Tag Archive | self esteem

Whose Genitals are They Anyway?

This evening, on my usual trawl of the internet, I came upon an article and some lovely animation, a trailer for a documentary called Centrefold, by two filmmakers named  Ellie Land and Siobhan Fenton, and sponsored by the Wellcome Trust:

It certainly isn’t a new thing, and neither are a LOT of surgeries related to female genitalia. There are labiaplasties, vaginoplasties, hymenoplasties and probably a handful of others I’ve never even heard of.

In India and other South-East Asian countries, hymenoplasties are said to be the ‘bestsellers’ of the plastic surgery world – specifically because of their obsessively patriarchal, misogynistic societies that somehow put a value on a woman’s purity and virtue by her virginity, or lack thereof.

I have written and ranted excessively about how disgusting, archaic and retrograde I find the entire concept of ‘arranged marriage’, [because, yeah, instead of being in love and in a relationship and knowing somebody, let's just look through a bunch of photos and a CV of sorts to decide with whom who you must have sex and spend the rest of your life, BRILLIANT!]  but the fact of the matter is that it continues to happen. Somehow, the people entering these marriages seem to think somebody else’s past is their business.I cannot locate an online version, but I read an article in last Saturday’s edition of a local paper about men ‘breaking off marriages’ with women after ‘finding out their past on Facebook’. The writer also very kindly mentioned in his closing paragraph how ‘women who are looking to get married, beware of what you post online’.

There seems, somehow, to be a price on a woman’s virginity here, something that people think needs to be preserved, as some sort of gift to a man. People have varying views on the whole virginity issue, but in my humble opinion, if you are mentally and physically ready (read – not an underage, pre-pubescent young child looking to have some sort of cool ‘experience’), it is nobody else’s business who you sleep with and why. It does not matter whether you are in a relationship with this person or not.   By all means, if you are not in a monogamous relationship with somebody else, and neither is your sexual partner, do what you may.

Nobody has any right to call you anything – a slut, a hussy, or if you’re a guy, a ‘man-slut’ or a ‘man-whore’ or any of the many eloquent terms people come up with. It does not matter if it’s a ‘one-night stand’, a ‘two-night stand’, or a ‘one-hour stand’ even.
If you want to wait until you’re married to somebody you love and then have sex with them, that is, again, your own business and nobody else’s – this only holds true, however, as long as the views are your own, and not some ideal society has somehow indocrinated into your head or conditioned you to believe.

Sadly, in these cultures, it is not just the men who believe the women they are going to marry need to be, um, pure. The women do, too:


Why should it ‘soil her married life’???

Not sure what is sadder here, the girl’s attitude or that the man answering these queries calls himself a ‘sexpert’ – he has also advised homosexual people to ‘get married if you think you can satisfy a woman’. ‘Expert’ advice indeed, good sir.

That was just one small example of genital surgery, which in itself is not really ‘small’ at all. The latest craze on the block is labiaplasty – as the name suggests, it is surgery to improve the appearance of your labia. What they essentially do is chop off the skin you think is ‘extra’.

There are women who have genuine congenital defects, like problems with their uteri, fallopian tubes,vaginas – issues that affect their reproductive systems and/or general health. Most women who opt for labiaplasties, however, do not fall into this category – instead, they do it to “enhance the beauty of their vulvo-vaginal complexes.”

These women are unhappy with the way their bodies look, which is not exactly a new thing. Entire industries run on insecurities – cosmetic industries, clothing industries, food industries, slimming products (I could go on and on and on).

Women in India are told their skin is not ‘light enough’, and I’m very, very sure that India is the world’s BIGGEST market for fairness creams – check out my entry on those at this link.

The focus is always on female appearances, and less about the internal workings of anything at all – more than half the adverts out there for weight loss involve liposuction and/or some sort of invasive or non invasive surgery, body sculpting, fancy lasers or whatever the hell they use, or crash dieting.  If you really ARE overweight, it is less about dropping ‘x’ dress sizes or inches and more about being healthy, which is less about having a tiny waist and more about having the stamina to exercise, and not having the cholestrol clogging your arteries as thick as the Berlin Wall (and they demolished that). It’s about feeling strong and energetic and generally being able to function better. If you feel like your looks matter to you and they’ve improved, good for you, added bonus.

Except the priority is ALWAYS how it looks and not how it works.  Suddenly, the focus seems to have shifted from beaten-to-death body parts like faces and tummies and ‘stumpy legs’ and ‘saggy breasts’ (those products will be around as long as humankind is), and is now on genitals.

A recent ad in India advertised a feminine hygiene wash, which for Indian markets is a rarity. Vagisil and Summer’s Eve are two products I have never seen on Indian shelves. Lubricant, too. Come to think of it, there’s only the one brand of tampon sold, too. I’d love to know if this is an economics/import issue (which I sincerely doubt, as I see all sorts of products imported from all over the world in stores two minutes down my street), or just the fact that India seems to have an issue with anything sexual. (Because our 1.2 billion strong population got there without the assistance of any sexual organs whatsoever.)

