Do looks really matter?

I vividly remember that when I was in second or third grade, I was parading around in the new skirt that my parents had bought me and even boasted of it in front of my neighbour, a girl who was about ten years elder to me. She gave a meek smile and said,’Wear whatever..there are not many years left. Then you will also be forced to wear salwar kameez.’ I was surprised at her words, for my cousins her age still wore skirts.
I belong to a liberal and broad minded family and never faced gender discrimination or judgment at home but the world is not as considerate. When I stepped out and entered a medical college, I understood what my neighbour had meant – gender stereotypes.
The length of hair was considered indirectly proportional to how modern a girl was. We even had a Head of Department who believed that girls who wore jeans were ‘fast’ and distracted boys. So much so, that we had to wear salwar suits to college, lest we wished to flunk in his subject.
Suddenly, clothes became a big deal.
It was important not only to be careful in selection of clothes in the lecture theatre but also while outside it. It was out of question to move out of campus, dressed in anything and not get commented on it by leering strangers. 69% of men agree that their judgment of women is based on their looks. A large number of women judge women on the same criteria too. Unfortunately, in our society, the girl’s dressing sense gets blamed even for crimes committed against her.
After I completed medicine, it was time to begin internship. It was a proud feeling to be addressed as a ‘doctor’ and I was very enthusiastic about it. Very soon into it, gender stereotypes came to the fore again. One, all patients will address you as sister and the boy next to you as doctor saab. No, the patient is not getting all brotherly on you; you are a female, so the usual notion sadly, still is that a girl is a nurse, at least in the rural areas. I was irritated of correcting every patient who addressed me as ‘Sister’ and therefore, dressed up in salwar suit, wore my apron with the name tag, put the stetho around my neck and even ditched the lenses to wear spectacles for a mature look. It did work a few times, only a few.
My own grandmother often asked me, ‘You look so young.Do the patients consider you a doctor? Grow your hair .’
I ignored the persistent comment but it made me realise the mindset. #IAmCapable survey by Nihar Naturals revealed that 70 % of women agree that majority of judgments on women are from family members or friends rather than strangers. Somewhere, it made me feel uncomfortable too. I felt I would outgrow the issue but never did.
Even when I started working as a healthcare administrator, I wore sarees to work as I wanted to look the part and wished to be taken seriously. I was still asked in an interview
‘You are quite slender. Do you think you will be able to handle administration?’
I could have pondered over the question and fell into the pit of self-doubt but it angered me and I felt like shouting,’I am applying for the job of a medical administrator,not a wrestler!’ Instead, I held my cool and replied,’ I do not see how my physical stature matters for the job, it is the professional one that should.’ Whether the interviewer was testing me or whether he actually liked my response, I got the job.
The judgments still don’t stop.I have learnt to ignore the ridiculously foolish ones and retort back to the derogatory ones. I do wear sarees to work but I wear executive suits too and still sport short hair. I do have to work a bit harder and prove my worth, but I do not give up. I encourage my co-workers who feel the same way. 72% of women agree that working women face more judgments on their looks or their clothes than housewives. Dressing up at work should be about work culture and ought to be career-suitable, instead of being based on genders.
We need a massive change in mindset and the best way I feel is to start at home. We need to teach our sons the age old wisdom of not judging a book by its cover. We also need to let our daughters be. I don’t tell my six year old daughter that she can or cannot do something because she is a girl. I let her get dirty. I let her shout. I let her be a child. She gets to choose the length of her hair and what hairstyle to sport. Disturbingly.64% of women agree that judgments passed on them have affected their ability to reach their true potential. That is an alarming number in the age when everyone is shouting ‘women empowerment’. Not judging women for looks and appearance is empowerment too. It is high time these fairness cream ads were not given attention and we shifted our focus from ‘fair’ matches for our sons to compatible ones. Being sanskari is believing in our values, not in dressing up in a salwar kameez and covering the head.
I believe that #IAmCapable and my work should speak for me, not the length of my hair or my stature!!
The stats must change….

Author’s note:ā€œIā€™m breaking stereotypes based on appearance by sharing my experience for the #IAmCapable activity at BlogAdda in association with Nihar Naturals.ā€

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