry streets that I was leaving behind knowing that I was perhaps feeling emotions too deep to put into words.  Often, I have caught my reflection weeping in the glass windows as the raindrops slide down the translucent cheeks effortlessly and I have scoffed because I have always been too optimistic about leaving my past behind.

Mumbai, Bangalore, New York. The offspring of an urban jungle, I have seen rich, poor, metal, grass and people alike and I know that I have yet seen nothing at all because I do not know where this life will take me. I take comfort in the sound and bustle and noise of the city because I know that it is a tangible evidence of the world’s ruthless progression.

I used to partition my life into small objectives: complete Grade 6, complete High-school, get into college, graduate from college and so on. Yet the more I grow up, the more it appears there is to do. Be a good person, be a good daughter, be a good student, be a good engineer, be a good friend, be happy, be kind, be compassionate, be less abusive towards yourself and so on and so forth. These are the fluid goals. The ones that have no deadlines, the ones that will inevitably come to pass, the ones in which I can’t seek a solution manual because there is no right way to do these things.

I have memories of the quiet mango tree alcoves of Kolkata suburbia, the asphalt-melting heat and the unbearable humidity. Even in that heat, we seek to ruin mangoes and interrupt afternoon siestas because we are too young to feel languor. Yes, grandma, I really would like to have cool coconut water. The protests that we had against the second evening shower because we were in denial of the sweat-clinging clothes. The ground burns as the sun sets and people gather around with hand-made bamboo fans and sigh, my goodness, wasn’t it a hot day?

I have memories of the lovely cloudy days of Bangalore, days which were so beautiful that I wish I could capture the rain forever, memories of playing in the rain and watching the paint run from new walls, muddy school uniforms, puddle-jumping conquests, mud and piping hot coffee huddled inside. Cloudy days that were so dark that the lights had to be put on in the afternoon. Cloudy days where the fog protected the nest of pigeons nearby from the dripping water.

Days when the sky was so picturesque that it seemed unreal, and the times in the café I have spent trying to become one of the many typical tomboy nerds, trying to make myself matter, trying to belong and eager to cast aside my stark differences. I have tried too hard and yet, I am grateful for the shelter and comfort of the all-girls’ school environment because it appears that things look a lot easier in the past.

It is raining again today, and the faint memory of a Bengali song makes me weep in the corner of the library, because indeed it had been so long since I have been home. I’m waiting for the future. I, who has constantly been pushed forward in my life, is waiting to come back to the past, to wrap it up in some dripping neon-colored memory that will smell of nostalgia, childhood, adolescent melancholy and the burning need to feel like I belong.

Excuse me, I murmur to my past, and start walking along Manhattan streets faster than my past is catching up beside me. I have things to do, places to be, I repeat endlessly striving to find meaning in this perennial madness of being trapped among geniuses in the world’s best city. The brutal wind will not let me stop and think about deadlines and work and the pressure of performing well enough to find that niche in which I belong. I have to be constantly aware of not stepping into a puddle because my winter boots are supposed to be on a holiday, and the Starbucks on my hand is my guiding beacon to warmth.

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”, say Simon and Garfunkel and I hear the million clattering shoes on the asphalt paved roads to futures that dissolve behind innumerable avenues and crossings as large pools of people drift in and out. In the echo of their multilingual, multicultural identities, I hear the ghosts of the cites I’ve left behind and the ones that will come. If I have to call that one absolute place where I belong my home, then what of the transient journeys through the places where I have found different pieces of myself? Will I ever find that one perfectly shaped hollow in the geometry of life, where all my edges and curves will fit perfectly?

“Please stand away from the platform edge,” says the station recording and the train rushes in to scoop millions of aspirants to the future. Excuse me, I say to my future, taking a step back. Excuse me while I wait for the rain to fall.

Crossroads of shame

I have survived many self-revelations this month. But I have come across one that is slowly eating away at my defenses and therefore I am in a dilemma.

I have dug deeper into my psyche to understand why I prefer rationality over emotions, given that I feel my emotions intensely. Maybe this has something to do with denying my femininity all these years. I am tired of having my sensitivity abused, and so I locked away all these feelings knowing full well that my mental state would be a lot happier under the binding rigid rules of logic. My rationality and perception of reality forms a titanium-alloyed barrier between strong, damaging passions/obsessions and my true self. This compartmentalization has worked wonders to my self-esteem and to the general structuring of my life. I allow myself to feel happy or sad, but never overjoyed or devastated, because I will not let something so subjective affect me so strongly. I simply cannot be eaten away by the products of my own psyche.

When this academic year began, I promised myself that I would strictly put an active barrier in my mind to the possibility of romantic relationships. Given how awful my freshman year experiences were, I feel like the rest of my years in college will simple be spent in cleaning up the mess that I made in my naivete. Sincerely, I wanted to be able to survive one complete year in college without feeling emotionally swayed by anything that remotely implies romance, or even bordering platonic. The mechanisms I have developed have allowed me to live the other aspects of my life fully and well. However, a latent problem is cropping up a bit more frequently since the span of last semester. Let me deliver devastation right into your lap.

I’ve started feeling slightly attracted to a friend.