The latest craze is having your labia snipped and stitched to your specifications. After all the images of the Klums and Bundchens and Kerrs and Crawfords with their flat stomachs and gravity-defying breasts, our attention must now be focused on the women in porn, the women who are supposed to be our ‘ideal’ for what our genitalia look like. Whatever you do not possess naturally, a surgeon can give you, no?

It’s not about how the sex is, or whether they’re affecting your health, but only that they do not ‘look right’.

Just in case there was an insecurity that wasn’t already being preyed upon, we’ve got a new one. There is a problem with your bits, ladies. Unlike the men, who are told their bits are not ‘big enough’, we’re told ours are too big!

Don’t you shudder to think what might happen if you don’t have ‘perfect looking genitals’, whatever those are? You might not look like a woman on the centrefold of a men’s magazine.

You might actually be with somebody who cares about you for YOU, and not what your nether regions look like.

Who wants that, though?

Of course, this also has to be hairless. We must subject ourselves to hot wax and lasers or any other way is there to get rid of it because being natural is absolutely terrible. (And a million other reasons I will delve into – they deserve an entry all their own.)

So on one hand, there are young girls and women all over the Middle East and Africa, and some immigrant tribes around the world, who are forced to undergo various degrees of genital mutilation, the most common of which is also by far one of the most gruesome, depressing, inhumane things I have ever read :

Type III mutilation involves  removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth.

On the other hand, there are women who will pay through their noses to voluntarily have this done, in their quest for a ‘designer vagina’.

Meanwhile, I (and several others) are still waiting for a world where people are identified for who they are, and not the genitals they possess, irrespective of their shape or size.

Mother’s Day?

Family

It’s Mother’s Day in the States, India (and, I’m assuming, in a lot of other countries around the world).

It’s also one of the many hundred million Hallmark-manufactured, made-by-conglomerate days celebrated all over the world. In honour of the, um, auspicious occasion, I thought I’d explore why people HAVE children to begin with.

As someone who does not have children, and does not intend to at any point in the distant future, [mostly because I think a child requires a sane, stable parent, neither of which I am] I chose to explore this because I can be objective about it.

I’ve always wondered why people have kids at all. I came up with a few reasons:

1) It’s an accident (married, not married, together, broken up, whatever the status of their relationship may be)

2) They feel like it’s a  social obligation – this could be many, many things or a permutation or combination of several, like

       a) Reaching a certain age

        b) Being with their partner for a certain amount of time

        c) Being married for a certain amount of time

       d) People that won’t stop chiming in with their tuppence worth

3) They want something in their image – which is also rather connected to wanting to pass on their genetic material, which is more or less a natural biological drive in humans, primates, and most of the animal kingdom.

Now primates and the rest of the animal kingdom, I can understand. But humans are, believe it or not, equipped with more advanced cognitive facilities, ones that enable them to mentally reason out scientific, logical reasons for wanting to have  a child, reasons that go beyond not wrapping it before tapping it, or wanting a little munchkin that looks like them.

Here in our happy human world, we have tests for everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. There are tests for college, high school, even PREschool, to drive, for musical proficiency, intelligence, writing, reading, even ones to test your mental and/or physical resilience. They have gun tests for cops, and even civilians who want to own firearms (in most places) so they don’t endanger innocent lives, and they can be traced if they try.

There is, however, no ‘test’ to see if people are fit to be parents. Now obviously that is a bit of whimsy on my part, seeing as nearly everybody who chooses to have a kid possesses one sort of genitals or the other, and it’s not like a third party could control that. Admittedly, that would also be rather big-brother like, and totalitarianism is not something I’ve ever been even remotely fond of.

Still, with people reproducing like rabbits seemingly in the absence of coherent thought, some sort of regulation would be nice. I don’t mean ‘breeding’ kids with what may seem like ‘higher cognitive processes’ or something like that.  No, I am not a squat, terrifying, anti-Semitic, tyrannical little despot with a toothbrush moustache who massacres innocents.

I do, however, sort of agree with Friedrich Nietzsche‘s ideal of the Übermensch, an ideal he wrote about in Also Sprach Zarathustra. My view of Der Übermensch, however, is not even remotely racial, but more related to eugenics and culture than anything else.

[Incidentally, those two are related - I read an article in the paper not two days ago that I shall try to link to if I find it.]

Basically, certain cultures affect the genetic makeup of the people that constitute them- the example the article mentioned was that the culture loved milk, so to speak. As they ingested a larger quantity of milk and dairy, their genetic evolution was affected by their cultural evolution, and probably vice-versa.  (A quick Google search tells me this is known as the Dual Inheritance Theory, or gene-culture coevolution.)

Eugenics is not really the same, as DIT has to do with natural selection, which is, self-explanatorily, natural, but has similar effects. They are different in that eugenics is a conscious scientific effort to improve the quality of life. So it’s selection all right, just not completely natural.

