I am sure there are many women who share my pain about the effort it takes to look the part, when you head out to a party where you know that other women will be dressed to the nines. The hunt for the perfect dress, elegant jewelry, perfectly matched lip color, expensive handbag, six-inch heels, and last but not the least, the perfect hairstyle—the list is long!
I confess that every fiber of my existence envies the branded brigade flaunting their shimmering eye shadows, bold lip colors, glittering jewels, ravishing outfits, high heels, and lovely nail colors. No matter how hard I try to ignore my lack of interest in the department of dressing up, the pressure to fit in gets to me. The internal dialog starts between a part of me that is hungry for some attention and a part of me that values comfort and simplicity over anything else.
My attention-craving part wakes up from a deep slumber and bombards me with questions like: “How can you come to a party like this with this handbag? Now don’t try to hide it as if it doesn’t belong to you. And look at your hair—so frizzy and dull. The worst part is the greys that play peek a boo with the blacks. And look at your face—you are not in your twenties anymore. With a little make up and some pampering you can change this face from the one that only a mother could love to the one that may not stop the clock but might slow it down. And your favorite mantra, ‘everything in moderation,’ doesn’t apply here. Either you fit in or you don’t – stop feeling bad about not being a head turner and jump on the dolled up train. These parties are not meant for meaningful conversations. Only Gucci and Prada talk here. If you cannot raise the bar, don’t lower it by dressing for comfort. The truth is, you don’t belong here, but you secretly wish you did.
Those who know me well describe my sartorial style in variations of the same theme. If my mom had to say it in one line, she would say “Don’t come in your pajamas in front of my friends, I have a reputation.” In the words of my close friends: “Only you could have come like that!!” And my daughter would say, “Mama wears the same sandals every day. They’re her favorites.”
My logical side gives up. I promise myself that the next time I go out, people will see a new me. I am ready to take a ride with no apprehensions. The first thing on the list is to shop for a nice outfit. I find shopping exhausting so I bug my husband to help me with the adventure of “dress hunting.” He is my savior when I face an outfit crisis. The next step is to make sure that the outfit fits nicely. Accessories are finalized; footwear and handbag are ready for display with their price tags showing. (a deliberate mistake to make sure they get the attention they deserve).
And now when the time comes to get ready for the party, I am super excited but, wait a minute, I didn’t realize that I had to start planning a day in advance. My dress is not ironed, my jewelry and shoes are still in their respective boxes somewhere in the garage and this damn thing called hair straightening takes a good 30 minutes. This nervousness feels so familiar. It’s the same feeling I used to get before taking an exam. In no time, jittery nerves replace the excitement of trying something new. My well-thought out plan seems to unravel from this point on. The kids are screaming to get my attention, as they don’t like what my husband has made them wear. My husband’s temper is soaring. He doesn’t want his efforts to go waste because of my poor planning. And I am fumbling in the drawer looking for suitable lip and nail colors. I take a deep breath and somehow manage to stay afloat amidst the high currents of confusion and chaos. The kids are finally seated in the car and my husband who is tired of calling me multiple times is all settled in the driver’s seat. Oops, I forgot—I still have to transfer stuff from the purse I carry to work to this new branded handbag that will be my arm candy today. And if that is not enough, my new sandals are biting me. My husband is ready to leave without me and I literally hop into the car leaving from the driveway. My head is spinning from this craziness and I am ready to throw up. In spite of all the things I crossed off the list getting ready, there is still one last thing to cross off my list—the new nail color. I take out the nail color from my purse and ask my husband to drive slowly so that I can manage to apply it with precision. I avoid any eye contact pretending to not notice the murderous look he is giving me. He curbs his anger, and drives slowly. Phew, I am ready for the party! I’m a little out of breath with this hectic pace of preparation, and try to regain my composure. I console myself with the thought that none of this will be visible once I reach the destination. The only thing that I am going to project today is calmness and poise. Only my accessories and outfit will do the talking today!
But what is happening to me all of a sudden? After all this hard work, I am not too pleased with the results. I feel like the only things that reached the venue are my designer wear. I left myself behind in this business of trying to be someone that I am not. What am I trying to prove and to whom? Do I really need to go through all of this just to get some attention? Most times, in get togethers, I am busy observing others. Now I am more concerned if my presence matters. I am tired and worn-out though my outward appearance tells a different story. The brand is carrying me. I feel crushed under its weight. Not only my shoes, this garb of pretense that I am wearing is biting me. I start wondering about what went wrong. Everything is nicely put together including my hair. What is missing? Ah—I realize that I missed the most important ingredient. I failed to infuse it with something that is the very soul of this entire business of looking good. Without the right mannerisms and attitude, you fail to own the stuff you are wearing. This dolled-up look makes me feel uncomfortable and doesn’t feel natural. I feel like I am living out someone else’s version of how I should be. I take a deep breath and let go. I feel so relieved that my attention-seeking side is defeated.
The real me takes over. I wash my face, take off my high heels, tie my hair into a ponytail and get rid of everything that was making me feel so plastic and superfluous. As the real me emerges, all the longing for attention vanishes. I get back to what I am good at and that is giving attention. I shower people with compliments and make them feel like a million bucks. If everyone is seeking attention, who is going to give it? All performances need a good audience—everyone cannot participate.
And to all the lovely ladies out there, you stand out in a crowd because we don’t. Your finesse, elegance and charm are appreciated because there is a contrast that exists. Instead of a nose-up-in-the air attitude, please show us some gratitude for making you what you are. Don’t dismiss us as mere onlookers. Our ordinary appearance is what makes you extraordinary. So let’s keep the admiration mutual. Please don’t judge us based on how we look. Instead make some room for us in your world. With a little hand-holding we might be able to shed our inhibitions and feel more comfortable in your sassy world. Am I asking for too much?
Tamanna Raisinghani is a software engineer by profession. She loves to spend spare time reading, writing, cooking and pausing every now and then to be thankful for being part of this miracle that breathes in us called life.