The sentence above alone does not capture the despair with which I write today. This is not the result of an arbitrary hormonal upswing. I wanted to write these passing feelings down in my journal. I thought then that I would close the remarks I had made with a comforting “This is probably the only time I’ve redeemed him from my bad books” and so on. What really unleashed the disaster was the slow horrific realization as I combed through my previous diary entries that I had been ignoring this growing problem for a while. There are many entries where I’ve tried to write off these feelings as something else. This soft-spot has been feeding on an incredibly large  reserve of pity, and mixed emotional boundaries. Every time, every single time I’ve delineated the large expansive list of why I cannot, why I must not and the nightmares of the past come back to haunt me.

At the core of all this, I just want to make him happy. Except I can’t because happiness comes from within.

Even now that I write this post, I am trying to reel in the fallout, telling myself to focus on work. But I desperately need an outlet. I need an external source of information to confirm, strengthen and validate the walls of my logic which are crumbling in the onslaught of a new discovery.   Having crushes has been something that has devastated my emotional well-being earlier and I have been so traumatized by those feelings that I am somehow at risk of punishing myself.

I am at the cross-roads of shame because I feel my safety mechanism against pain is hurt (by having a crush), and there’s the bewitching, unfortunately inevitable outcome that awaits me if I choose the path of action. I could not have been more certain of the fact that my “affection”, if it can be called is return. As it is, I don’t feel appreciated by my friends. But to expect someone as emotionally dysfunctional as him to regard me with a soft spot is expecting the infinite from nothing.

There is a beautiful, self-sabotaging lie that is singing to me that perhaps taking action on this opportunity could result in a golden horizon beyond the immediate obvious wreckage of my bleeding heart. No matter what the illusion, I don’t want to give into this. I have been scarred by this enough. Perhaps the very fact that I am even writing this here means that I need an external source to remind myself that I did not put in this much work into building my self-esteem to stumble upon something like this.

I am so incredibly ashamed and angry and disappointed in myself for even having these feelings, let alone conjuring ghosts of action upon them.

In my defense, the only thing I have to proud of is that nobody besides me is aware of this crisis. Being the alleged open book that I am, I have learned how to mask the feelings from the person who I want to bestow them on. How dare I grant myself the privilege to bridge someone else’s deep internal wounds because somehow I just want to see them happy. Is that pity? Is that affection? Given that I’ve never been reciprocated and I certainly won’t with this, why do I subconsciously seek out relationships that are unequal?

Hear my silent teary denial try to form answers to the rhetorical questions posed above. I’m waiting for the wounds of the past to scold me again. I need to remind myself that no matter what I should never ever take action, because the outcomes of all of these is a very obvious rejection, and I do not want to put myself through that degree of self-worthlessness again. I hope to someday look back and laugh at how absurd these feelings are, and not remember them with the terror that I experience now. I watch the shadows of my insecurities run through the streets alongside whispering to the stranded me, “You’re not pretty enough. You’ll never be worthy enough.” and I hear the distant patrols blaring over them. “You have not come this far to give in. Only you know what you bring to the table.”

Until the tears dissolve my fears, I have to continue to run away from this elaborate self-punishment.

Art

“Am I a work of art if I go unrecognized?” asked the fierce portrait of the dust that shamed its flagrant colors. Nobody answered and for a while the portrait wondered if truly another human, beyond its creator, could ever find the beauty that creator did. For what else could be the purpose of art?

A ray of sunlight broke through the panes and the dust glittered in the ray, as did the paint on the cheek. “The sun shines on me,” whispered the milieu of colors. If nature can touch me just as generally as it can touch the rest of the earth, surely I am no less than any other for nature itself appreciates me.

“I remain vibrant,” echoed the passive silence.

How I (am trying to) rebuild myself: Self-awareness

As promised in my previous post, I would write about how I’ve been working on myself. Since this is very person specific, and I usually write very personal things on this blog, I’m just going to ramble on and hope you find something remotely meaningful in all of this.

Firstly, I’ve been putting off embarking on this journey for quite a while. It happens at the end of every year. I always look back and wonder, “Oh my goodness, I’ve changed so much since last year.” When I say things like that, I sort of re-affirm a very stupid postulate in my head that I have arrived at the peak of my transformations and emerged as a final product. Philosophically, I’m aware that no human being at any stage in their lives is a final product, but somehow I always delude myself by saying “Look, I’m at least past the manufacturing stage”.  So this year, in order to make some serious improvements to that, I’ve come to accept that yes, a lot has happened the past year and perhaps something comparable if not more will continue to happen next year and the years after. This leads me to self-awareness aspect 1.

Aspect 1: I don’t adapt to change as easily as I think I do. This is okay, as long as I’m not deluding myself into believing that the change has already happened. Being slow > being completely ignorant.

Aspect 2 (technically, Sub-aspect 1):  I am a shameless expert at deluding myself. Need to stop that on an objective level.

This year started off with a day that was just like any other day, except everyone felt suddenly festive and had holidays. Some childish part of me used to give into the hype about New Years and literally wait, Cinderella-style, for some miracle to occur when the clock struck midnight. Perhaps the biggest personal miracle of them all was to realize that it was literally just the same as any other day. This means that every day is equivalent to a new day and therefore I can apply all the hype about fresh beginnings to every new day as well.

Aspect 3: I can use my self-deluding skills to convince myself of positive things.

