Monday, February 9, 2015

I dye my hair...but admire folks who don't!

Greying set in before I turned 30 and I started dyeing my hair in my mid thirties. I tried to manage without  dyeing but the grey made me look simply awful! I had to dye!
Recently my sister asked me when I would STOP dyeing my hair and even after a lot of thought, I could not answer!  I believe, a lot more consideration is needed to decide when to stop dyeing than when to start ! Should I stop when I am 50 or 60 or ... Should I stop when I retire from work? Or should I continue dyeing but change the dye from  black  to brown and then stop altogether after a few years? Should I stop when my friends and peers stop? Should I stop when my sisters and husband stop? or when my colleagues who are also my age-peers stop? Or should I continue to dye till I die? Should I stop when I have grandkids? Should I stop dyeing just before I become an old joke... my wrinkled face contrasting with thin-yet-jet-black hair ?
When to stop dyeing is a  really difficult question to answer !
But if you insist on an answer, then I would say, 'when the dye starts looking fake on me'.

YET, in my heart, there is a nook, where I have a lot of admiration for those  men and women who don't  dye their hair! I am not talking of those who can't afford the hair dye or those who are not aware of hair dye. I am talking of those who choose not to dye and are so full of confidence and self-esteem that their grey does not bother them one bit! They are unyielding, yet, calm and smiling when their well-wishers earnestly advise...nay, beg them to dye their hair!
They are aware they would look younger by decades if they dye; they know they will fulfil the conventional parameters of beauty if they dye, but they don't.
I admire their confidence; the fact that their self-esteem does not depend on looking younger or better. I admire that they take their stand unyieldingly against the majority viewpoint. I admire that they truly believe that beauty is skin-deep and there are more important things than  appearance and they are focusing their energy on those things. One set of people I would like to add to those who don't care about appearance is the Indian men and women I have seen in USA (in California especially) who dress in traditional Indian clothes like saris and dhotis without caring a damn about dressing to fit in with the majority. One of them is a guy who has a juttu(long hair tied) and is a software marketing guy in San Jose ! I admire the women with kumkum and jeans and jacket in California for their courage but I also dislike the unaesthetic combination of  the kumkum with western outfits!. ( I have such  conflicting emotions about this beauty versus don't-care-a-damn-about-how-I-look!)

In the 70s, 80s and even 90s Bangalore and my village in Tumkur, most people with grey did not dye. The middle aged women of those days idea of "dressing" would be wearing silk saris, gold jewels, kumkum, talcum powder on face.  Some of the richer or more 'modern' young folks of the 90s would also put lipstick and eye liner and maybe some perfume.
But since 2000, many middleclass people in Bangalore have started dyeing their hair. My mom and two of her four sisters have been dyeing their hair since the last one or two decades.

Now it is almost impossible to find greying women among middleclass Bangaloreans. Even greying men are becoming harder to find. What amazed me the most was finding absence of grey in village folks too!

Other pleasant but shocking discoveries in my village and taluk were finding that nearly all girls have shaped their eyebrows and the salwar kameez has replaced the langa and blouse! When I was a young girl visiting my village in the 70s and 80s, I was forced to wear saris and kumkum (I hate putting kumkum as it does not suit me)to avoid questions and odd looks from the villagers. If I wore pants I was asked if I was a boy; and if I wore salwar kameez or did not have kumkum on my forehead,  I was asked if I was a Muslim. But today, the girls of my village wear salwar kameez and some pre-puberty girls even wear pants...and no questions asked! Changes have been sweeping over rural India!

The increase in attention to fashion, even among villagers and the poor in India  is a reflection of many changes. It may indicate an increase in wealth or a decrease in poverty... if one did not have food to eat, would one be able to spend on things like hair dye, talcum powder and shaping eyebrows at the beauty parlour?
It may also indicate that people are having access to movies & TV and influenced by what is shown.
It may indicate a desire for a better appearance, indicate that the village folks are appreciative and happy to copy the urban/modern look.
It also indicates that the village folks no longer feel shy or embarrassed to try to look good or copy the urban fashions. They have become bold and open to experimenting and copying. They no longer fear the old taboos. (There are such a lot of proverbs and sayings and misogynistic viewpoints in India which say that women should not pay attention to beauty, etc.)

