My in-laws’ remarks about my looks hurt me till I found my self-esteem again

sad woman irritated

How her new in-laws received her with unkind remarks on her looks

Time: 25 years ago

Place: The living room of a Punjabi home in a small village.

It was my in-laws’ house. I had just been married and entered my in-laws’ house with the baraat. They ushered me into the drawing room. Though my head was covered and eyes lowered, surreptitiously I took a quick look at the living room. There were some embroidered dolls in the showcase, some doctors’ prescriptions next to it and an embroidered tea cosy. I was sitting on sofas whose cloth just had been changed. There was lacy cloth on the back of the sofas so that they always looked new.

And there I was, 19 years old, armed with the confidence which only unconditionally loving parents can give, wearing a Banarasi sari like Anushka Sharma’s reception saree, with my head covered. I was wearing a huge gold set, some khandani hand-me-down, though I am sure my mother-in-law thought I was undeserving to carry the khandan forward. The fan made a whirring noise but was of no help against the sweltering heat and I kept sweating profusely.

She’s so dark and her lips are too full

My in-laws had called the neighbours and some friends to have a dekho at the bride. The tradition was that I would touch their feet and they would kiss me or hug me and give me some money. Touching 50 pairs of calloused feet was already giving me a headache and I wanted to lie down and also attack the lovely chola bhaturas being made.

Hushed whispers started, “Is this is a love marriage?”

“No,” said my mother-in-law, horrified, “Why?”

“She is so dark.”

My mother-in-law nodded in agreement.

“Why did your son say yes?”

My mother-in-law just looked very sad. As if to say, what a sacrifice she had made.

I could hear a relative say bitchily they must have got a lot of dowry, but my mother-in-law pretended that she had instant deafness.

That was my first encounter about my complexion. Until now my parents had never commented on or mentioned my dark complexion. I was their little princess.

“Her lips are huge,” someone whispered. That was the era before silicone pumped lips were the rage. I really had a huge mouth which I was embarrassed by. It always looked bee stung, especially when I got up in the morning, but it was such an embarrassment for my in-laws. Their idea of beauty was thin, mean, pursed-up lips not the wide generous mouth I had.

She is so dark

Representative Image source

Related reading: How comments about her weight were threatening her belief in her marriage

I was young and unexposed to unkindness

I was very young when I got married, with no exposure to the unkind world. Their words and attitude dented and made holes in my ego, shattered it and made it really fragile. My self-esteem went for a toss. And I believed them that I was very ugly. Even today I can’t buy a foundation to match my skin, I always buy one three shades lighter.

The girl at the counter will say when I go to buy a foundation, “Madam, is it for you,” and I will nonchalantly say, “No, it’s for my daughter.” “Then it’s OK,” the friendly girl will smile and say, “On you it will look very chalky.”

As for my mouth, I would first use the lip liner to thin my lips and then I would fill them up.

We moved to a metropolitan city. My husband always complimented me, which I sometimes believed, sometimes not. I alternated between wondering whether he was lying or trying to make me happy. My emotional state about my looks was very fragile.

your colour

I joined a gym in the city which we moved to, and in the bargain made friends. I had children and became friends with their friends’ parents. That’s when my self-esteem started coming back, because they would praise me, envy my complexion because it was flawless. But the under-confidence remained. I could never accept a compliment at face value; I always thought it was loaded. “Is she laughing at me,” I would wonder, “Or is she serious?”

Related reading: 30 compliments for men that make them happy

Slowly building up my self-esteem

I started teaching in an NGO and started writing. My self-confidence grew and I did not need anyone’s validation about my looks any longer.

How much ever you try to tell yourself, “Who cares,” you always care. Scratch my skin and there would be festering hurts.

When my mother-in-law was on her deathbed, she called me and said, “You have been so nice to me, I am leaving this jewellery for you. I have two Banarasi dupattas with pure zari which belonged to my mother, the red one is for your sister-in-law because she is so fair, and the peach is for you because you are not fair.”

I had always coveted the peach dupatta more. Was I happy that I got the peach dupatta, or was I hurt because again there was that reference to my dark skin?

Was I happy that I got the peach dupatta, or was I hurt because again there was that reference to my dark skin?

I couldn’t make up my mind.

But I knew these barbs did not hurt me as they did earlier and I am hoping there will be complete closure, when I can look back and laugh and wonder, “Why did I ever take them so seriously?”

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