In the midst of all the festivities going on, something rather awful happened. For the first time in my life, I got a C+ in a core class that I enjoyed. The class for which I got the C+ was on C++, so the grade appeared to be some sort of parody of itself. This rocked my GPA somewhat hard. It rocked my emotional stability somewhat harder. How am I supposed to celebrate and be merry with this sort of cloud looming over my head? I was waiting for the disappointment and the latent depression to take over, until I realized something important. I got that C+ because I was so busy worrying about my GPA. Well, the worst happened. My GPA has sunk to 3.15. The worry that had sapped off so much of my joy and energy finally materialized and……I’m still alive, the world is okay and spinning on it’s axis and to be honest, the damage is quite minimal and more importantly recoverable.

Aspect 4: I have an extremely awful habit of worrying and corroding my self-esteem based on (future) events that I cannot control. Now that I’m standing in the midst of the metaphoric rubble, I realize that failure, at this level, is not quite bad as I thought it would be. I may still get a job. I may still be able to graduate. I may still be/aspire to be a good, loving, kind human being.

I was talking to my father (literally, the best friend and coach and everything-awesome-in-a-human-form-that-cannot-be-captured-in-my-Mom) about it. This is what he said, “You don’t take a class hoping to get a good grade out of it. You take a class hoping to truly understand the content matter that has been presented in it.” I have to love what I’m doing. To be honest, I do love what I’m doing, except intangible worries of the future make me so anxious that I am borderline dysfunctional.

Aspect 5: I cannot control people. I can control how much I interact with them and what those interactions should be like, but beyond a point I am free to exercise my independence and not worry about ruffling anybody’s feathers.

This comes from a long history of being a people-pleaser. Now I’m not going to say that it is altogether a trash-worthy philosophy, because I still believe in people being kind and nice and courteous and respectful of their fellow humans whom they share this Earth with. BUT if they don’t know their boundaries, it is only right to you and to that other person that you take the initiative to specify the boundaries of the interaction. I still love making people happy and I’m not ashamed of it. But I don’t have to force myself to interact with the kind of people who literally set off my internal alarms.

I’ve been trying to put Aspect 5 into practice even before the new year, and its worked out very well. I hope to keep it this way.

Aspect 6: I do not eat to feed my body. I eat to feed my brain and the ancillary systems, which happen to be my body. So, if I respect my brain and its operations, I have to give due respect to the other things that make it functional and effective. I openly promise (in writing, mind you), that I will not brag about having slept for less than 5 hours every night. I will also not brag about my terrible, terrible food habits.  (Updates are in progress. I promise. In writing. Fingers uncrossed.)

During midterms, my body is composed of 50% blood and 50% this.  Image credits: www.starbucksmelody.com

During midterms, my body is composed of 50% blood and 50% this.
Image credits: http://www.starbucksmelody.com

Not going to begin on the “Body = temple” cliche here, but you know what I’m talking about. I’m almost 19/20 years old and it’s high time I take responsibility for what my hands put into my mouth, under action from my brain which clearly has other priorities besides health. I have been hitting the gym and waking up with all sorts of aches and pains, but that’s okay. A warrior must always train herself in other techniques as well. I can’t be expected to survive college if I lack physical endurance.

Aspect 7: (This one is rather hard.) I would like to be able to respect myself better. I have come a long way from salvaging my self-esteem, but I don’t feel fully confident with myself yet. I don’t expect to achieve this within the year, but through emotional de-cluttering, I’ve become a lot more happier with myself. I try not to think about issues which make me question my self-worth, because if I don’t have to deal with it up-front on a daily basis, it’s not worth my time.

For example, my obsession with superficiality and “not being pretty enough”. I don’t mean to sound like I’m flattering myself here, but I’ve received several compliments and opinions and arrived at the conclusion that I am actually quite okay. Most people say that I look “sweet/pretty”, so they can’t all be telling me the same lie. But here’s where the game takes a level upgrade. Their opinions (or even my own on this subject) honestly don’t matter anymore. I have never claimed to be Head Authority of Pretty, nor am I aspiring to be one. The people who are around me don’t care, so I should stop poking and nettling myself with saying that I’m not good at being something that’s very unnecessary to my existence by default.

I am going to sign off now, because I think I’ve said most of what I wanted to say. I know this list is not complete, and I hope that as the year passes by, I’ll be able to report a happier progress on these issues. Also, to my readers, thank you for reading as always. Please feel free to drop off feedback. Super Happy New Year to you! More importantly, if you have any resolutions/changes/goals, good luck to your success on them. Goodnight!

On judging and being judged

Judgement (Image Credits: thetarotdieter.blogspot.com)

(Image Credits: thetarotdieter.blogspot.com)

I’ve spent a large portion of my adolescence watching and discovering other people. I think one of the sole reasons that I am an extrovert is that I tend to absorb a lot of the world that is around me, visually and aurally. Given my compulsion to over-analyze details about my life and a pseudo-flimsy self-esteem, I think this bad habit was something I indulged in with unhealthy frequency.

It’s odd how I suppress all these internal realizations as I am a very transparent extrovert. I have difficulties lying or deceiving. This is not due to some obligatory moral ethos holding me back. I am simply unable to fake it. It can be construed as a good or a bad thing. Good in that, I am intrinsically honest. Bad, in that, it allows other people to manipulate me rather easily. One of the easiest ways I used to get embroiled in high-school battles was because someone would approach me, pretend to care about me, tell me of their emotional problems and expect me to agree with them. I’ll admit that I gave in to that all too easily. Empathy seemed like the only route for friendship to a lonely person.

Despite all my transparency, I could not openly express anger or spite as well I needed to. Through some force of personal grooming, I would isolate myself and let the negativity fester inside me till it had permanently stained the memory of that event.