In the 50s era, I guess that only people on stage like movie stars and stage actors used makeup and hair dye. Later the makeup was used by women in major cities like Bombay and Delhi. Subsequently women in other towns started using makeup....this is my guess and not based on my observations or research. I still recall the middleclass morality prevalent when I was in school in the 70s and early 80s. The prevalent belief is that girls or women who used makeup especially lipstick were immoral or promiscuous or character-less or flirty or indecent or 'not-good-wife-material.! Especially lip-stick which was considered by old-fashioned folks or should I say bigoted folks as something only immoral women used ! The prevalent idea in the 80s and earlier times in India that I know was that 'decent' women dressed in saris or Indian clothes , did not 'do style or fashion' , did not use make up; 'decent women i.e. decent Hindu women had to use the kumkum on their forehead, flowers in their hair, earrings, and bangles. The lipstick and   rouge especially were a definite no-no! I remember my dad's fury when he saw  my 3 year old sister with red nail polish, which my neighbour who ran a beauty parlour had kindly put it on to entertain my sister !
The change in attitude toward fashion, dressing, western influences is visible if one sees movies of the different decades. The movies of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc. mirror the changes going on in India.  The change is  180 degrees! In the old movies only the 'vamp' wore makeup and skimpy clothes while the heroine was demurely dressed in clothes which covered her fully and 'she was 'supposedly ' not wearing any per the story. But now, the heroine dresses like the vamp and it's accepted(until she gets married ...after marriage she has to wear the sindhoor and saris...I think but I have stopped seeing Indian movies and so I may be wrong). Does anyone remember the 'pious' song sung by the 'pious' Kalpana in a Kannada movie..."e-dhenu-sabhyate. e-dhenu samskrute". That song was so annoying even in those days to me! Anyway, what I am trying to say is that, there are several scenes in hundreds of  'old' movies which depicted  that it was immoral to use make-up,be stylish, wear western clothes like pants or wear sleeveless tops and short skirts.

And I know psychiatrists in the late 80s and early 90s who would consider the diagnosis of mania if the lady was 'had makeup on especially red lipstick'! I know it does not seem to make sense today but it did make sense in the context of those times. The idea was that you go to the hospital when you are sick (you go to psychiatry department or hospital when you are mentally ill or you are dragged to  psychiatry against your wish) and sick people don't care about appearance; so if you have makeup on, and if you were not a regular user of make-up, it was considered as a sign of mania. I don't know if this view still prevails in India among psychiatrists but it did at that point in time. I observed as a student, during the 80s, that if a young mentally ill female patient went to the hospital wearing make-up and if she happened to be from an economically poorer background she was definitely considered to be 'manic'! 

In Canada and probably  in  the western worldit's difficult to find people who don't give a damn about appearance. Here looks (looking young) really influence one's chances of getting a job, getting promoted, etc. Even if one does not want to dye, one is forced to dye one's hair in order to avoid the discrimination against old age when hiring for (many) jobs. People in the west strongly believe they could not get hired or not get promoted or lose their jobs  if they are not 'beautiful' or 'slim' or 'dressed well'! Most employers will never admit these as reasons for rejecting a candidate but these factors are certainly influential in the hiring, firing or promoting.

All over the world, people trying to find life-partners are forced to care for their own appearance. When one is searching for a life-partner, it's rare to find a partner who does not care for  looks  but is looking for something deeper.
My sister was lucky to find one such guy who is now her husband! I have seen but a mere handful of men and women who don't care for appearance and their tribe seem to be getting rarer by the day! The younger the generation, the greater the value placed on appearance. The trend all over the world seems to be going for good looks and not for other more 'substantial' things like character, skills & ethics.

I would love to see the day when the concept of beauty is much wider than it is today...when grey is beautiful; when it's not a beautiful appearance which counts as beauty  but  beautiful is when the person is  kind, ethical and a decent human being.

In this 21st century, only people of religion such as priests, nuns & monks, Sanyasis and those in the pursuit of God or Moksha  do not put effort on their appearance. They are supposed to focus on 'spiritual' things and not care about their looks. I would be definitely wary of those people, 'apparently' in the pursuit of God who pay heed to their appearance!
For example, I have seen young priests in some temples, whose vibhuti is not smudged but perfect and I suspect these guys of having an eye on the good looking female devotees who visit their temple rather than on Vishnu, Shiva or Moksha!

I wonder if influential people of religion such as the Pope and heads of Mutts, give in to the pleas of  directors and 'make-up' artists in studios or stick to their guns and go on camera to give their discourses without any make-up? I honestly don't mind if the Pope has hair sticking out of his ears so long as he is a decent human being, who preaches well enough to hold my attention, and more importantly, he practices what he preaches. I would have no respect for a religious person who leads a sinful life in private but is a photogenic and interesting speaker!

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