For as long as I can remember, the word beauty has been associated with certain standard connotations and it still pretty much is. I cannot say that I haven’t been affected by it or believed in it. Because if I did, that would be a lie. I believed in it too just like everybody. Because who are we kidding? We are surrounded by these standards of beauty and no matter where you go, there it is, staring at us. People are always judging you by your physical attributes even before they get to know you.
But as we grow, we evolve; we meet people and process our experiences and somewhere we start questioning these norms; and sometimes we have to go as far as unlearning and (un)believing in things that had been hard-wired in us since our childhood. I had to unlearn quite a lot of things too and the definition of beauty was one such thing. It took many such experiences from my childhood to this day to peel layer after layer of what beautiful actually meant.
I had been fortunate enough to have met many real beauties in my life and I am not talking about physical attributes here and I encountered one such beautiful person about 5 years back while I was working as a teacher.
She was a petite, dark, unassuming woman in her fifties or probably sixties, who was part of the housekeeping staff who went about her work diligently.
I noticed her during a small activity I tried with my students. Working in a school, for as long as I did, I had come to understand that Class 8 was a tough grade to handle. As teachers, we always had deep discussions about this topic in the staff room, analysing this change of behaviour in students moving from 7th grade to 8th. What is it that changes those seemingly sweet innocent kids into obnoxious beings within a few months, was beyond us! Of course we knew it was adolescence playing havoc and as a biology teacher I had an added responsibility to shoulder; that which every other teacher shuddered to think of…yeah, teaching those brats about reproduction in all its glory. Oh yeah, the stuff that nightmares are made of!
But that was exactly the topic that I took full advantage of; to teach them about hormonal changes and how that brings in changes in their attitude towards elders and especially their parents and how it’s important to keep the channels of communication open between their parents at this crucial juncture. I took this opportunity to teach them about peer pressure and body image issues, gender equality, respect for the opposite gender and about bullying and much more. Every year the most dreaded chapter turned out to be one of the most heart-to-heart sessions between me and the kids. It was important to remove the awkwardness surrounding the topic and help boys and girls feel comfortable to speak about this important topic as freely as they would approach any other topic.
So we all kind of knew about this adolescence phase and the innate desire for control that resulted in rebellion in the kids. But nonetheless, teachers were always at loggerheads with students of this grade some way or the other.
This particular year as soon as my co-teachers and I were assigned the class teacher-ship of 8th grade our antennae went up. And so we braced ourselves for the effects this year was about to spring upon us. I started planning various activities to keep these busy minds constantly engaged so they didn’t have time for unnecessary gossips and destructive behaviour. We brainstormed and came up with various club activities, taking the children into confidence so they could be a part of the decision making process that would make them feel valued.
One of the activities I had planned was on gratitude and dignity of labour. I thought of it as I had been receiving complaints from many housekeeping staff on our wing regarding the students’ unruly behaviour which led to messy classrooms more often than before.
So, it was decided that on one particular day, they would have to interview one of the housekeeping staff on their wing and get to know more about them and submit a report. They accepted reluctantly but soon I noticed them become very comfortable and pally with this lady. It definitely wasn’t her beauty but her affection that drew them to her. They sat her down on one of their chairs and gathered around and bombarded her with their inquisitive questions. She in turn, seemed to enjoy all this interaction and showered her love on the kids. I was just a spectator watching all this seated at my desk from a distance. To my amusement they pleaded me to take a group photograph of all of them with her and claimed that it was for the report. I happily obliged.
The report was due one week later and by then they had taken a printout of the group photo and prepared an elaborate report on her. When they presented it to me, I came to know how well they had gotten to know her. She had shared the story behind her name and that she was deserted by her husband at a young age and had brought up her kids all by herself and how at this old age her ailing husband had come back to her for support and she had taken him in out of sympathy. Gosh, so much of history! The children had new found love and respect for her and she was totally enamoured by their affection and had tears of joy in her eyes when they presented the photograph to her.
This is how I had started noticing her and her extremely courteous behaviour and her willingness to drop everything to help anyone. It wasn’t just once or twice but always. I noticed her going about her work but the minute she noticed anyone needing help she dropped what she was doing and ran to offer her help. And this was quite often because as teachers we would always be carrying huge book bags or notebooks to be corrected and bundles of papers all the time and she would appear from nowhere to give us a hand.
Not just with teachers, I noticed her rapport with students too. And believe me when I say that today’s kids especially teenagers could be really snooty and obnoxious when they want to be. And throw in an elite crowd and you know how they treat working class people. But to my surprise, I saw them so affable with her; there was an easy camaraderie, a sort of bond usually seen between grandmothers and grandkids. She would chide them when they were unruly and at the same time be of utmost service to them when they needed it. When we scolded the children for being careless about messing the floor and tell them they should be mindful of the amount of extra work they were giving the housekeeping staff, she would politely tell us later, “madam, let it be, they are only kids”…it’s my duty to clean up and I will do it happily, you don’t have to worry about me madam”.
When I spoke to her about retiring and taking it easy, all she said was that she wants to keep working as long as she possibly can to support herself and not be dependent on anyone. I also noticed the different sides of her; how she was so shy yet so confident and so loving yet so fierce. That she could hold a mike to sing and dance with abandon when given an opportunity during helpers’ appreciation week.
Her compassion and courteousness saw children gravitating towards her. There were senior students honouring her on their last day of school and talking about her fondly.
This for me speaks volumes about beauty. We just have to look deeper than the surface. Beauty isn’t just skin deep, it’s so much more than that. Beauty isn’t about who you are on the outside, but about who you are on the inside.
It’s about kindness, compassion, integrity, courage, honesty and much more.
It’s about being there for someone, respecting others, keeping others in your prayers and loving and caring and giving. It’s about not giving up when the going gets tough; It’s about loving yourself for who you are. It’s about getting up after you fall. It’s about chasing your dreams and believing in yourself. It’s about having the courage to stand up for yourself and what you believe in.
I believe every woman has TRUE BEAUTY within her in all the roles she plays. For over 18 years across 650 plus salons across the country, Naturals has been helping the Beautiful Indian Woman get more Beautiful.
Today Naturals Salutes the Beautiful Indian Woman.
Presenting Naturals TRUE BEAUTY… http://bit.ly/naturalsOF
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