Tender Glossy Care

A few weeks ago I had written a piece about the homogenisation of the Indian appearances in mainstream media. At the point I had written it I was not expecting to have a personal encounter with the cookie cutter machine.

Around the time of the Pink Chaddi Campaign my friends and I gave a lot of interviews. It was a source of minor amusement to us because we were all behaving as it it was normal, as if we had always known how to do television appearances. There were a few occasions on which the television journalists blanched at our downmarket appearance but to the studios' credit no one asked me to dress differently, do my face or do anything at all to my day's end rumpled clothes. (One Delhi activist told me kindly and in a motherly way that I should request the studio's makeup artist. Alongside her neat, middle-aged smarts I did look distinctly shabby and I think she would have said it to her daughters as well.)

Having reached this blase state about appearing in the media the last place I was expecting to get a jolt from is Femina. I don't know about you but when I was a kid there were only two women's magazines in my vicinity. One was Woman's Era which you read with a sense of its delicious absurdity. The How I met my husband column was matched in madness by the agony aunt column and outdone by the horrendous fashion spreads. Then there was Femina. Femina was fashionable, glossy full of cool women. Or so I remember it.

As an adult my only encounters with Femina has been in waiting rooms and beauty parlours. My glossy magazine love has shifted to the Vogue or Cosmo bought once in three months, whose retro charm is railed and exclaimed over the way I once did with Women's Era. Femina seemed no longer either exciting in content (unlike say Marie Claire, which does one solidly researched, truly interesting story every month) or scandalously Marie Antoinette like Vogue. But when a
a journalist from Femina called wanting to write about the Pink Chaddi campaign I was quite happy to do the interview knowing what great reach and influence the magazine has. The journalist herself was extremely sweet and maternal. We did the interview in bits and pieces. In person, on the phone and via mail.

I was told that I would have to wear a white top for my photoshoot and that the photoshoot itself would take an hour. This seemed a bit much but I said yes. I had already done strange things like dodge a journalist who wanted me to pose with a drink in a pub and walk around a park with a laptop for 15 minutes for a TV channel so what was a mere white top?

The shoot was done on the roof of a spa. The photographer was a gentle, obsessive sort who did in fact take an hour. He did not care that I had no make up on apart from kajal and lipgloss. (At one point the journalist saw my dry feet and broke out a bottle of moisturiser.) We chatted as he took pictures. He is wonderfully eccentric and we talked about the pictures he shot in Alang at the ship-breaking sites and of the poets in Mumbai he knew. He made jokes about trying to break into fashion photography (he wasn't). Sitting on the wooden floor of the spa, striking feminine poses, there was no way that my rolls of fat would be entirely disguised (not like it would be if I had been standing up tummy tucked afraid to breathe). The photographer thought it looked natural and I agreed. Before I left I saw the pictures on the screen of his digital camera and told him that he had made me look very pretty.

That was February.

This week I saw the issue. I had got calls from acquaintances about the shoot and there was a strange undertone to their congratulatory calls. I just assumed that it was the bizzareness of seeing someone you know in Femina. When I finally saw the issue I could only laugh.

Buy the April issue to see hilarity. I am six shades fairer. My hairline looks cleaned up. If you have ever met me you would know that I have acne scars like moon craters. Not one scar in sight in Femina. My jawline has been sharpened. I had not slept at all that month but no shadows are visible under my eyes.

On the third page of the story there is another picture of me standing grinning. And why wouldn't I grin? The photoshop genius has taken off a good ten kilos of me. Now the wonderful thing is this. Flip through the magazine and every single woman in it is the same colour and has the same textured skin.

I have a complicated relationship with my appearance. It's mostly a damn you, insane Malayalee body, let's get by even without your help. At night after I had watched my father falling about laughing at the magazine and making pungent remarks about Parvathy Omanakuttan, I looked at the photos again. Is this what I could look like? It is truly seductive to imagine how much better how different my life would be if everywhere I went, everyone I met would see this fresh-faced, glowing, white-toothed creature. It is truly seductive to imagine that I would be happier, luckier, kinder.

My friends have responded to the magazine with varying levels of shock and amusement. SP asked me what on earth Femina was doing altering my appearance since my interview was part of a year long series called Women Fight Back (kicked off with the anniversary issue in March). My hunch is that while the articles themselves will probably be interesting and source new Women who have Fought Back, the art department will continue its private war. Not to say that the art department is responsible for the photoshopping madness. My guess is that poor and rural women featured in the series will be allowed to keep their skin colour whatever it is because of course it is only natural that the subaltern be dark. But wheatish, overfed women like me who want to rock the boat a little bit will be allowed to rock the boat once we are depigmented and our figures are restored to Femina's aesthetic standards.

The magazine is lying somewhere in my house and I am hoping it will get lost. I will be thirty in a few months and the last thing I need is to be seduced into adolescent resentment.


scan photos and send to me my love!!!

April 10, 2009 at 10:39 PM  

Out of the country and so cannot hope to lay hands on Femina. But wowza. Sounds nuts.

I keep wondering when someone will next demand I separate my eyebrows or straighten my hair.

April 13, 2009 at 2:57 AM  

This has given my a wonderful idea for a pointless hoax letter I am about to dispatch to Femina(zi)

April 15, 2009 at 2:56 PM  


April 15, 2009 at 2:57 PM  

Women's mags, women of 'substance' & pulp dreams:

Good one...i would have expected Femina to do something like that...loved to be reminded about Women's Era, as a teenager growing up in Delhi, I'd read the 'How I met my husband' column starry eyed & with full fascination in every beauty parlour. Then naturally graduated to reading New Woman that had cryptic sex ads on the back page, a coy smiling hema malini on the edit page (often wondered if she even wrote a word in the mag) and more fascinating stories about college girls in 'pink tops & jeans' meeting their future husbands in funny mistaken identity kind of situations.

Something about women's mags and the dreams they sell - early and happy marriages, wonderful homes and entertaining relatives, bouncing babies and blissful lives (and at every stage peddling solutions to get all of the above).

Let's start a realistic women's mag someday..
An old (ya agewise too) classmate -Ananya

April 19, 2009 at 8:32 AM  

Well, on such occasions, all you do is think of your own personal Jack/Joan Gilbert(s) (http://tiny.cc/bnoSM) and their tributes to you. Everyone else's opinion is, thankfully, irrelevant.
Now, if only, I could take my own advice.

June 9, 2009 at 10:33 AM  

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