My father always told me, “As a woman, you have to work twice as hard to get half of what they do.” And I never did get it. I was pretty sure my father was rather deluded or just overprotective of his elder daughter. I'd have it easy, I thought. Cut to my first real job straight out of college. I worked with the enthusiasm of a twenty one year old, everyone loved my work and I thought, oh well, see dad it isn't as bad after all.
And then they began, the murmurs. The men thought I was given preferential treatment and applauded for the smallest of my achievements because I was a woman. “I think the boss fancies her so he goes easy on her,” they'd say. In a split second, all my talent and hard work was rendered meaningless, negated by the whispers of my male colleagues who refused to look beyond my gender. Maybe this isn't the place for me, I thought. Just like many other women like me out there who think it's just this office or that one set of people or a particular line of work they've chosen.
I don't completely blame the men for their ignorance. Growing up, we've been conditioned to think that women belong in the kitchen. That if a woman is successful at work, she is more often than not miserable otherwise; single, lonely and most definitely a crazy cat lady. The minute a woman lights up a cigarette on screen, you know it's her gateway to bitchdom. Short hair, dark lips and cat eyes are just some of the elements that make a lady a vamp, whether it is on-screen or off.
Even a modern day Youtube sketch on women and workplace politics portrays the antagonist as a sultry short haired, plum lipstick wearing opportunist while the tormented one wears no makeup and is rather tomboyish in her mannerisms. It's the same old cliches in a brand new packaging.
This regressive brainwashing has been a tool used by the media for years now. I still remember the outcry caused by an ad for a cream by this holistic herbal brand that preaches the virtues of everything swadeshi where two sisters with contrasting personalities are pitted against each other. Obviously the jeans and makeup wearing, opinionated one has bad skin because of her 'forward' lifestyle choices.
A man on the other hand is hot property if he's doing well professionally. He can light up an endless number of cigarettes (because it gives him more character), he can be an asshole to his employees or be a cunning businessman. But he'll still have the finest women dying to be his wives/ mistresses or whatever it is he thinks he'd want them to be. The real question is -- Why is ambition in a woman always portrayed negatively?
Watch any movie and you'll see that inspite the latest designer wear the women are styled in, the plot is more often than not a version of the same regressive guff. The protagonist (who is old enough to be their father) has all the fun he wants with the party-going, smokey eyed, shorts-wearing rebel. But he falls in love and ends up marrying the kurta-clad, Krishna worshipping demure damsel in distress. And the friend-zoned bad girl understands or sets out on her own journey of transformation.
down the line, we've forgotten to exercise ours. Our society has constructed moulds of how women should look, how much makeup they should wear, the appropriate length of their hemlines and even hair. And we must all adhere to these stereotypes. We unknowingly share quotes like 'Stay soft. It looks good on you' written in a mellow font on a baby pink background. Well, here's some food for thought. How about you stayed firm when you have to. Trust me, you'll still look as good and probably crush that glass ceiling some day.
“Today, there's much more to women and they are changing every damn idea about them. They are creating their own worlds driven with ambitions, emotions, intelligence and skill. What they look forward to is respect and a sense of pride from their family as well as peers. But in reality, what they get is utter discouragement.
On a similar note, power is a charming trait for men. We love how men become masculine when they are the owners of power. On women, the idea of power doesn’t fit quite well as per the society. I think today, there is nothing better than to acknowledge and accept ourselves.
This series is an effort to show these aspects and trace the boundaries for a woman between what she can do and what is she expected to do with a minimal visual language.” - Kanika Agarwal
All artoworks by Kanika Agarwal (@pieces_collage)
Kanika is a self-taught collage artist who has an organic approach towards her craft; creating only handmade collages, combining her love for visual storytelling and glossy magazines.
Text by Shirin Salwan (@shirinsalwan)
Waking up in the morning.
Expectation: As the morning sun's first rays caressed her luminescent skin, she smiled a half smile as his hands gently removed the golden locks covering her face. While she opened her eyes that shone like diamonds, he moved closer to caress her and couldn't help but think how he loved the scent of her.
