Aspirations

The last few weeks, my newspapers have been full of news about newly-crowned Queens. There is a Miss World, and a Miss Universe, and numerous other regal titles bestowed on young girls. So far so good.

As a passive observer peeping through the window of the pages of my newspaper, over the years I have been noticing how the run-up to such pageants is becoming more and more elaborate and ostentatious. Qualifying rounds are held in different cities, in the most luxurious hotels. Several glossy pages of the paper feature spreads of photographs of the pretty young ladies going through a variety of activities in different settings, clad to the nines in appropriate designer wear. There is an ever-growing list of event partners—dress designers, hair stylists, skin gurus, make-up magicians, tutors to (re)teach the girls how to walk and talk, and so forth. And, of course how can all this work without the sponsors? So you have sponsors for everything from the eyes to the toes–Miss Expressive Eyes, Miss Dazzling Teeth, Miss Scintillating Smile, Miss Satin Skin, Miss Shining Hair—and on till there is nothing left to miss!

Possibly thousands of girls apply for these pageants with these very visions becoming the stuff of their dreams. I suspect that even as they start the process, so much time and hard-earned money is spent in preparing the portfolios to enter the race. For those “lucky” ones who make it through the various rounds, the metamorphosis begins as they are taken through the paces. But behind the scenes? A bunch of still naive girls living in close proximity, in a fiercely competitive environment–I cannot begin to imagine what the atmosphere will be like—the anxieties, the hostilities, the petty politics, the pressures. As murky as the intrigues in the court of a royal family!

The newspapers kindly give us ‘”the underprivileged outsiders” glimpses into the culminating moments of the qualifying events. The full spread pictures of an array of pretty girls with similar hairstyles, smiles and dresses makes it difficult to tell the difference between them. Until voila—we have the coronation of the Queens. Usually the brouhaha ends there. This year there has been a follow up. We also had the privilege of following the Queens as they visited their “native places”—the town or village that their family hailed from. We saw pictures of cheering crowds, motor cavalcades, cameramen and interviews and family and village elders welcoming their local girl who became Queen.

And I think—Is this the role model for all the young girls in the small towns and villages? Is this what it means to have “arrived?” Is this what parents dream of for their daughters from the day that they are born? Aspirations!

It is a very worrying trend. One observes young girls (almost children) being accompanied to beauty parlours for a host of grooming and beauty treatments. Parents spend much money on consulting nutritionists and dieticians, trainers and gyms, and of course the latest fashion in clothes. “Looking good” becomes the end all and be all. Aspirations!

An even more frightening extension of this is the pushing of young children into the numerous reality shows. I am appalled at the occasional glimpse of children cavorting to Bollywood numbers dressed in vulgar outfits and plastered with make-up. A recent piece about a five-year old girl who won a dance show talked about her childhood in a slum of Kolkata, and how she has made her parents so proud. Her dream is to live in all all-pink fairy tale house. Aspirations!

How disturbing. How sad that in a country where we are still talking about Save Our Daughters, Educate Our Daughters, we seem to be building aspirations that promote superficial showmanship, branding, and objectification of our daughters.

–Mamata

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