An aside to those of you who find eugenics interesting – I’d suggest you begin with an extremely interesting documentary I saw on the BBC, on HardTalk – Stephen Sackur interviews Sir Mark Walport, a former Head of Division of Medicine at Imperial, and a eugenicist. For anybody in the UK, you can watch this here. For the rest of you, however, if you didn’t catch it on the telly, the only way to get access to it is to download it, here.

It’s more to do with healthcare-related eugenics, but raises some very pertinent ethical questions that would be relevant either way.

Anyway, back to what I was originally talking about. Children. Like I said, much as I, and millions of others, hate control and interference (and it’s there, notwithstanding), I’ve found myself thinking it would be nice if there were some way to check what kind of people reproduced, and what kind didn’t. While this would, ultimately, affect society, I mean it on a more grassroots, basic level – sure, intelligence would be nice, but in my opinion parents should be able to provide the child a home; by a home, I am not referring exclusively to a solid, sturdy roof over their heads, financial security and an education and discipline (if you, however, believe in corporal punishment, I would like to have an angry, angry word with you), but unconditional love (again, and some might disagree, I don’t think humans are fully capable of unconditional love towards other human beings, maybe the conditions aren’t very visible. That isn’t to say I don’t love people/ am not loved by people who know me inside out. All the good stuff and all the not-so-good stuff).

With unconditional love should come emotional security, and some sort of shelter or haven. The knowledge that no matter how awful the outside world is, how terrifying and absolutely huge and daunting it may be, how full of monsters, there’s still that one place they can take refuge in, the one place they can feel absolutely, completely emotionally secure, and grow up with self-esteem decent enough to help them function and be safe.

In fact, that, to me, takes precedence over most of the other things – except an education, which could help a child absorb all those ideals in SOME form, or, barring that, at least be strong enough mentally and/or intellectually to function in their absence, which might not be the same thing, but can be good enough for human function to proceed normally and be a prosocial member of society. Karl Menninger once said “what’s done to children, they will do to society.”

So education, while of paramount importance all on its own, is a defense mechanism for society. Much like the oxygen masks you find on commercial airliners.

 In the event of a drop in emotional security, your education will drop automatically from ceiling panels. Remain in your seat, reach up firmly and pull on the mask to activate the flow of common sense and intellect. Secure the elastic band around your head, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and breathe normally. Secure your own mask before helping children or other passengers.

See how universal stuff like that is?

That is one of the main reasons I place intellect and education higher up on the scale than emotional welfare – the stronger it is, the better a person’s backup mechanism, and the easier it is for them to function in the real outside world, filled with big bad creepies and crawlies, where mum and dad and the nightlight can’t save you from the boogeyman.

So do I wish there were some sort of marker or checkpoint to test WHY parents have their children.

While I haven’t been one (a parent, not a child, which I still am in many, many ways, and do not ever plan to be one), I firmly believe a child should be brought into an environment where it is wanted, loved, and cared for, and not just with toys, and as they grow up, expensive cars and everything money can buy.  A child shouldn’t be brought into the world just so you can continue your ‘family name’ – something that happens in so many societies that believe in trying desparately, no matter how many other children they have, to have a son.

It may seem like a cheesy, corny, overdone one, but the parent:child : : potter:pot (no, not cannabis) analogy is true. A child is an impressionable, tiny, clayey little sponge that soaks up whatever is around it and is shaped by it, too. Whether you think you’re displaying them or not, your reasons for having a kid, if they are selfish, will ultimately show up subconsciously. (That isn’t me talking, but every psychologist, ever. Attitudes, even if they are not overtly displayed, manifest themselves subconsciously anyway.)

I am a strong, strong advocate of adoption.  I’m sure there are biological parents who love and want their children just as much, and I’m aware of the fact that many people (not all of them, as I personally know exceptions to this rule) look to adoption as a last resort, only if normal conception, IVF and surrogacy have all failed, or they do not have access to them.

With adoption, though, I think there’s this sort of longing or want to actually take care of a child, rather than just pass on genetic material (proving my point that humans are capable of differentiating between the two), and that actual desire to want a child for the child and not just for oneself, or like a glorified bipedal pet,makes a world of difference.

There may be no ‘right’ way to bring up a child (barring the obvious: keeping it away from drugs, drink, out of danger, stuff like that), but loving it and just being there certainly is the best way to start.

The desire to take care of something and the ability to love it no matter what, is what makes a parent; not just fully functional gonads and genitals.

For those of you who have ever watched M*A*S*H, I agree with Colonel Potter:

Having babies is fun, but babies grow up into people.

I’d like to end this post with TWO songs instead of my usual one. Both of them by the same man, both beautiful, but both about very, very different perspectives. If you haven’t heard them, please, listen to both.

Infomercials: A Subjective Analysis

AsSeenByAnu

I have severe insomnia, and sleep less than the bullfrog (which Google tells me is the one animal that does not sleep. At all, ever), which means that I spend my time with a book, in front of the computer (which, obviously, I am doing right now) and in front of the television, which I only do as a last resort because there really is nothing even half-decent on there anymore.

So when it’s nearly 6 a.m, and I’m still struggling to fall asleep as my mum wakes up, I switch on the TV to see what’s on there, which is never, never anything but infomercials for all sorts of things. I always wondered who in their right minds would watch the shit that was on the telly, then I yelled ‘mea culpa!’ ‘mea culpa!’ and resigned myself to being one of those people:

a) too lazy to get off their behinds to get the remote and change the channel

b) Have serious insomnia and cannot sleep a wink, not even if they wanted to (which they rarely/never do)

or

c) You, dear reader, because let’s face it – at some point or the other in your life, no matter where you’re from, what you do, or how old you are, you’ve watched that stuff. Without flipping channels. And watched the infomercial from start to finish – sometimes even multiple times. (Don’t be embarrassed. We all do it.)

You see all kinds of stuff being sold on television. Everything from stain removers, newfangled vaccum cleaners, smoothie makers, blenders (and about 3021452 other kitchen appliances) and exercise equipment to body shapers, cosmetics, face washes, hair-removers (more on this one later) to the most disgusting of all, women’s underwear. ( I do NOT mean women’s underwear is disgusting, far from it, but in my humble opinion, wanting to buy it off the telly/internet is. Extremely so.)

While a lot of the infomercials are for products designed in the United States or United Kingdom, the funniest are the local ones, all of which have people peddling religious stuff to ‘protect you from the evil eye’ – they even show bright red laser beams coming out of the person’s eyes, and shooting into somebody else’s, like some sort of alien mating ritual, or something straight out of The Man Who Fell to Earth (although that’s paying the idiots who make these ads a compliment they really, really do not deserve.)

I’m going to discuss the global infomercials first, the ones with obscure products from the United Kingdom/Germany/China/you name it.

These guys seem to have some rule of thumb they go by while making their little ‘movies’.  Most of them are for cosmetics/cosmetic related products, and control underwear seems to be extremely popular.

First, you find a diverse group of women (tall, short, fat, thin, old, young and all different races) because we have to show how they’re all the same.  Before you say ‘of course all people are the same, no matter where they’re from’, that’s not what I mean at all. By the same, I mean all of them seem to have that same haven’t-taken-a-shit-in-three-weeks look on their faces when they look in the mirror, and they all have the same problem – husbands/boyfriends that have issues with their wobbly bits, and the degree of constipation seen on their faces is directly proportional to their general dissatisfaction. All-female audience (again, all diverse) nod their heads and cluck sympathetically.

Enter knockout, quasi-celebrity,super-fit hostess who really doesn’t need slimming ANYTHING at all, dressed in such a way as to show her flat stomach, breasts (if she has big ones, and they all always do), and her perfect bum, which is the result of exercise/dieting/starvation/surgery or some permutation or combination of the above, claiming that it isn’t her, but the undies.

The hostess then introduces another semi-celebrity — a makeup artist, washed-out soap opera star, or something in that milieu, with a 5-minute soliloquy on how difficult like this, with all the conviction of Meryl Streep.

Out come two models, who like the hostess are ridiculously skinny, modelling the shapewear, followed by someone we’ll call ‘lumpy-bumpy’. [She isn't, really, but from her behaviour (and that of the audience/hostess/celebrity guest etc.) you'd think she weighed 300 kilograms.]

Lumpy-bumpy is wearing a dress two sizes too small, and pinching at its clinginess. (Even if you’re a size two, you’ll feel suffocated and idiotic in a size 1 dress. Common sense. Which none of these people seem to possess, or aspire to.)

Cue constipated faces, apparent unsuccessful struggle to get gigantic turd out of system, and sympathetic head nods and clucks from the women in the stands. Suddenly, out comes the Hot-ess (that was intentional) with the miracle shapewear, getting an already normal sized, even petite woman into it.

A moment of suspense before new,made-over lumpy-bumpy walks out, to gasps, wide eyes, applause, amazed head nodding, and ‘Oh my GAWWWD!’   followed by much stomach-patting, nodding at self in the mirror, and, finally, the pièce de résistance – Lumpy’s husband, sitting in the stands or hidden somewhere, coming forth with a hug and a kiss and an ‘Oh my god, honey, you look GORGEOUS!’ – and Lumpy’s life-mission has now been achieved! You can have it too, if you order this crap:

Bad dubbing is something I won’t go into, simply because it’s far too commonplace.

