It was a Sunday. I thought it would be a quiet spring day at my local beauty parlour. Much to my dismay and amusement it turned out to be more busy than usual. Within a couple of hours many women walked in. It was soon a full house in the basement, with hairdryers whirring, as if in competition. But here comes the amusing part: half a dozen of the women were well past the ‘pleasingly plump’ stage — that hypocritical and irritating phrase used when one wants to be nice (but is actually quite condescending) about those teetering on the far end of the sunny side of obesity. Disclosure: I passed on to the darker side a long time ago, to fat — there, I said it. It is also the reason I am justified in writing this column.
The women varied in age, from one barely out of her teens with bouncy curls and a wide smile, to a woman in her early 50s, leaning more on her right knee, enfeebled, perhaps, by her excess weight. The heartening thing was that all of them wore those extra pounds with such confidence — and endearing lack of self-consciousness. T-shirts or tops stopped just short of protruding stomachs and huge hips; most of them wore figure-hugging jeans or pants. Oblivious to the layers of fat that in some cases jiggled as they moved, they nonchalantly leafed through lifestyle magazines full of gorgeous women who looked as if they ate nothing but salad and were so thin you could see their bones beneath the glazed skin. Not too long ago, the supersized would wear figure-hiding, shapeless clothes, and often, subdued colours that did not call attention to them and, therefore, their size. I have been there: sought refuge in a sari, mistakenly thinking that all the yardage and wraps around hid what needed to be hidden.
Which brings me rather circuitously to the point of this column: Are some of the winds of change blowing this way enhancing individualism when it comes to the way we dress and present ourselves? Is the fashion police losing its power over us, with fashionistas no longer to be emulated slavishly, having been brought down a peg or two from the pedestals we put them on. There, from those perches in society pages, or from advertisements and the big screen, the reigning princes and princesses seem to be looking down on us ordinary mortals. Are some of us getting to be more comfortable in our skins, accepting the way we are, the way we look?
Fashion, quite the dictator that it is, can often be ruthless, dividing people into those who belong and those who don’t. Into those who are in and those who are out. Into those who lead and those who follow, usually rather sheepishly. Fashion is also fickle. Wearing last year’s craze can make you an outcast. That branded handbag that you got in a discount sale on your last summer trip to the States, the one you wear triumphantly on your wrist — with your arm dressed by the bag and its logo, you enter a party or reception an instant before the rest of you follows to make the right first impression — well, just got you exiled to the wannabe category. You will have to be quicker on the draw and revamp your wardrobe if you want to get back into the charmed circle of those who, come to think of it, are clones of each other.
It is not just about how you or your other half looks. Fashion also dictates the kind of house you ought to live in, and equally, if not more, importantly its locality, your cars, the schools and colleges your children go to, the parties you throw and what you serve, where you holiday, your circle of friends. Oh, and I forget, the art on your walls. The list is endless, encompassing as it does most spheres of life. I have this good friend, bright, well-meaning and sensitive. She does a complete revamp of her house every other year — sometimes even sooner, despite the fact that she has a challenging job.
While some of us rather like the patina of age gracing our furniture and objets d’art, why, indeed even floors, she wants everything to be spanking new. When she walks into our living room, she keeps telling me that I should make my house brighter, more in tune with the times we live in and, of course, according to the dictates of fashion. Global, that is. What she means is uproot all the flooring, the tiles of yore, and lay parquet flooring: “You don’t have to get real wood, you can get the synthetic sort that looks so real that nobody will be able to tell,” she whispers in response to my surprised look, while my mind silently calculates how much it would set us back by.
She also tells me that it is time to light my home with new-age chandeliers or the latest lighting being brought in by the ton from Italy. She suggests lights that incrementally look like whimsical sculptures, as well as pristine white sofas, chairs and carpets. All easy on the eye, but impossible to clean. But then that does not matter, my friend will just wave a wand — an enviable credit card — and get everything upgraded when it shows even the minutest signs of passage of time. Kitchens and bathrooms are vulnerable spots: fashions change here faster than anywhere else.
Nothing, alas, must look lived-in. And she is not the only friend to tell me it is time to reinvent the house and myself, in that order. This younger friend has to keep up with the diktats of fashion even more rigorously. In her case, she has to keep up with the parents of her school-going children’s classmates. This increasingly important peer group now decides the trend and sets the bar. Most in her circle seem to be dropping kilos but increasing the wrinkles. It is rather trying — all that trendspotting.
All the more reason to celebrate the women in the beauty parlour wearing the adipose tissue as a badge of courage.
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