Of late I’ve been catching a male friend or two looking in the mirror. When they see me seeing them, they ask, “Have I put on weight?” Yesterday a good friend asked me, “Do I look fat?” Immediately, alarm bells rang in my thoughts. As an insecure female, I thought it was my birthright—and only mine—to complain about my weight, go loopy at times when confronted with fat me.
In my mind, men were above this kind of loopiness; they could go ahead and order a cold coffee or lassi with cream without mentally counting the extra calories. They could pose under a monsoon waterfall in their underwear without fear of being judged. The Indian male, it must be said, can get away with paunchiness, baldness, hairiness with dignity intact, even style if one can call it that. To be exposed to the adolescent girl hiding under that tough exterior is a shock to me. My expression conveyed as much to my friend when he asked the million-dollar question, and laughed. “Maybe I have too much oestrogen,” he joked. We laughed.
But there’s something sinister going on here that I can’t laugh off. It took me a few years, lots of self-counselling and supportive partners to grow out of my fragile, college-day body image. To enjoy a dessert without guilt. Or stop resenting skinny girls for no reason. Spending three months with a dance troupe in Turkey tested my self-image greatly, and I’m proud to have returned home without an eating disorder or inferiority complex. Dancers are size zero. When one of my mates fell violently sick and lost many pounds, another girl congratulated her at the achievement.
Just a few weeks ago, I was chatting with someone about dance bars, how popular they were and all that. Not all men who visit dance bars visit prostitutes. This is something I find hard to understand, and my friend spent a passionate, caffeinated half hour explaining the phenomenon. “Imagine you are an ugly, pot-bellied guy who no one checks out. You step into a bar, and for a few drinks and a little money, these dance girls make you feel like the hottest shit going. They have eyes for no one but you.” According to him, the universal need to be checked out, to feel hot is as vital as the need to get laid. Okay, so some men visit dance bars to be checked out.
For inexplicable reasons, commenting on my sister’s weight gain post pregnancy is a huge source of dining table humour for everyone, including her husband. After one such jibe, my dad wryly commented once how he never said a word to mum, despite the double-digit kilos she gained with each pregnancy. Mum loves feeding dad fried potatoes and dessert. And dad can’t handle mum dieting. He knows how happy sweet things make her. Their relationship says something, something relevant to this blog, but I don’t know what. Looks never mattered in their equation, but I don’t know if it’s as simple as that.
Where have we gone wrong, or how are we going wrong? Emancipation never meant converting female insecurities into male ones. Among the few perceived advantages women had was our ability to fall in love with ugly men. We didn’t go by inches. We were happy to have found companionship. Clearly, this is in the realm of myth-making. Or else, why would the other half of our equation fall prey to the boy issues we love wallowing in?
Perhaps I’m overreacting. Perhaps this is just a Bombay thing. I wonder if people in other cities have seen this too.