Slimming products are exceptionally popular, no matter what they’re made of. To sell them in India (or to hippies elsewhere), all you have to do is attach the word ‘ayurvedic’ (even though their contents are extremely questionable) to them, and voila, you’ve got yourself wads of cash. For instance ‘ayurvedic’ Slimming tea, for people who ‘exercise and eat perfectly healthy food but are still obese’ (there’s a term for them, and it begins with B and ends with S).   [This does not include people with genuine medical issues - but then again, they should be in a doctor's office, and not watching an infomercial, for a solution.] Slimming tea ads, however, are especially terrifying – one showed  a ‘homemaker whose husband had had an affair because she had put on weight after having a baby’ – that is, of course, the most unnatural, abhorrent thing in the world.

There’s also slimming oil – they even show a VERY badly photoshopped obese man, complete with a terribly-edited, fake paunch that would make Santa Claus envious.  If you have a busy lifestyle (and seemingly can only take in food that has been fried a trillion times in enough oil to give the world’s entire population enough cholestrol issues to last three lifetimes), it’s simple – all you have to do (and this is paraphrased from the infomercial) is spread the oil across your belly, and as the fake doctor on the TV tells you, oil attacks cellulite, then attacks fat, and then gives you an ‘even, toned body’, and in the case of the slimming tea  “a new, great personality and many, many friends!” <—- Quoted verbatim.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the only way you can get one of those is eating right and exercising, unless you’re genetically predisposed to it, in which case, you’re extremely lucky. Here is a link to an article explaining what cellulite is (and how advertisers mislead everyone).

THIS is my favourite type of Indian Infomercial – the kind that preys on the rabidly religious and superstitious (most of whom deserve it) .

You are warned of how, if you are successful, you will necessarily attract jealousy (sure, okay, natural human emotion).

But with jealousy comes the evil eye, of course, and with the evil eye comes your downfall, the end of everything you hold dear.

FOREVER.

Your factory will burn down (sure, evil eye, not arsonist, because THAT is logical), your baby will fall ill and/or cry (because that can’t be colic, or the fact that its immune system isn’t as strong as a full-grown adult’s), your business will fail, and of course, a hot favourite – ‘marriage proposals’ or ‘rishtas’ will fall through.

*DUN DUN DUUUUUUN*

What does the evil eye look like, you ask? And I oblige. (And apologise in advance for bad sound/video, but this is exactly the bit being referred to, and brilliant it is.)

Miracle remedy to all these problems? The Evil Eye Bracelet/Necklace/Ring/whatever else you wear as jewellery.

The sheer volume of evil-eye related crap on TV (and apparent evil in these ‘characters’) is astounding, and makes me wonder, sometimes – are all these doddering, plump, supremely rancorous women really from Frodo’s visions in the Mirror of Galadriel, dressed in saris, trying to fool us all?

So I came up with my own little illustration of what I think REALLY happens in these infomercials.

And as I let  the hilarity of random ‘foreigners’ and token white guys talking about how much the evil eye charm helped them, and housewives who used a singularly effective combination of slimming tea and charms to bring their straying husbands back to them play in the background and wash over me, I am lulled into a mindless, relaxed sleep.

Modern Love [Valentine's Day]

V-Day-Candy-Hearts-Sarcastic_thumb

My title’s short and simple. Possibly because I attempted to think of pithy puns I could use for one, and failed, miserably, so I decided to use a Bowie song title instead.

I, as countless others before me, shall attempt to decode the abundant asinine accoutrements that come with every 14th February.

Here’s a short history of Valentine’s Day.  In spite of widely-spread popular myth, or what the myriad wearers of rose-tinted glasses would like to believe, there was no random man who decided to help lovers all over the world and was martyred in the process.

The only historical speculation about St. Valentine the martyr was that he might have been a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, beheaded for helping Christians in general. No romantic notion there, just the ancient version of a fatwa, perhaps.  Obsessively religious nuts shall be part of society until society exists (a fact that I, as an atheist, have come to accept, no matter how sad, angry or annoyed religious zealots make me feel.)

Ancient Rome was largely Pagan – Pagans were polytheistic and worshipped the different elements of nature in different forms, regularly performing rituals to appease their many gods.

Like Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome had a pantheon, led by Jupiter (his Greek equivalent, of course, is Zeus).  They believed that everything had a patron god, so to speak – Mars was the god of war, Juno, the goddess of women and childbirth (which is why they named the film that, yes), and Minerva, the goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, and a favourite with the editors of the crossword puzzles I solve every day.

One of the festivals the ancient Romans observed to appease their gods was a certain little celebration they called Lupercalia.  Some of you might remember Julius Caesar, Act One, Scene Two :

Forget not, in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say,
The barren, touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.

So even the festival that was considered the precursor to the modern Valentine’s Day had nothing at all to do with ‘romance’ as we know it – it was about the Romans appeasing the gods so they could help them make babies, back in the days when they had no IVF.

I’m sure there will be a lot of people who think having a family and a baby is the most romantic thing EVER.  (Obviously, I am not one of these people.)  Still, not sure how romantic family planning is, considering how much less money and time and sanity you’re consequently going to have.

