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The popcorn almost got stuck in my throat as the screen in front was set ablaze by the hero’s rippling abs that the camera focused on before it could shift to the perfectly chiselled face. The ladies looked like plastic mannequins who wafted through hail, rain or storm without even a strand of their perfectly blow-dried hair out of place, the make-up remained intact and I was left wondering whether beauty these days lay in the eyes of unrealistically critical beholders?

The next morning, I caught my son looking at his reflection in the mirror, for a second I thought he looked a wee bit dejected, probably he remembered the hero who was made to look like a masterpiece. This reminded me of a cousin who was a wonderful human being. She was attractive with a sharp intellect, but marriage proposals got bizarrely rejected just because the boys’ families thought that she had a nose that looked like a “flat deformed potato”! She was forced by her parents to undergo a rhinoplasty. But the girl took pride in her looks and did not let the criticism and caustic remarks affect her. However, not many of us are as strong as my cousin.

The pressure to look like models straight out of a fashion magazine has proved to be sinister and damaging. The beauty clinics mushrooming all over the place promise to convert women into fair, tummy-tucked, immaculate goddesses … probably a reflection of the diseased world we live in where aesthetics come before all else.

Pretty Woman and all that razzmatazz

I was body-shamed rather cruelly when I was in school, nick-named “Appu the fat legged elephant”! I had stopped eating, I wanted to belong to the gang of girls called the “Pretty Women” — named after the Julia Roberts romcom Pretty Woman. This continued for a few years till my baby fat melted away and I did feel relieved.

An acquaintance’s daughter is about to enter college and I was appalled to learn that she was encouraged by her parents to get various procedures done at the cosmetic clinic in order to ensure she wins the “Fresher Queen” title! Mrs. Kohli saw the conjunction of disgust, shock and disbelief on my face. She then tried to convince me that all this is just as mundane as a blow-dry or waxing. “Don’t you get Botox done?” she inquired and this sure left me zapped as the very thought of that “injectable toxin” made me squirm!

And then social media happened! Smartphones with that ideal camera and loads of filters are much celebrated. Thousands of selfies are clicked before choosing that perfect picture that could be posted, pinned or tweeted because all the happiness depends now on the number of likes and comments one gets. I see this girl at the gym with make-up on as she is determined to post that perfect gym-look like a certain ideal actress whom she idolises.

Even where authors were concerned, just a small passport size picture would suffice to be printed with the “bio” in the book. In terms of your day-to-day work life, your looks didn’t matter. That made the job easy for me, as I realised early on that the path of the supermodel would not be mine to tread. However, now the author is just not that one tiny picture, you have to “look” prettily presentable as that gives you the aesthetic edge, you should be that picture anyone might want to share, an image that would be tweeted and retweeted, scrutinised and commented upon. The mantra that works for me is that when you spread happiness it brings joy to oneself and no “facial” or “facelift” can ever beat that effulgent glow on your face when you feel at peace with the inner YOU!

Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp.