This post was originally published in Masalamommas
“Sorry, I forgot my face”, is what one mother said to me as we bumped into each other after dropping our daughter’s off at school. I gave her a quizzical look, not sure what she meant. She quickly moved her hand across her face, referencing the lack of make-up. She was actually apologetically explaining to me how she was in such a rush this morning and did not have time to “put on her face” which is why she looked the way she did. Honestly, I did not even notice. But she gave me cause to really scrutinize her face and all I saw was beautiful bone structure, an enviable glow to her bronze skin accompanied by a sad furrow on her forehead. Yeah, that furrow needed to go. Was this woman feeling alright? First of all, she certainly did not need to apologize to me or anyone for that matter on how she looked. Secondly, it’s not like there was food smeared across her face (even if there was, considering we were outside a preschool, I would’ve let that one slide also). Thirdly, why did she even care what I or any other mother thought? I wasn’t wearing any make up either. It was 9 in the morning, and unless you were a working mom or had to be somewhere later, I didn’t expect to see any of the mothers wearing make- up. Mainly because, if you had to reach the school at 9, most likely you had to be up at 6 or 7 in the morning to make that happen and who has the time and patience to get glammed up then?
Then I thought about it and it stems back to the age old issue of mothers suffering from the (pre-dominantly) self- inflicted pain of being judged. Not only do we feel we have to be the perfect superwoman ideal of a mom but now we have to look the part too? Boy, we are a bunch of masochists aren’t we? If we are measuring ourselves against the celebrated ‘media moms’ with the 6 month post baby HOT bod and don’t meet that ridiculous bar of ‘standards’ (sigh…I can relate Ash Rai-Bachan) it puts us in self-doubt about everything doesn’t it? It brings down our confidence and somehow makes us unappreciative of our own mothering skills. WHY?
When did this pressure to look good start? Was it when at age 9 my mother told me to brush the tangles out of my hair before we went to take official document photographs, and in a fit of stubbornness I refused? The result of that is in my Canadian citizenship card I look like Mogli from The Jungle Book. I was mortified. Or perhaps it was around the time I entered into the awkward pubescent years and attended my older cousin’s Sari party, where I wore the ever so grown up and elegant fabric around me for the very first time with a dash of make-up. My clumsy disposition seemed to diminish for a moment as all the aunties cooed “Haii, kitni pyari ho gayee hai” (she has become so lovely) and my mother beamed with pride. I always felt comments like that to be a double edged sword, seeming to reinforce that I wasn’t so “pyari” (lovely) until just then. Either way, the take home message was that when you made the extra effort to be more than just presentable, you got compliments and moreover you were reflecting your mother’s job well done at raising well groomed children. I suppose the seed to look good is planted in our minds during these earlier years but whether it grows into an aggressive weed, the obsessive need to be conscious of appearance at every turn or into passive perennials such as the lovely lilies, depended on the society and circumstances one is brought up in. The South Asian culture on the whole is very much about appearances because it all is severely entrenched into reflecting family honour, respect and upbringing. So if you are desi, chances are you are already very conscious about how you look. And if you were like me, you probably had a phase when you tried to rebel against it (a story for another day).
And so when we enter the world of motherhood when one’s entire concept of self is thrown into an upheaval our cultural expectations of appearance get twisted along with it. Of course the same sure footed woman pre-baby is much more skilled at handling this matter. She has mastered the art of looking good and exudes confidence in every aspect of her being, until she births well, another being. Then the ground seems to shake from under her and everything she thought she knew becomes uncertain. What do you expect will happen when you can see the physical transformation of jumping four to five sizes up which might come back down by two sizes if you really really really try hard. Not all of us get caught up in body-image issues but most of us experience some form of self-loathing or moment of self-criticism at one point or another during the day. It is not a nice feeling. It certainly is not what we deserve.
But come on moms, we are all in the same boat here. We need to learn to become a stronger community of stronger women who take pride in each other. Each of our stories is unique and we deal with parenting and life accordingly. The fact is, in this generally competitive society we naturally assume we are being judged by other moms and react to that by becoming judgemental ourselves and this vicious cycle goes on. The truth of the matter is there was no judgement to begin with. It was just our own insecurities of dealing with motherhood. Those insecurities only exist because we are responsible for other lives. Of course we are going to question ourselves every step of the way. It is a big deal and we are always trying to be better and do better for the sake of those precious creatures. What we forget is that we are not alone. Our community of mothers is a powerful one, with the best resources i.e. our own individual experiences. We need to share this knowledge and share the love and support along with it.
So ladies, fellow mamas, next time you pass by another mother, acknowledge her with an encouraging smile. Bare-faced or not, that gorgeous smile is the only thing you need to wear and maybe a twinkle in your eye as you strut with pride (wailing kids in tow and all).
I would like to dedicate this post to Masalamommas because what a great forum to foster the community of motherhood. If it isn’t complicated already, throw in our big fat desi culture into the mix and boom you’ve got fireworks! So let’s lend a hand, lend an ear or just a post and share our stories, commending and commiserating over that cuppa chai together.