Either way, all the precursors to Valentine’s Day as we know it today have absolutely nothing to do with ‘love’ (again, something that is an alien concept to me, and a very ambiguous one at that).   Definitions of love as an emotion are nebulous at best, but they now have a definition thanks to the corporate world – one that includes millions of tons of flowers, stuffed animals that ‘love you BEARY much!’, chocolates, and in many, many, many cases, diamond rings and a poor sap down on one knee.

I tried to figure out whether Valentine’s Day was important to any specific demographic, and found nothing constant. I do find, however, preteens and just-teens in some sort of crazy rat-race to be dating and sexually active, which I not understand. (At 12 and 13, all I wanted to do was stay indoors and read, listen to music and play video games all the livelong day, which is probably what I would have done even more had it not been for school.)

In the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, I’ve seen all sorts of idiotic stuff on Facebook and Twitter, but possibly the most ridiculous rubbish I’ve seen in a while is ‘Teddy Day’ – is it for the bears, the president, or the lingerie?

Then they had ‘Promise Day’, ‘Chocolate Day’, and a special day to ask out somebody you are or have been interested in. Do you honestly need a special day to do something you should pretty much be able to do at any given point in your life? (Or if you’re socially awkward like I am, let fester in your mind and do nothing about, ever.)

While all that rubbish up there stinks very obviously of corporate propaganda (and before you ask, no, I am not a communist, although I did, at one point, have socialist leanings), the entire concept of VD *nudge nudge, wink wink* (as it shall subsequently be referred to ) has been foisted on us a bit more subtly.

TV commercials won’t just tell you that you need to get your significant other something for VD – they will sell to you not just their product, but the entire idea of a romantic relationship, and define how important it should be – VERY – to everybody, all the while telling them how earth-shattering a relationship is and how incomplete their lives shall be without one. (Because, you know, how DARE you enjoy the company of your friends or yourself, you damn weirdo, you misanthropic love-hating Grinch?)

The minute I tell anybody I know that I think the entire notion of romantic love is, to put it mildly, a gigantic unflushable turd, though, I seem to turn into THIS guy:

Thank you, Bansari Shroff.

I, the eternal cynic, shall let the numbers speak for a moment here.  Here in India, a dozen red roses cost about INR 400. If you want an entire floral arrangement, though, you’d end up shelling out about INR 900 or so, and prices go up by at least 200% during this season, simply because that is how the economic model of supply and demand works. Then you have all the add-ons that MUST go with flowers.

There are people all over the world that expect to propose/ be proposed to on this day, will be giving and receiving roses, stuffed toys and the cheesiest cards in human existence, probably products of the mind of a syphilitic, raving lunatic. Or several.

Not all of the buyers of every one of these products are even couples.

Many, (and by many, I mean most) of them are just people looking to get laid ( I told you I was a cynic, but at least I’m honest, and really, what’s wrong with just wanting to have some sex?), short-term, long-term, mid-term, whatever. So while people may have found Frank Bernard Dicksee‘s depiction of Romeo and Juliet (a right lot of idiots, if you ask me, the characters in the play) was the most romantic painting ever, THIS is probably what Romeo was really thinking:

While there may be no ‘holiday police’ out to get the people who don’t, there really are. Girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives and friends – all of them expecting to give or receive something or the other.

 And that brings me to a very important point – while it may be none of anybody else’s business, it seems that people (I’ve seen this happen more with teenagers, but I suppose it’s relevant to any age group,really) are in relationships purely as a sort of statement to society, like some weird form of a status symbol, perhaps, and this is exacerbated by the advent of the world’s collective social media obsession; this is also why you see a fair lot of people spamming your Facebook minifeed with gooey, mushy, sickeningly cheesy crap.

I appreciate that he’s your ‘Spongebob’ and you are his ‘baby panda’, but do I (or any of the 500 other people on your list) need to know this? Your idiotic status messages make me wish I really COULD banish you to a pineapple under the sea.

  Relationships (and religion) are like penises. It’s fine to have one, and it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around.

In very related matters, matters that prove the point I just made, I heard the most idiotic lyrics I’ve heard since Kesha playing on the gym’s sound system today. It was the usual autotuned rap-rubbish that makes up 90% of the music you hear today ( I may be biased, I hate rap for many, many reasons), and the only lyrics I remember went a little something like this:  “She’s the type of girl that makes you wanna put it up on ya twitter that I found her” (Really?!)

Let’s ignore the glaring lack of grammar skills that this man so beautifully puts on display, and look at the real issue here – why on Earth would you want to put it up on your Twitter? That, to me, is the internet equivalent of a dog peeing on a bush/tree/car – marking one’s territory, if you will, with a free ego boost thrown in, because the media and people around you have convinced you you’re a better person for being in a relationship. Because, oh my god, what would you have done if you weren’t in a relationship? That would mean that you aren’t attractive enough for someone to want to hump, and THAT would mean the apocalypse is nigh!