For all my aggression, I mutely accepted the world’s rubbish by excusing them as immaturities. It dawned on me that at some level this was intentional. People did want to hurt me for no fault of my own. Or perhaps some perceived fault of my own. But despite that, I tried not to let these instances cloud my general opinion about that person. I make mistakes, too. It’s only right that I forgive someone else’s.

Except that’s not how the world always works. Positive slogans that claim, “Treat others as you would like to be treated” are not often followed by people. You do not get treated by others the way you treat them. Some will treat you like princesses even on the days when life seems gloomy. Some will spite you no matter what. Some will merely smile back politely and make small talk as you wait next to them in the elevator. I learned that everyone, under the external layer of politeness, was judging me, evaluating me, closing off parts of themselves to me, categorizing me into some stereotype or niche in their head. For some people, this first impression process is cast in stone, with others, the labels change with time.

I’m not going to be very self-righteous and say that I don’t judge people, because I do. There used to be a point when I wanted to make friends with everyone so badly that I didn’t set up any stereotypes in my head at all. I wanted to know people for the actual real people they are, not what they represent. This liberal outlook was rewarded with coming across some very unhappy people all the more willing to siphon off their negativity onto me. But, like chasing all the good things of life, I persisted.

I am lucky that this trait has survived with me. In some way, how a person presents themselves to another person does influence my understanding of them somewhat. One of my prime judgmental criteria lies in how people talk about things around them. Are you constantly complaining? Are you using way too many superlative objects for mundane things about life? What are you passionate about? Those are the things that I will notice about you. If you show passion and dedication, or appear knowledgeable about a subject of your choice, you have endeared yourself to me. I may not necessarily agree with your opinion, but I will appreciate the loyalty with which you stick to it.

After high school, as I started meeting more of the world, I realized that there were other criteria as well. People liked me because I was skinny. People did not like me that I wasn’t pretty enough for their attention. People did not like me because I wasn’t fair enough or something. I still don’t quite understand how you can judge a human being based on their physical appearance, because I don’t they can help it. You are born and have grown the way your genetic structure and health habits have led you to. But pessimism, optimism, sarcasm and the like are all cultivated, by the person’s own choice, so everything about that is under their control.

I got into an argument with a friend once. She claimed that she would date only guys who fulfilled a certain physical criteria, as in tall, well-built, fit, etc. It sounded (and still sounds) rather shallow to me. She justified by saying that a well-maintained body shows some dedication and passion. Her stance was that a guy who knows how to look after himself is equally well capable of looking after her, if she should choose to be in a relationship with him. Physical maintenance seemed to be a way of showing how much a guy was willing to invest into well-being. While I cannot disagree that health is important, I still cannot reconcile that to the idea that all fit people must “look” a certain way. You can be fit and not be skinny. You can be fit and not have a six-pack.More so, she then turned the argument and asked me whether I didn’t estimate the dating potential of a guy through his looks. I didn’t and I’m proud to say that I still don’t. I may casually notice aesthetics, but even that is at an arm’s length. I start observing about you the instant you start talking. That tells me not just of a guy’s dating potential, but also of his friend potential.

The reason why I was compelled to write this rather rant-like post is because I have this acquaintance, who judges people and proclaims it proudly. We call each other our friends, but more often that not, he is brusque and nasty. More so, he isn’t afraid of dealing it out to me. Through the last few months, when my self-esteem was convalescing, I’ve shrugged it off. But now I have this instinct to hand my opinion of him on a platter. I try to tell myself that I am more mature than he is and that I shouldn’t let it bother me so much. He is not necessarily a bad person, and maybe I’m simply overreacting to his twisted humor, but somehow, I don’t think that I should accept his bad treatment. Pardon me, I seem to be reverting back to the behavioral cycle I referred to in the beginning. I think I’m just going to avoid him, minimize contact so I don’t have to invest mental energy in worrying about whether I have evaded his scathing criticisms.

Which brings me back to judging. Why should you judge someone? After all, do they not deserve an opportunity to feel special in their own right? Some people say that judging is a defense mechanism. Somehow by categorizing someone else in their head as something demeaning, awful or caricatured, people try to boost their own self-esteem. Blame it on my naiveté, but I honestly didn’t know that could be true. Until I heard a story from another friend who told me that the guy she liked rejected her because she was “too chubby” and then went on to gloat about it. I’m not here to evaluate whether or not my friend is chubby or isn’t or maybe she has self-esteem issues or whatever. But I do blame this guy for having such a shallow criterion. Are you really going to abandon a girl, walk out of her life, break her heart into possibly irretrievable pieces the day her clothing size grows by one unit? I realize I may come across as slightly sexist with the number of male antagonists in this piece, but I know that this sort of opinion is not just limited to gender, age, shape or any demographic.

There are many ways to shrug off the feeling of being judged. Usually, the most effective method is to ignore. I’m sure there are several others, but learning to ignore is the most effective tool I’ve cultivated thus far. Don’t worry future self (and readers), someday, we’re gonna be above these nagging doubts that keep trying to claw us down.