Reality: As she snoozed her alarm for the nth time that morning, f**k was the very first word that came out of her mouth, repeatedly. Looking at the endless missed calls and texts on her phone, she knew she was late for work yet again. Perhaps it was time to accept that 'just one drink' was indeed a myth after all.
Mornings are when you're truly yourself. An unadulterated prelude to what's going to be yet another day leading to the much sought after weekend. Whether you're the type to contour, strobe and highlight or simply slap some moisturiser on and make a run for it, morning rituals are sacrosanct. So we decided to speak to six women, who (much to our surprise) agreed to let us into their homes and get photographed #nofilter IRL.
"The beauty gospel that everyone preaches is 'remove your make-up before going to bed'. I agree, but despite my good intentions, I simply plonk myself on the bed after a hectic night out. My maxi dresses are comfy as nightwear, and there is something sexy about 'last night's kohl'. I hardly ever wear base, so my skin breathes. I'd much rather be out and having fun than worry about the perfect photo angles. On most days, I don't put on any make-up, use a great moisturiser and drink lots of water. So on the occasions that I am unable to follow a nightly beauty regime, I sleep guilt-free. The nomad in me is sometimes stronger than the wise, worldly woman I would like to be."
Sohiny Das, Fashion Consultant
"My morning ritual is to drink water as soon as I wake up. Sometimes I go back to bed to finish my dream because it plays out like a feature film in my head and I don't want to miss the ending.
I don't usually wear a lot of make up on an everyday basis, so to be seen without it is pretty normal for me. However, I have recently discovered the many virtues of mascara and I like experimenting with colours. A happy face is the best make up. Oh! and never underestimate the power of mascara. Go on and try some in turquoise, lavender, pink or even grey!"
Ayesha Kapadia, Founder/ Visual Artist, Kometjuice
"A good moisturiser is all I use. I don't ever wear make up. The only time that I do is for a shoot and that sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable. For me beauty is all about being natural and comfortable with yourself. What the beauty industry calls flaws, I just see as differences. Every morning is different, but one thing that I absolutely love doing is spending time on my own in my balcony before I see or speak to anyone else (my cats are exceptions). Be as close to nature and myself."
Justine Rae Mellocastro, Hairstylist
"I think it's liberating to go without makeup on social media. In a world of air bushed models and seemingly flawless features one can get cowed down by the constant need to look 'perfect'. This country has some of the most beautiful women in the world and I think it's about time we become comfortable in our skin and appreciate our true beauty. Keeping this is mind, I feel it's wonderful that stories like these or Dove's real beauty campaign and more recently model shoots by Asos are trying to bridge this gap by bringing realism to the ideas of beauty."
Mrinalini Chandra, Jewellery Designer
"Everyday I wake up human. Being human for me isn't binary, somedays I'm male, somedays I'm female, somedays both and somedays neither. But everyday, one thing is for sure, I'm more human and alive. The feeling of being beautiful comes from the inside. When I was only femme, I never felt like myself and never felt beautiful, even if people told me otherwise. Now, I express my fluidity and it feels amazing because I'm being myself, accepting myself, and loving myself. Whatever others say, doesn't matter anymore. "
Durga Gawde, Sculptor
"The best beauty advice hands down is good sleep and lots of water. I wake up and have warm water with apple cider vinegar. Sweating out all the toxins with some good cardio is another great thing for flawless skin. Makeup is fun but excess of anything is bad. Benetint from Benefit is my best friend in the makeup drawer and the coolest new product I've discovered are the face masks from this Korean brand called Innisfree."
Aasia Abbas, Fashion Stylist
Concept and Realisation: Shirin Salwan
Photographed by: Rachel Santos (Instagram: @rachelsantosphoto)
Note: These are completely un-retouched images. Each individual was shot separately every morning after they woke up sans any fresh make-up.