Your gold standard for measuring self-worth, your chef d’oeuvre, shall thus become not yourself, and your own abilities, or even any real person you know that you could aspire to, but a standard Rachel McAdams character who goes through physical and mental issues, has serious dementia (but hey, it’s all good, because she’s got some guy who loves her and wants to build her a house! Isn’t that what we all want?)

I do not believe in any of these ideals of love that are sold to me, not even by mankind and ‘well-meaning’ people. That does not imply I am a bitter, angry old spinster. If you really care for that ‘special someone’, go tell them whenever you feel like.   If you enjoy reading and having a nice drink, or enjoying a movie, go do that.

There should be no pressure to buy one of those idiotic cards for someone with a shitty poem in it, or feel terrible about yourself because nobody gave you one and sit on a couch with a tub of ice cream or a 6 pack of beer to mope. (If you just like beer or ice cream, go right ahead).

That just means you’re one of the golden ones.

The one thing that will continue to rankle me is society attempting to convince people that relationships are somehow necessitous to their very existence, and damaging their self-esteem completely in the process. (Been there, and gotten out of it. So can you.)

Valentine’s Day is for the birds. [And NOT in the way John Donne wrote for a man whose name sounds suspiciously like Emperor Palpatine.]

I know you agree with me. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Spend some time with the person or people you love today. They don’t have to be real.

Someone I genuinely hope makes good sales this February 14th?  Condom companies.

This VD, practise safe sex. Prevent the other VD.

Happy Humping!

And because the amazing Messrs. McCartney and Lennon say it better than I ever could, enjoy:

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

At the time I’ve begun writing this post, I am exactly ten days away from what is supposed to be a milestone in one’s life.  My ‘coming-of-age’, my so-called transition into adulthood. Except I don’t think it’s birthday-related, it’s a very gradual thing. In some ways, I’ve been an adult (although who really knows what connotations the word ‘adult’ even holds anymore?) for a while, and in others, I shall remain a child till I die. Arguing semantics is pointless, so I shall move on.

Before I turned 18, I had all sorts of things in mind for myself, my life, and, generally speaking, where I saw myself, ‘x’ years from now.

At the risk of sounding like a prematurely middle-aged, disgruntled old man, I was a young girl then, full of hopes and dreams and all sorts of wishes that I wanted to fulfil, unfettered by anything that came my way. There’s a kind of mental freedom and peace that comes only with childhood and youth, the kind you can see in children’s shining eyes as they run out to play, or even just smile.

It’s a kind that,unfortunately, is extremely fragile.

Personally, I singularly admire people who have been able to keep their childlike innocence intact as they’ve grown older – it’s one way to keep yourself sane. ( A great-aunt of mine still enjoys playing on swing sets and eating ice-cream as sloppily as she feels like, or just laughing at anything even remotely funny, and she’s one of the happiest people I know.)

18-year-old me wrote to herself, three years ago, about how she hated being the fat cow everybody made fun of, about being a doormat and generally being laughed at, and I’m proud of the fact that two out of those three are problems I no longer face, because I chose to do something about them, however slowly I may have done it notwithstanding.

19-year old me wrote something, too.  Except it wasn’t remotely sad, perhaps a little pensive, and ridden with regular old teenage-angst, but in a great way. As I reread what I wrote back then, I’m pretty jealous of Anu at 19, sipping her wine and enjoying her music in complete peace and quiet. I still like to spend my weekends that way, but while the ‘quiet’ is there, I’m not so sure about the peace. Perhaps the lunatic is in my head.

There were all sorts of ‘things’ I hadn’t done, stuff I generally treated like a to-do list.  Now that I’m ‘done’, so to speak, with most of them, I wish there had been some way to let my 19-year-old self know that it was nice, sure, but not as earth-shattering as she thought it would be, that all those things come and go, and aren’t really a big deal. Or even a small one.

Something that makes me rather sad is how, through the years, I’ve been searching, blindly, for some form of mooring, something to hold on to, emotional security, perhaps. I’ve struggled with my self-esteem for years, my living circumstances don’t exactly help matters, and as it happens, I seem to have been searching for it in all the wrong places. Somewhere in my cynical, crabby old-maid mind, there’s still a little girl who wants to be happy and giggly sometimes, I think, but she can’t, because she’s forgotten how.

Moving back to me at 19, I remember that as being one of the best years of my (not exactly very long) life to date. I discovered more about myself than I had ever discovered in all those 18 years before it. (Not all of it was good stuff, but I enjoyed it.)   That year, I got into fights, got out of them, made new friends and lost some, and learned a whole spectrum of lessons along the way.

That year, I devoted to me, and my own happiness; I ended up meeting some of the nicest, warmest, most genuine people I’ve ever met in my entire life, I experienced silly, teenage puppy love for the first time ever (and of course, as teenagers are wont to do, took it far too seriously at the time) , and felt something I hardly ever feel, even today – emotionally secure, and cared for.