Judgmental

The eyes of the world are watching us all.  Image credits: The Eyerth by Tanya Shatseva at http://tanyashatseva.deviantart.com/art/The-Eyerth-393216721

The eyes of the world are watching us all.
Image credits: The Eyerth by Tanya Shatseva at http://tanyashatseva.deviantart.com/art/The-Eyerth-393216721

I’ve spent a large portion of my adolescence watching and discovering other people. I think one of the sole reasons that I am an extrovert is that I tend to absorb a lot of the world that is around me, visually and aurally. Given my compulsion to over-analyze details about my life and a pseudo-flimsy self-esteem, I think this bad habit was something I indulged in with unhealthy frequency.
It’s odd how I suppress all these internal realizations as I am a very transparent extrovert. I have difficulties lying or deceiving. This is not due to some obligatory moral ethos holding me back. I am simply unable to fake it. It can be construed as a good or a bad thing. Good in that, I am intrinsically honest. Bad, in that, it allows other people to manipulate me rather easily. One of the easiest ways I used to get embroiled in high-school battles was because someone would approach me, pretend to care about me, tell me of their emotional problems and expect me to agree with them. I’ll admit that I gave in to that all too easily. Empathy seemed like the only route for friendship to a lonely person.
Despite all my transparency, I could not openly express anger or spite as well I needed to. Through some force of personal grooming, I would isolate myself and let the negativity fester inside me till it had permanently stained the memory of that event.
For all my aggression, I mutely accepted the world’s rubbish by excusing them as immaturity. It dawned on me that at some level this was intentional. People wanted to hurt me for no fault of my own. Or perhaps some perceived fault of my own. But despite that, I tried not to let these instances cloud my general opinion about that person. I make mistakes, too. It’s only right that I forgive someone else’s.
Except that’s not how the world always works. Positive slogans that claim, “Treat others as you would like to be treated” are not often followed by people. You do not get treated by others the way you treat them. Some will treat you like princesses even on the days when life seems gloomy. Some will spite you no matter what. Some will merely smile back politely and make small talk as you wait next to them in the elevator. I learned that everyone, under the external layer of politeness, was judging me, evaluating me, closing off parts of themselves to me, categorizing me into some stereotype or niche in their head. For some people, this first impression process is cast in stone, with others, the labels change with time.
I’m not going to be very self-righteous and say that I don’t judge people, because at some level I guess I do. I wanted to make friends with everyone so badly that I didn’t set up any stereotypes in my head at all. I wanted to know people for the actual real people they are, not what they represent. This liberal outlook was rewarded with encounters with some very unhappy people, all the more willing to siphon off their negativity onto me. But, like all good things, I persisted.

I am lucky that this trait has survived with me. In some way, how a person presents themselves to another person does influence my understanding of them somewhat. One of my prime judgmental criteria lies in how people talk about things around them. Are you constantly complaining? Are you using way too many superlative objects for mundane things about life? What are you passionate about? Those are the things that I will notice about you. If you show passion and dedication, or appear knowledgeable about a subject of your choice, you have endeared yourself to me. I may not necessarily agree with your opinion, but I will appreciate the loyalty with which you stick to it.

After high school, as I started meeting more of the world, I realized that there were other criteria as well. People liked me because I was skinny. People did not like me that I wasn’t pretty enough for their attention. People did not like me because I wasn’t fair enough or something. I still don’t quite understand how you can judge a human being based on their physical appearance, because, to a large extent, they can’t help it. You are born and have grown the way your genetic structure and health habits have led you to. But pessimism, optimism, sarcasm and the like are all cultivated, by the person’s own choice.

I got into an argument with a friend once. She claimed that she would date only guys who fulfilled a certain physical criteria, as in tall, well-built, fit, etc. It sounded (and still sounds) rather shallow to me. She justified by saying that a well-maintained body shows some dedication and passion. Her stance was that a guy who knows how to look after himself is equally well capable of looking after her, if she should choose to be in a relationship with him. Physical maintenance seemed to be a way of showing how much a guy was willing to invest into well-being. While I cannot disagree that health is important, I still cannot reconcile that to the idea that all fit people must “look” a certain way. You can be fit and not be skinny. You can be fit and not have a six-pack.More so, she then turned the argument and asked me whether I didn’t estimate the dating potential of a guy through his looks. I didn’t and I’m proud to say that I still don’t. I may casually notice aesthetics, but even that is at an arm’s length. I start observing about you the instant you start talking. That tells me not just of a guy’s dating potential, but  more importantly also of his friend potential.

The reason why I was compelled to write this rather rant-like post (I’m sorry, they appear to be proliferating) is because I have this acquaintance, who judges people and proclaims it proudly. We call each other our friends, but more often that not, he is brusque and nasty. More so, he isn’t afraid of dealing it out to me. Through the last few months, when my self-esteem was convalescing, I’ve shrugged it off. But now I have this instinct to hand my opinion of him on a platter. I try to tell myself that I am more mature than he is and that I shouldn’t let it bother me so much. He is not necessarily a bad person, and maybe I’m simply overreacting to his twisted humor, but somehow, I don’t think that I should accept his bad treatment. Pardon me, I seem to be reverting back to the behavioral cycle I referred to in the beginning. I think I’m just going to avoid him, minimize contact so I don’t have to invest mental energy in worrying about whether I have evaded his scathing criticisms.

