The first five minutes spent with any spiritual guru, life coach or radio jockey on any frequency will surely bring you within plucking proximity of the lowest-hanging self-improvement fruit these days, the advice that urges you to let go. And mind you, there’s nothing wrong with it.
It’s important to let go of many inconsequential things in life. Opinions, judgement, hatred, vices, the list is endless. But when it comes to women, this well-meaning, generalist statement takes on a very personal hue. It stands for someone who no longer considers it necessary to stay in shape, exercise, make an effort about her appearance etc. This creature could be lazy, fat, unkempt and unfit to socialise with. And being this way affects her abilities and worth. The shame! Tsk.
In our neck of the woods, there’s nothing remotely charming about letting go. As far as societal forces are concerned, this unfortunate phenomenon can strike a woman, unexpectedly, at various stages of her life cycle, much like long-term flu.
A young adult could let go of herself as soon as she bags a boyfriend. If a good-looking arm candy has been snared, she is then free to cram her mouth with as much real candy as she’d like; because there is no longer a need to make an effort to look presentable! Are you saying this isn’t the lakshya of every lass in the world? Why, whatever do you mean?
Next stop, a married woman. Right at the outset, a new house must be turned into a home, she must adjust with a bunch of motley characters who are to be nurtured, mollycoddled and converted into a family that adores her, then she must understand their ways while trying to stay focused on her job, all while juggling the husband and grocer’s list of requirements with two remaining fingers. Can’t you see there is no earthly reason for her to deprioritise workouts, health and beautification essentials in this scenario? Lazy lump I tell you.
Next stop is my favourite. Have child, must let go. You’d be stunned at the zero sensitivity displayed by some towards a woman who has grown something akin to a watermelon in her belly for 9 months and then pushed it out of something the size of a lemon (I forget which movie dropped this little gem into my lap) And don’t even get me started on what is muttered about women who’ve been through a divorce.
Women let go
After a leisurely Sunday breakfast, purely for entertainment, log onto Quora or for that matter, open up any search engine and look for questions listed under why women let themselves go. You’ll find it difficult to shut that laptop off without aiming it at someone’s head. Here are some of the questions I came across:
My wife is hideously overweight. Should I ">divorce her? (Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?)
What are the telltale signs that a woman will let herself go and gain weight after marriage? (You signed up for the wrong kind of PHD you freak)
I’m embarrassed to show my wife to my friends. She makes no effort to look presentable. What should I do? (Get a life and a spine while you’re at it)
Do divorced women let themselves go? (Yes. Of their husbands)
Do men feel that women in their 30s let themselves go? (You should resort to feeling tree trunks and spare the old haggard women in their 30s)
I might lob my acerbic responses from behind the screen and feel a modicum of relief but it changes nothing.
What are the origins and antecedents of these impossible expectations from women? These unattainable standards of beauty and sauciness and perfection all rolled into one.
Even young girls aren’t spared these days. I’ve seen enough comments on social media when girls who choose to dress comfortably or not use make-up are showered with epithets like ‘dowdy’ ‘auntie’ ‘hag’ and the like. This, in conjunction with an innate sense of inadequacy harboured by a young adult does terrible damage to a developing mind. They grow up thinking they aren’t enough.
Humour is a subtle, potent tool to highlight the ills and aches that plague a society’s way of thinking. Yet when it is used in a disparaging and almost self-destructive manner, it is a waste. I read a clickbait headline recently that intended to discuss how women are okay with allowing themselves to look uglier as they age. I saw some reels on it as well. My funny bone remained far from tickled. It’s these sorts of labels, narratives and stereotypes that take us back a hundred years.
If a 65-year-old woman is dancing in a skirt it's unacceptable, and if a 16-year-old is doing the same she is a slut. This is the playing field that’s left and you’re in any case bound to be pinned with the tail of ‘has let go off herself’ like the hapless donkey on the wall, no matter what you do. I have a neighbour who refuses to even collect her mail without lipstick and strapping on her heels, horrified that koi dekh lega toh?
While on the topic of watching, we are being watched. By millions of impressionable minds who are trying to make sense of this world. They must learn that it’s okay to let go of judgements and labels and be your own person, a person who is in control and strong no matter what she wears or looks like. As for the rest of us, at least I’m well beyond caring. I like my gym and my golgappas, my pyjamas and my short skirts, my new-fangled tempeh and crunchy tortillas. After all, it’s the contradictions that make us complete.
So, join me. Tune out that frequency, let down your hair (I know it’s always in a tight bun) open up a bubbly and a box of butter chicken, get rid of that tight bra, loosen those pants, and really let go this once, just the way you like it.
Richa S Mukherjee is an award-winning writer with four books under her belt, two of which are getting adapted for screen. Views expressed are the author’s own.
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