Years ago, when I got my first salary, I visited a renowned skin clinic to pamper myself. The lady attending to me started chatting about the various treatments they had to offer and said that although I was beautiful, I should try filler injections on my face to soften my 'masculine' jawline and also to make my lips fuller. “You would then be perfect” - her words. But if I was beautiful, why should I feel the need to alter my appearance entirely and what was perfect beauty anyway? I was only 21 then and it got me thinking, what are these standards of perfection and who is defining them?
Today when I see social media, I can’t tell one celebrity apart from the other; they all end up looking the same eventually. Growing up, if there was anything we wanted as teenagers it was to look different, even if it meant getting a bizarre hair colour or facial piercings - it was all about having an individual identity. And that somehow got lost down the line with the media setting cookie-cutter beauty trends; they dictated and we listened, becoming more and more insecure, under-confident, purchasing things we didn’t need and treatments that cost us a bomb but we convinced ourselves that we needed them anyway. So we decided to speak to six women with varying textures, women who’ve embraced their unique characteristics and owned them like a boss. Here’s what they had to say.
"I've had these freckles from a very early age, my dad had them too. Growing up, I was always conscious of my freckles. I still am I think, especially when someone points them out to me. But for me it's a big part of who I am; this is my identity. Generally people say they love my freckles because it’s a huge beauty trend now. Today, I tell my daughters to love the skin they are born in. Be confident and not let the stereotypes rule their lives because there will always be too many people out there constantly trying to judge you at all points in life. ”
Nirali Mehta, Fashion Consultant
“I love dressing up. I love dressing down. I love undressing. I hate trying on clothes. I rarely find anything that fits, but I once found a giant green marble in my garden when I was ten and played with it for weeks, so it all evens out. I'm an artist and sometimes I treat my body like a canvas. But, a lot of people find this confusing. They find the need to put people in boxes, labels on clothes and sauce on chapati. Last month, a guy saw me dress up on a Friday night and went "Wow. You look so hot, I think I'm turning gay." Fifteen confused stares later he explained, "You know, ‘cos you're a bro."I still don't know what to do with that compliment. Can I exchange it for a skirt? Ah, what's the point! I'll never find anything my size anyway.”
Sofia Ashraf, Content Creator
“In school, I was teased for my strange tastes in music, the colour of my skin, the fact that I was not Catholic and for my manner of speaking. It didn't bother me though because I realised early on that there was no point forgoing things that made me, me and I just learned to embrace myself as I am. I hate it when bigger women are always portrayed as jovial and comical in movies and ads. Skinny or not, sexy has nothing to do with bodyweight. I also realised that as social as beauty is, it's also highly individual. Beauty does, indeed, lie in the eyes of the beholder.”
Nivedita Ravishankar, Assistant professor, ISDI WPP School of Communication
“ I have been greying since school and am very comfortable with it. I never really conformed to conventional ideas of beauty defined by traditional gender norms. I look quite androgynous, have always had short grey hair and have not always dressed to suit the traditional male gaze. Current beauty standards crush individuality and encourage cookie cutter looks. No one is ever good enough. Since grey hair seems to be the new black, a lot of younger people, especially women, are quite surprised and then delighted by the fact that grey is my natural hair colour.”
Binaifer Bharucha, Photographer
“I’ve had these marks for as long as I can remember. Growing up I didn't think much of them, really. They didn't make me feel less attractive or different. I think children growing up are fairly untouched by superficial beauty or society's view of what's beautiful and what's ugly. Not much has changed since then for me. The ‘What happened there?’ questions have changed to 'Oh that looks like a cool tattoo'. I'm still fairly unperturbed by any negative or positive comments coming my way about them. I never found myself spending too much time on how I look. For me, it's my bare skin. I wear it comfortably and proudly.”
Meghana Bhogle, Musician / Events & Experiential Marketing Professional
“The strangest thing someone’s said to me is that my laughter and smile don't look good on me and that I should keep my mouth shut. So if you notice me as a person I enjoy laughing my ass off, initially I did that as my way to rebel against the criticism but later, it became a part of me and the first thing you will notice about me is my laughter or smile.”
Shruti Viswan, Model
Concept and Realisation: Shirin Salwan
Photographed by: Anirudh Agarwal
Creative Consultant: Sohiny Das