Which brings me back to judging. Why should you judge someone? After all, do they not deserve an opportunity to feel special in their own right? Some people say that judging is a defense mechanism. Somehow by categorizing someone else in their head as something demeaning, awful or caricatured, people try to boost their own self-esteem. Blame it on my naiveté, but I honestly didn’t know that could be true. Until I heard a story from another friend who told me that the guy she liked rejected her because she was “too chubby” and then went on to gloat about it. I’m not here to evaluate whether or not my friend is chubby or isn’t or maybe she has self-esteem issues or whatever. But I do blame this guy for having such a shallow criterion. Are you really going to abandon a girl, walk out of her life, break her heart into possibly irretrievable pieces the day her jeans size grows by one unit? I realize I may come across as slightly sexist with the number of male antagonists in this piece, but I know that this sort of opinion is not just limited to gender, age, shape or any demographic.

There are many ways to shrug off the feeling of being judged. Usually, the most effective method is to ignore. I’m sure there are several others, but learning to ignore is the most effective tool I’ve cultivated thus far. Don’t worry future self (and readers), someday, we’re gonna be above these nagging doubts that keep trying to claw us down.

Gossip

The following is a guest post from a very insightful friend of mine. He has recently graduated from high school, and this post with it’s beautiful literary  structure and fresh earnest voice, seems to capture succinctly some of life’s lessons that he has learned and would like to share. May I present Gossip by Siddhant Dubey.

Let's talk about gossip. Image credits: http://idilsalihakuntuz.deviantart.com/art/gossip-60888863

Let’s talk about gossip. Image credits: http://idilsalihakuntuz.deviantart.com/art/gossip-60888863

GOSSIP.

Is it a noun, or a verb, or both?

Is it futile, or can it stir oceans?

Is it a whisper, or is it a war cry?

GOSSIP. GOSSIP. GOSSIP.

It’s all we do.

It’s all we’re capable of.

It’s all that’s engineered within us.

We can’t help ourselves.

We can’t help ourselves at all.

We need to know what he did a moment ago.

We need to know what she did ten years ago.

We constantly: Need. To. Know.

It’s a joke for some – an ordeal to engage in.

It makes others take their lives.

It ‘livens’ up a conversation.

It gashes someone’s self-esteem.

It generates laughter.

It disintegrates dignity.

It’s a quick exchange of opinions and statements.

It’s incessant.

It’s cruel.

It’s a burden that will explode if we don’t pass it on.

It’s the same burden that will destroy someone’s pride and possibly their life.

It can make you cry.

It can make you scream.

It can make you regret.

It can make you scheme.

It can make you shatter.

It can make you howl.

It can make you shiver.

It can make you scowl.

THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT IS TO IGNORE IT. Yes?

ABSOLUTELY.

THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT IS TO DISPOSE IT. Yes?

COMPLETELY.

THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT IS TO GENERATE IT OR PASS IT ON. Yes?

NO. HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE WORD ‘DISGUSTING’? THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE.

Some people don’t bother – The best option to keep.

Some people falter – Stop it, you’re not that weak.

Some people dismiss – that’s the way to be.

Some people cause – You have no right to be bleak.

__________________________________________________________________

Thousands of people kill themselves out of depression, out of being the centerpiece of judgment, out of not living up to expectations and out of sheer morbidity caused by the comments generated on their race, gender, sexuality, and other things that serve no basis for judgment.

GOSSIP IS A WEAPON.

It must be handled with care.

Disposed off when received.

Unloaded when aimed.

Enucleated before the intention of being made.

I gossip too. But with so many people taking their lives because of not fitting in or being accepted, it sucks that I’m contributing to even a fraction of pain in this world.

This is going to sound sappy to you (it most certainly should not, though) but you have to pledge with me:

I will not judge from this day onwards – be it on the basis of race, sexuality, gender or ability. I will not engage in incessant talk about other people and most definitely will not continue a piece of hurtful information for the sake of ‘fun’, ‘fitting in’ or even under ‘peer pressure’. I will not succumb to it.

Trust me, the world will be so much better when everyone stops gossiping. But this thought and idea has to take birth by itself, inside of you. Just regarding this and stopping at that will not do.

I do not know how many of you have heard of Amanda Todd and the terrible life she suffered. But if you have time, please look it up and empathise with the fact that there are so many people like her who need help and don’t know what to do except give up entirely. All of you who say “suicide is for the weak” are shallow-hearted fools who cannot, for the love of this world, see that suicide is a terrible, terrible act that anyone can succumb to when situations and people in their lives lash back on them with hatred.

I will also take a moment to talk about body image.

Being overweight myself, I know what it’s like to be conscious of body image.

It makes you feel awkward and uneasy and terrible.

There are people around us who may seem confident and poised, but that may not always be the case.

And so that gives you no right to comment on anyone’s body image.

Bulimia is just one of the very few social and emotional issues that we come across and disregard as “gross” or “disgusting”, but we need to understand that people are driven to this because of other people’s comments and expectations and that is the most unfair thing I’ve ever come across.

No one should ever be able to dictate over someone else’s body image.

Everyone’s aim should be to get healthy. Not to get skinny or be pretty.

Lastly, to everyone who’s having problems right now, be it regarding body image or sexuality or acceptance or anything at all, please consider talking to your parents about it. They may not seem like it, but they know their stuff, and they will understand. Your close friends (trustworthy ones) are also worth confiding in. For everyone who feels like that isn’t an option, feel free to drop me a message. Because no one deserves anything like this happening to them. Don’t let this emotion of self-doubt hover over you, because that’s not going to do you any good.

Thank you.