There’s this incident I recall from back then, one that gets me sort of choked up, when I allow myself to feel sappy – I’d been down with the flu for a couple of days, and hadn’t been answering my cellphone, a few days before my birthday. My folks back home panicked because they’d been trying to call me, so they called this friend of mine, who also decided to panic, and ended up taking the next train to my apartment, waking me up, and taking me to lunch.

I nagged him to go see a chocolate store I’d wanted to visit for a long, long time – neither of us knew how to get there, but we ran into the pouring rain and caught a bus nevertheless – a bus that ended up being something out of a sketch on SNL – two grown adults retching at the back of the bus, a grown woman wailing at the top of her lungs, and a screaming man, in a bus that seemed to have been scented with Eau de Urinal.

A hop off the crazy bus and about 20 train stops later, we finally got there, only to find it was closed. We ended up laughing at our own predicament. ForEVER. (We still do.)

(That was also a great day in many other ways – I bought my 6-foot-tall, Official, Return of the Jedi poster that day, my first Abbey Road poster, and a huge one of Queen, all of which are still in my room. It was NOT easy bringing them back home.)

He’s the same friend whom I spent my 19th birthday  with, at a Pizza Hut in the middle of town, and the same guy who made me dinner and whose shirts I slept in when I was moving house, and someone I knew for two years before we both moved abroad, to the same country – within 5 minutes of each other, in fact.

I’d been dreading my birthday that year, because it was going to be my first one away from home, away from town, my friends, everybody I knew- I wasn’t really sure how to deal with that, because while I’m used to being alone, and quite enjoy my peaceful solitude, I get lonely sometimes.  Except, the morning of my birthday (which sadly is not a holiday anywhere but India and Australia), I walked into an Economics lecture to a box of fresh chocolate chip cookies, and a bottle of my favourite lotion (I still have the bottle, with a tiny little gob of lotion at the bottom still in it, because I’m a creepy, sentimental hoarder) from one of my favourite people there, one of the people that helped me get through all sorts of things, somebody who’s been through so very much herself. That was pretty much the only tangible ‘present’ I got that year, but the cliché is true – it’s the thought that counts, and that in itself was the real present. In my past. (tee hee.)

That was also the year I began getting fit again, after allowing myself to grow up a cow (now the workers have struck for fame?), and generally having had 8 pretty shitty years. I finally began being able to like myself (at least it was a start.), and met others who had been through or were going through similar stuff, searching for their own little bubble to stagnate in, their own port-of-call, as it were. I’ve watched a friend, somebody I love, find all the happiness she’d ever wanted, in the span of a year. When I met her, two years later, she was just as happy, if not happier, and I realised that even if I hadn’t found that elusive ‘happiness’ for myself, it made me feel good that somebody I cared for was happy.  I have since gone on to feel a little bit happier every time somebody I care about finds whatever they’re looking for, wherever they’re looking for it.

One thing that’s remained constant, though, is the fact that everywhere I go (barring school, possibly the worst 14 years of my life with respect to social interaction), I’ve had people look out for me, just like that. That’s one of the things I want to celebrate this year. Even though I don’t get to talk to them as often as I’d like (for various reasons), they know I care about them, and I know they care about me.     [ This, however, is something I need to perfect, because I still get skittish sometimes, something that I choose to blame on my Bipolar.]  I just need to keep reminding myself that they’re there for me in spirit.

(Ground control to Major Tom!)

19-year-old-me was one smart cookie – she knew she had amazing people in her life, ones who were going to stay there, and was going to meet more awesome people anyway, which she has.

I just wish I had her self-esteem, because I shall grudgingly admit I haven’t much at this point in time, for various reasons, and I’m not as good at coping with stress (but maybe that came with growing older, even though it seems, logically, that it should be the other way around).

This birthday, I still find myself wishing for some of the things piny 18-year-old me wished for, perhaps, but more than anything else, I find myself wishing for the self-esteem and confidence I had two years ago, possibly because I was just, quite simply, happy. I hope to find some semblance of peace of mind this year, some mental stability, because I know that barring all that fluff and all those issues, I’m still that intellectual epicurean Beatlemaniac, that ‘creative, kooky, curly-haired weirdo’ I was yakking about in ’09- a person I’m very proud of being.

I’ve just got to find her again, buried under miles of cynical crabby woman.

It isn’t easy, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try – that’s my birthday present to myself. My birthday resolution, if you will. To begin caring for myself, stop waiting for my family to love me, and be my own damn family.

And while another year of discovering myself comes to an end, another one is just beginning, so I’m going to turn and face the strain, and get some real good living done in the process.

Yet again, thank you to everybody who’s in my life and reading this. Like every year, I’ve met amazing people, which is a relief.  I love you guys.

Oh, and a Happy Birthday to a certain Mr. Van Halen out there.

I shall end this extensive rant with the words of someone far older, wiser, and sexier than I shall ever be -

Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.

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