A lot of emphasis on exteriors these days. We paint our walls a particular hue, drawing rooms sport a premeditated look, we are members of this exclusive club, go to that expensive gym, we dine here, we drink there… The hours we spend deciding our clothes and haircuts are never rued, investments as they are in an us everyone can see.
Medical checkups are a bit on the backburner. Unless an arm turns suddenly black or a leg goes limp, we wait for symptoms to vanish on their own. The idea of an annual check-up or internal investigations for the fun of it is left to hypochondriacs. Facials over pelvic scans any day. Also, mammograms are no picnic. The least we can ask of breasts is that they maintain silence.
Spas and meditation centres should be leafy and hubs to meet social influencers. Our pans are designer and our diets the Mediterranean. No wonder then that in this era of glittering frames, personal hygiene perhaps gets a little less PR than it should. This fixation with how we look rather than how we are on the inside is infectious. Which is why in the best looking houses, the loo can be a little iffy.
It is a well-known cliché, that beauty begins from within, that kindness beats a glowing complexion begotten by synthetic means any day – but our inner self does not make speeches, it does not even whisper to us. By the time we get back to our navels with an ‘eh?’ things are somewhat out of hand. Then it is time for pills and powder and squinting at chemists. Drastic changes in lifestyles and food follow. Air fryers come out of their packaging like swords from sheaths. The earlier cool is replaced with martial strategies. The body has spoken, and it is time to listen.
Fads are fine as far as small talk is concerned; lovely to have something handy to say when there’s a lull in the conversation. The task of incorporating lifelong changes, on the other hand, is an uphill task involving awareness every minute and a deathly bore in terms of company. The need to commune with self arrives and with it the lack of knowledge in matters concerning said self.
No taped relaxation techniques, no aromatherapy, no highly priced float tank, no massage… just a ‘how are you?’ to the same old you. And no pretence at listening while you wait for someone else more fun to intervene, no looking away when the chat gets dull or tough. You are all ears as you take stock of life so far. Somehow solitude seems apt at this moment.
We are far too eager to hear everyone else out on the subject of just about everything, including ourselves. The trust we place in the opinion of others carry us hither and thither through life. Any wisdom gathered on our own seems too flimsy, too insubstantial to rely on. God forbid, we come across as know-alls.
But imagine for a moment that no one but you exists, that all you need to survive is your four limbs and beating heart. Not family, not friends, not that boy who smiles slowly at you once a day. How cosy in your skin you’d be then. When beauty and beholder are both you.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.