– Siddhant Dubey

Learning how to forget

I usually tend to remember anything that has been spoken or read aloud to me. When I try to remember something, it comes back to me almost as if I’m watching the video footage my eyes recorded during the time of the memory. The advantage of remembering something at that level of detail is that I can jump to my favorite parts, pause, annotate, add little reminders to myself, comments about my own behavior, observations about others’ and then continue. My brain allows me to edit these videos in a fashion where I can even mix these up by categorizing them under certain emotions. I went on to sort them under people, events, occasions, emotions and reactions. As a rather lonely child, I would mentally store many of the conversations I had with people around me. The larger the repository of life experiences I had, the easier it would be for me to know what kind of a response would be appropriate in multiple situations. It was likely that I could even find trends in the behavior of other people that would help me to predict their behavior to some extent and so, model my own.

Some of the disadvantages of having a memory that let me preserve an almost infinite capacity of history is that it took me some time to realize exactly what I wanted to populate the space between my head with. There seemed to be two main partitions. The academic one was clean and well-maintained. Information input into it was a routine and fairly smooth procedure. But the other section was devoted to the more “problem” aspects of my life, namely, what comprised of social skills and being accepted into a larger collective.

Initially, I did not use any content filters. Anything and everything that people around me said or did or indicated would simmer in my head while I pondered on how to process them. I was perhaps too young to differentiate between what was appropriate or inappropriate then, so I didn’t know how to tune the noise out. Perhaps another reason why I couldn’t ignore people so easily was because it conflicted with this innate need for social company. I wanted to be talked to. I wanted to talk to other people. It was only years later I realized that different people prefer different conversations. But when I was at a stage of still looking for what the suitable criteria would be for a friend, I was accepting everyone and anyone into my life. Nobody had set me out into the world with an instruction manual clearly delineating what I would like and what I wouldn’t. While playing back those memories, I realize that several of the ones that affected me very deeply should be promptly transferred to the recycle bin. It was then that I learned to forget, and more importantly create a defensive mechanism that would prevent similar from being stored into my memory again.

Even while remembering, it seemed easier to recall the situations and people who affected me negatively stronger than those who had a positive impact. Instead of letting these go, I stored them as future references of how mean people could be, as a lesson to myself. Effectively, I was telling myself, “Look, Person A did this to you. This is what he/she is truly capable of.” If their behavior did not seem to comply with their usual state, or if my perception of that person had somehow been colored before I met them (Yes, I was terribly impressionable then), then this wouldn’t surprise me. Otherwise, I would try to convince myself that their misbehavior was probably unintentional, or maybe they weren’t talking about me or maybe they just had really poor communication skills and I was misinterpreting. Yet, the memory never really faded away, or better, erased itself.

As a self-conscious teenager, my perception of self amplified. I don’t mean that it gave me a huge ego boost. I mean it literally made me scrutinize my every movement like some internal paparazzi. For some reason, known only to my past self, I managed to conclude that in order to be socially acceptable I was going to have to analyze my own behavior to a greater degree than I scrutinized others. They could do as they please, they weren’t subject to my power of mutability. But I was. Eventually, it morphed to a situation where I would over-analyze my public behavior and begin to store a growing series of memories dominantly comprising of my unacceptably bad behavior and my mistakes. I could let others off the hook. However, I couldn’t extend that same courtesy to myself. Worse, when I was in a foul mood, I would masochistically play back these memories to myself and punish myself for not having “done the right thing” (kept my mouth shut/ thought twice/ calmed down/ taken action, etc.). In a nutshell, processing this much bad data was wearing away at my fragile self-esteem.

Internally, I justified the self-abnegation by claiming that I was allegedly guiding my own character to some ideal of “being a good person”, something which seemed to be the largest common factor of all the people around me who were socially popular. But what defined being a good person changed with time, attitudes and people. I could not possibly try to disperse myself over such a large, diverse, albeit conflicting, pool of attributes without having some semblance of independent choice. It started with parents and my family. Their ideals took priority and as I interacted more with the outside world, I began to know what I liked and what I didn’t and whether my preferences in themselves were all right. I was not going to let that annoying sneering voice inside my head question my worth.

Some of the tactics that helped me get rid of the excess junk was to allow more of my work/academics/hobbies to infiltrate my mind. This way I was too busy focused on doing something productive than nitpicking myself. There was always writing, which helped me clear out my system to a large extent. Whatever it is, I think that’s a unique discovery cycle for each person. There is no sweeping general solution, unfortunately.

One of the biggest cleanup tools that helped me excuse, if not completely forget about, those awful memories was accepting the fact that they were mistakes. Surely, if I had reasoned enough with myself to learn to forgive other people for making their mistakes, I could do the same too. I was not going to treat myself any differently than how I treated them, or how I wanted to be treated by them. More so, I had learned to laugh at myself. Looking back at myself, there have been some pretty comical incidents which felt anything but from a first-person perspective.By forgiving myself, I was minimizing the importance of negative memories inside my head. I wasn’t blaming anyone for anything. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t that of someone else’s either. Circumstances would happen. Without remembering them as mistakes or unfortunate incidents, to be more precise, I would be disrespecting the gravity of the situation without making myself wallow in guilt about it. It was okay to make those mistakes, at least for the first time. It was okay to be me.

In fact, it was one of those realizations that prompted the creation of this blog. I can now safely look back at my thirteen/fourteen year old self and not cringe at myself. I was naive, I was silly, I was mistaken, I was young, I was many things back then. But today I have grown up (or at least, I’d like to think so). I have to be many more things now. I am many more things now and that’s what matters.

