Even as a teenager, the best thing I liked about my grandmother was her soft, squishy, plump lap. She would groan under my weight as I settled in and leaned back onto her bulky stomach, but as she wrapped her chubby arms around me, I would feel the loose flesh of her neck on the side of my face. I cannot remember a time when my grandma was not big and soft.
It never occurred to me that she was not beautiful or that she should have had non-flabby arms or slender thighs.
To me, she was someone who made yummy things to eat (the best coconut obbattu in the whole world) and beautiful art out of cotton and shiny paper; braided young girls' hair with intricately set flowers (moggina jade) for portraits or dance recitals; had the gumption to yell at my mother and my aunts and uncles; someone who never addressed her husband by name; never ever took off her mangalasutra (even when it needed to be repaired, she held on to it while the goldsmith fixed a loose hook); who was proud that she and her husband had managed to bring up five children on a shoestring budget and found good spouses for all of them; someone who took joy in the fact that she was a grandmother many times over.
There is something absolutely calming in staring at the face of someone that has been through a whole life and has come out at the other end of it without frayed edges and with the center intact.
By the time I'm her age when she passed away, I shall count myself incredibly lucky if I could achieve a semblance of the kind of relationships she had with her children and the comfort she felt in her skin.
But this is not the message girls growing up get these days. We've all heard and read about (and can see for ourselves) how the media is inundated with ads exhorting women to become fairer, put on fewer wrinkles, have sticks for arms and legs, banish gray hair and have flat stomachs but full breasts. The engines of the $200 billion cosmetics industry run on these aspirations.
Which is why it was somewhat shocking and gratifying to see this ad for Dove in Time Magazine yesterday. True, Dove still sells shampoos and conditioners, and face and body lotions, but the message of this pro-age campaign and the message of their Campaign for Real Beauty effort are ones that resonate.
A woman's worth measured by the number of wrikles she has earned, not by the number of wrinkles masked; a woman's worth measured by flab acquired by years of living, not flab supressed by years of poor eating; a woman's worth measured by the streaks of gray in her hair collected over a lifetime of ups and downs, not by how successfully they are covered up.
One can hope.