“I grew up in the shadow of the concept of Indian beauty, where Fair and Lovely held sway and long hair and a thin body were considered beautiful. I was deemed the anti-thesis of this concept because I was tall and dark. My childhood was spent learning that rosy lips and dimpled chins were pretty whereas I was meant to fade into the woodwork.
This constant barrage of stereotypes left me with no confidence in myself. I became wary of any kind of social interactions and preferred to be by myself with my books. Unfortunately, these books didn’t help much either - after all, I wasn’t Dickens’ Estella or Kalidas’ Shakuntala by any stretch of the imagination. I became shy, timid and an introvert. My only strength was my academics.
When I went to Delhi University to pursue an undergraduate course, a whole new world suddenly opened up to me. Gone were the spurious concepts of beauty that I had grown up with. To my surprise, personality, more than looks, determined a person’s attractiveness. However, my childhood conditioning had done its damage and I still didn’t believe that I could be beautiful.
All this changed with one throwaway compliment. One day someone told me, “Hey, you look like Konkona Sen Sharma.” For me this was a pivotal moment - I was actually being compared to a beautiful Bollywood actress! I was an attractive woman, one who was being likened to a film heroine with all the attendant beauty and glamour that entails.
This changed my perspective of myself. Looking in the mirror was no longer painful and in fact, I even looked forward to it. I also realised that my personality had so far been determined by how I felt about my looks. With this epiphany, my personality also underwent a gradual but vast change. I felt more confident interacting with others and even felt comfortable addressing larger gatherings.
When my husband brought to my attention a young girl of Class 7 who suffered from stage fright, I counseled her and helped her get over her fears. This incident brought home to me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to help others overcome fears they had internalized due to a lack of confidence, or insecurities that held them back from being all they could. Most of all, I wanted them to know that beauty doesn’t have just one standard.
Today, I run various personality development courses and institutes and even plan to write a book about beauty and how it needs to be seen in terms of a person’s self, talents and personality. My hope is that this brings home to Indian teenagers the true concept of beauty and not just what society and their peers tell them is beautiful.”