Shapes

 

Worries about shape and why it's hard to ignore them.  Image credits: http://aleeshii-chic.deviantart.com/art/Insecure-191976627

Worries about shape and why it’s hard to ignore them.
Image credits: http://aleeshii-chic.deviantart.com/art/Insecure-191976627

 

Most of the teenagers I’ve met have had some form of insecurity issues manifesting themselves in an obsessive concern over their shape and/or size. I’ve been meeting a few of my friends, whom I haven’t seen for over a year, and almost undoubtedly the first thing they notice is my shape. “Oh you’re so slim!” or something equivalent. I don’t really understand why this obsession with physical dimensions. After all, it seems to be a rather shallow way of evaluating a person. To be fair, I haven’t ever been on the other side of the spectrum. As in, I’ve never known what it’s like to be not “slim”, so I perhaps cannot claim that the discrimination they feel is imaginary. Most people would say that being called slim is something to be accepted as a compliment. Yet calling someone anything else is supposed to be an implied insult. If I am to be biased against a particular shape, then why should I not extend that bias to other shapes? Isn’t it also offensive, at some level, to call people slim? Personally, I find myself getting a little judgmental of people who compliment me on being skinny. The very fact that they notice my shape, and notice it enough to remark about it, makes me lose some respect for them. I am more than just the organic tissue that binds me. Which brings me back to wonder why people are perpetually obsessed with it, anyway.

The media, which heavily influences our lives in several insidious ways, has always been featuring their perception of the common people to a certain standard of what they should look like. I won’t deny it, I used to be one of those people too, marveling at the awe of their apparently flawless physical appearance. As someone who was tired of being an awkward wallflower, I couldn’t help but childishly envy them for being the center of such attention and supposed adoration. For a while, I even (stupidly) tried to become like that. Once again, the trustworthy network of friends and the deluge on information available via the media provided me with several alternatives on how to look a more socially acceptable version of aesthetically pleasing.

I used to stay a near constant shape as I would eat little and exercise little, my metabolism at some equilibrium. Because I expended so little physical energy, I rarely felt hungry. Until I realized that by not exploring the full culinary diversity at my availability I was going to be depriving my growing body of some very important nutrients. Even then, this realization could not promote me to eat better. That was when I started to exercise. It started with walks and then with runs and so on. My stamina was unsurprisingly poor, and after the first few times I physically exerted myself I found that I grew ravenously hungry. I started to feel more energized and I realized that I had expanded my tummy’s capacity for food. Although I knew that exercise was good for the health and all of that, somehow I had never really bothered to get into it. Strangely enough, I even discovered that exercise made me happy. While exercising, I would come across people who would say, “Oh, you’re so slim already. Why do you need to exercise?” It struck me that most people turned to physical activity only to try to shrink their current frames, which did not necessarily imply better health. People had just come to equate being slim with being healthy, and I couldn’t see how the two connected at all.

What struck me as even more puzzling was that people would hit the gym as a part of their efforts to get into a relationship. It just seemed illogical how a change in waistline would affect how endearing you were. And if it did, then that person was too shallow to deserve affection anyway. But there were people who testified to it’s marvelous effects, and there were several others who made the object of their affection the sole motivation to expand their own life-spans. I can only admire their determination and hope that the person whose appreciation they crave is worth it.

Then came the wave in the opposite direction. The media had, in an effort to garner more credible support, now begun to glorify the feminine shapes that were not size zero. Being curvy was the new in thing. Personally, I felt that this would reduce the social pressure on people to become thinner. I could not have been more wrong. It really annoyed me that even to this shape there was a maximum upper bound you could not cross. If anything, this new public favorite shape seemed to be more restrictive, as it came with a lower limit as well. Once again, a different section of society was under public scrutiny, fueling everyone’s inadequacy. When people aspired to be thin, they weren’t thin enough and now that everyone wanted curvy, you couldn’t be curvy enough.Several people, mostly my peers, now expressed concern at my previously hailed “slim” shape, and (with their best intentions at heart, I assume) advised me to “eat whatever/ eat more”. My parents still maintained that a growing girl needed her nutrients, and they didn’t really care whether that would affect my physical dimensions or not.

We can continue to blame the media for influencing the young “wrongly”, but since we are incapable of effecting rapid changes on a system that’s so all-pervasive, I think the change has to start within oneself. If you feel that you are influenced, then only you have the power to learn to be indifferent. This is not just about shape, but about any of the existing stereotypes that society holds us up to. When we start to feel scrutinized for every minute thing we do/say/appear as, we invite criticism. More often than not, at that age bracket, criticism can be misinterpreted in many different ways, some that are quite damaging and lasting.

That was when I realized one of the most fundamental things about myself. No matter what I did, due to some constancy of my metabolism, I was unable to affect a very large change in my shape. My metabolism kept my shape constant while regulating my dietary needs. It took me a while to conclude that my body is the functional tool with which I am expected to manage this world. If I unnecessarily tried to morph it into something that wasn’t part of the default design, I would lose some property that nature had eventually crafted into me for my benefit. I realized that this acceptance is usually easier said than done, and I have several friends who have overcome their personal demons and managed to deal with their food disorders. But to make these mental changes possible, the human body needs enough fuel to go on, and by reducing that, I figured I was reducing my capacity to make that mental transformation.