Editor’s Note: This month, that is September 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Boys, Men and Masculinities, where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences of masculinity that manifest themselves in our everyday lives and have either challenged, subverted or even perpetuated traditional forms of ‘manliness’. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
I have been painting my nails for a while now. I love painting them with different colours, taking good care of them. I keep them in good shape, clean and polish them regularly.
I used to hide it from people. I used to remove them before going outside, meeting people around or going to the office. Many times, I was noticed by people and they made fun of me. “Now in a few days you will start wearing Jhumkas” or comments like, “Being a boy why do you paint your nails.”
I work in a small town as a development professional, and hail from a small town too. Small towns are not very familiarised with boys wearing makeup unlike the metro cities, where people have partially accepted it so far. One has to be extra cautious and discreet. Once one of my neighbours saw my nails and asked whether I was wearing nail polish. This time I tried to be confident and told her, “Yes, I am. Doesn’t it look good?” She immediately laughed and said without even hesitating, “It does look good but aren’t girls supposed to wear it?” This shattered my confidence again.
I stopped wearing it after then, until I wasn’t able to resist anymore and put it on again. I really enjoyed it and it rejoiced my heart. This time I tried to keep it to myself. I selectively showed it to people who I thought wouldn’t judge me. I was acknowledged. I was appreciated. I remember a friend saying, ” You should always embrace your gender expression. Flaunt it and show it to the world.”
I am quite enthusiastic in following basic skin care routines. I remember clearly when I was a teenage boy. I was at home. It was just a home-made face pack of besan and turmeric. I can clearly recall my mother saying “Don’t go to the veranda, the neighbours will see and start teasing you. They will start asking me questions about what I have been teaching you.“
Back then, in school, I participated in a fancy dress competition. I was dressed up as Anaarkali from Mughal-E-Azam. I wore a lehenga, a shiny chunari on head, applied lipstick, and fancy-glitzy make up. I looked very pretty, quite unrecognisable in my get up. My teachers were more excited and joyous than I was, while they were putting makeup on me. But I was a little nervous to come before the whole school. I took a long veil to hide my face. I can clearly hear my other friends being curiously looking at me, but not able to guess who was under the veil.
I entered the centre stage of the hall, lifted up my veil and started saying my dialogue. Suddenly, a burst of laughter started echoing everywhere in the hall. I wasn’t able to fathom whether it was my talent that’s been appreciated and applauded. Or, was it my make-up and non-conforming attire gaining the enormous laughter? What was there to laugh? What was there to be surprised about? It was a simple attire. Why were there no laughs when my female participants applied makeup and performed? I being an innocent child was trying to seek answers to it. I was totally clueless at that time.
From then onwards, I was ridiculed. I was called names like “Chhaka”, “Sixer”, “Gaandu” and what not. It added to the past series of teasing and bullying because of effeminate behaviours and features too. I cried many times during the school but never reported that to anyone or to my parents. I thought my parents would never understand it.
I passed out of my college. This was my first year of work. I always wanted to grow my hair. I wanted them long and had a bun. I wanted to flaunt my hair in the air. I thought the comments and moral policing have ended now. But I was wrong. It was always there waiting for me to do something which doesn’t fit the perceived norms of the society. I got comments “Are you a girl?”, “Boys don’t grow their hair. They look good in short hair”, “Stop behaving like a woman. Why are you growing hair like a woman?”
Finally, my father asked me to cut it as he didn’t want me to have that hair. Also, I was fed up of being judged and criticised numerous times.
As I mentioned, I like to follow my skin care routine religiously. That is one of the self-care activities I do for myself. It helps me to appreciate my body, my skin and take good care of it. Therefore, I own multiple beauty products with me. I put kajal and mascara sometimes. I like to put mehendi/henna on weddings and festivities. People have noticed it and said, “Even girls don’t have so many products like you.“; “Boys don’t look good on makeup. Boys never apply make-up. Let it be with girls. You are not supposed to do it”; “This is wrong.” The societal norms were always there to target and attack. They never left my side.
For once, I started taking these societal norms seriously and tried to follow them. I kept questioning myself many times. Is this really what I want? Am I not sacrificing my own joy just to conform to societal norms? If I like it, why do I have to hide it from others? People like dancing, singing, painting, cooking, exercising and they show it to the world. They always receive appreciation in return. And if I like to paint nails, put on make-up, follow my skin care, why is it that I get questioned or being stopped? Why do I have to answer and convince people?
These things are not mere ‘hobbies’ for me. It is my way of life. It is a way how I like to express myself, express my love to my body, to be my authentic self. And this is how I want to cherish my life. I don’t deserve being targeted and shamed. That’s completely unfair to me and people who are expressive like me.
I started questioning the idea of perceived gender norms and societal beauty standards. I started questioning the conditioning we have been getting since childhood that says, boys are supposed to behave in a certain way and girls should behave in a certain way. Boys don’t apply make-up and girls braid pony. Boys are supposed to wear specific sets of clothing and girls are supposed to cover each part of their body. Isn’t all made up by society and we are conditioned to follow it blindly? Should the individual not decide how they want to behave? Which norms and mannerisms they want to follow? What makes us happy? Why is the onus on society to teach us that?
For very long, I was afraid that I would be labelled as “socially unacceptable” because of which I deprived myself of my self-expression. It started affecting my self-esteem. I started losing confidence. I was afraid to be judged by people, my friends and my family. The negativity kept me from succumbing.
I am really lucky, I made some good friends in my life journey. Though, quite later in my life. I am thankful to my lovely flat-mate. These wonderful people encouraged me to start my creative expression again. They helped me to dismantle the gender stereotypes and tokenism that I had been receiving since childhood.
I started being more active on social media which helped me to connect with a more set of bold and open minded community. It helped me to come in terms with my true authentic self. I started to love myself and accept my interests. I started learning that there are more people like me who are trying to break the negative gender stereotypes and sexism—people who are not limiting themselves, but representing the diversified narratives of looks and beauty standards. I started resonating with them. It gave me immense power and acceptance within.
My whole childhood went watching the crap the advertisements, beauty industry and TV channels were showing. Taglines like “Chhup Chhup ke kaahe, ladkiyon ki cream lagae” or men turning into girls when they applied women’s fragrance. This whole idea of rough and tough men and machismo was well conditioned into my brain. It has successfully shaped a mainstream culture of defining beauty and putting it in a rigid box.
Slowly, I realised that me, hiding behind, will add to the reinforcement of prevalent gender stereotypes, the token culture and most importantly the under representation of beauty and expression. There are no fixed notions of beauty. Beauty and looks should not be bounded or tagged to a particular sex. It should be inclusive.
I am done with society dictating me how I should look and what I should apply. I am done with the peer pressure and constant nagging. I am done being put in a box. I am sick of adapting to mainstream culture. Now, I will flaunt my beauty, express myself more loudly and clearly. I will put on more colours. I want to show it to the world, put it out there visible and vibrant. Also, I am ready to answer and condemn criticism. I am ready to break the chains and shatter boxes. I am ready to be flamboyant, ready to be expressive and ready to be a pretty and a colourful butterfly.