The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

Menu Close

Tag: beauty


It was a local organizing event. A young man walked up to the podium to speak. He was running for election. His experience was impressive. He had worked in government, and he had experience running his own company. He looked like a solid candidate. Did I mention how handsome he looked? He was tall and slender, his body like that of a long-distance runner. He had large, gray eyes. Soulful, I thought… A face that a poet or an artist would fall in love with. He had light brown hair, soft and wavy. He looked heart-breakingly young.

It was a few years ago that I got the chance to meet C. She was an Indian American student, a volunteer with a cultural/religious organization. The objective of our meeting was to discuss projects that we could collaborate on. She walked into the coffee shop. We spoke for thirty minutes or so. I had a tough time sticking to script because… she was so beautiful that I lost my nerve. She had lovely eyebrows, dark and arched. Her nose was narrow and angular, a tiny diamond shining on the left nostril. Her hair was messily tied up, and she looked like she had just got out of class. To me, this girl radiated effortless beauty. I felt nervous, lacking in confidence. I hardly remember what we spoke that day.

My sister had a classmate. Let’s call her M. M was tall, like basketball-player-tall. She looked like your typical Indian fashion model — lanky frame, narrow features, confident. People often remarked to her, “M, you should be a model!” Those were the days when everyone was so proud of Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Lara Dutta and their ilk. We owned those gorgeous, intelligent ladies. However, M didn’t have fashion model aspirations. I think she had plans to study computer science.

As a young person, I was naive enough to think that beautiful people had it easier. They commanded attention effortlessly. They turned heads wherever they went. They had presence.

I am a little wiser now. For one, presence is its own thing, and beauty has scant to do with it. I have met some insipid beautiful people. They lack… something vital, essential. They have perfect features but there is no air in there. It feels stifled.

The other thing about beauty is that it can be so darned distracting. I was so dazzled by C’s effortless beauty that I could hardly focus on what she was saying, or construct a solid sentence myself. People had a hard time imagining that lovely and statuesque M, fashion model in the making, could ever be inclined towards the sciences. Our young politician had great experience, but his dashing good looks were the first thing you saw and possibly the last thing you remembered about him.

It is a little bit like having money. Money can mess with your perspective because it gives you apparent power. It makes you act in unnatural ways, and it makes others around you act unnatural, sometimes. However, you can make an attempt to hide the fact that you are a moneyed person. How do you hide your looks? How do you prevent them from becoming a distraction? Or getting in your way? Unless of course, your looks ARE paving your way.


If I am going to be really truthful, then I’d like to say this: I don’t really know if I am an attractive woman. I am an attractive person; I have enough confirmation on that. However, as far as physical attractiveness goes, hmmm… I don’t know.

A gawky girl with stick-straight hair and a gummy smile grew up to be an awkward teenager. Something changed around age 16. Maybe the hormones were doing their thing, but I hit the beginning of my “attractive” phase. Male attention found its way to me.

(I wonder if the guys around actually saw me, or they saw themselves reflected in my willing, friendly eyes. Some of us have the rare fortune of functioning as mirrors to others. They see themselves in us, and we get lost in the reflecting images. They don’t really see us, but they seem to love us, because they see themselves reflected in our transparent countenances. Perhaps that’s why guys paid me attention, compliments and such.)

I was sufficiently young and naive; so I thought of myself as an attractive girl that time. I was slim, and I had this lovely head of hair — silky, bouncy, and most importantly, straight.

Those were heady years, perhaps a tad too much. Heady enough that I lost sight of myself, which is an oft-happening occurrence for folks like me: the mirrors.

Kerala, 2011

As I headed to engineering college, the pattern continued to play itself out. Guys and attention, compliments and positive feedback… it went on. The awkward teenager felt vindicated.

(Despite what you may think, my fundamentals were solid, because I zeroed in on the one guy who stayed outside this shiny universe. And I stuck with him. Turned out to be a good decision.)

The years went on, and so did my attractive streak. Like every young woman, I was probably putting out feelers, scanning the territory for solid, bankable mates. I certainly got my share of matching signals, some terribly messed up.

Then marriage happened. Young, romantic love ripened into a sweet companionship and a rich friendship.

But I was attractive no more. Perhaps the signals had shifted without my knowledge?

As the years rolled on, I started looking younger and older at the same time, if you can imagine that. I didn’t have the fresh-faced innocence of youth, but my slim frame made me look much younger than my actual age. I wore no makeup, dressed like I’d just graduated college… And my hair began graying. I think my body and mind were playing games, confusing each other and everyone else! Men could no longer place me, or so it seemed.

But more significantly, I think I had begun signaling a lack of interest.

So, while women talk about having to handle unwelcome attention from males around them, I wonder: Where is this attention? Why isn’t it finding me?

I think I am not the mirror any more. My mirror has turned inward. Suddenly (or not so suddenly), my attention to the outside has dwindled. I am not available, I guess.