This is going to sound outrageously implausible but I can’t believe how much I have in common with Angelina Jolie and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Oh alright, I don’t have Angelina’s hot bod (even without her original boobs) or those devilishly lush lips or that let’s-have-sex gaze. And I don’t have Aishwarya’s ethereal beauty and feline grace and her big fat endorsement contracts. And okay, I don’t have millions in the bank (not yet), and I don’t go jetsetting around the world every week with babies in tow (mine are grown and stay home to babysit the dogs). And my biggest claim to fame are still only my thoughts and my written word and not the way I jump onto the top of trucks with a gun in my hand or the way I stretch about languorously in a low-waisted ghagra to the tune of Kajra re.
But consider this: All three of us are in our late 30s. All our names start with the letter A. All of us are moms. We’re all married to loving, equal partners who belong to the same profession as us. All of us are associated with the fashion and beauty industry in some way. And all of us have made difficult choices in the past couple of months that have created much talk in our respective worlds – whether criticism or praise or just gossip.
Angelina got a double mastectomy because she feared she had a high risk of breast cancer, and made a public disclosure through a newspaper op-ed. Aishwarya made several appearances at Cannes in varied ensembles, but ended up being viciously criticised by sections of the fashion media for either her poor taste or her portly frame (by fashion standards, not ‘real’ women, mind you). And I went and got married for a second time.
And since none of us live in bubbles, every action we take has a ripple effect on many women (and some men) who are connected to us – either through the news or the grapevine. When Angelina talked about BRAC1 testing and losing her mother to cancer, it did make regular women reading the newspaper wonder, ‘Should I be getting myself tested? If someone in my family has had cancer, should I get that part of me chopped off just in case? Do my breasts have no other use once the babies are done with them?’
And when cynics lambasted Aishwarya with comments suggesting fat women shouldn’t do their hair up (else it reveals their double chins) or wear clothes that look like curtains, it did make TV viewers and blog readers wonder, ‘Hell, if the beautiful Aishwarya couldn’t please these style snobs, where do we stand – with all our chins and bums and public-transport-friendly fashion sense?’
And it’s no surprise that when acquaintances found out I’ve taken the plunge after years of single motherhood, they wondered too: ‘So there’s life after divorce? So even a woman with two teenage daughters (not even sons!) can find love? So there is something called a soul-mate – not an arrangement, not a compromise, not ‘settling down’ – even in 2013? Whoa.’
The thing about judging others for their looks, choices or compulsions is that we risk falling victim to the same judgements. When we paint a woman’s world in clothes sizes, social codes of conduct and Photoshopped skin, we set ourselves up against a distorted mirror. Let’s give each other the space to make our own difficult choices, free from the fear of censure. When I allow you to be you, I free myself to be me too.
First published in the June 2013 issue of Atelier Diva