Mirror Mirror on the Wall

‘Lights, Camera, Action’ is ruling my life again and I realise I’ve been looking into the mirror far too many times.

After nearly a decade I’m back in front of the arc lights!

And as the sound of ‘Lights, Camera, Action’ once again permeates my life I realise that I have been looking into the mirror far too many times in a day. It’s normal for an actor to look into the mirror a little more than others and it’s only because the job demands it… you check your face before every shot and so on. So basically I’m subjecting myself to intense scrutiny these days.

I’m under the magnifying glass. I’m living in a fish bowl again.

The Shock of Learning to Love My Imperfections

As a teenager when I looked into the mirror I liked a few bits and disliked some. I hated my beautiful curls and always wanted my mother’s straight hair – so I grew up and made it possible, thanks to re-bonding and straightening irons.

Ironically, when I started modelling, my very first ad film was for a hair oil called Hair & Care. We’re well aware of the stereotypical ideal of a girl with long, straight, black hair. So I went reluctantly for the audition after blow drying the hell out of my curls. Wonder of wonders, I was selected from amongst hundreds of other aspirants. First day of shoot – they look at my natural hair and say, “But that’s how we want it, not this straight haired look!” and I look at them gobsmacked! I was going to appear onscreen for the first time with curly hair? What about the fact that I’d hated it all this while and felt beautiful only when it was poker straight?

That was my first lesson… to appreciate what I thought was my imperfection. We’ve grown up with these notions of beauty that have been fed to us via advertising and various other sources since we’ve grown up – from fairy tales where the princess is always beautiful and glossy magazines where the girls are always perfect.

The actor with her onscreen children. (Photo Courtesy: Manasi Joshi Roy)
The actor with her onscreen children. (Photo Courtesy: Manasi Joshi Roy)

I’ve been a model and I’ve been told I’m beautiful. I’m someone who’s always been pretty confident about her looks and at the same time didn’t believe that I was the sum total of my looks… yet there have been moments of anguish and uncertainty… I’m not thin enough. I’ve always had a fuller body. I’m not tall enough … just about 5 feet tall! But I’ve never let these insecurities get the better of me.

But what if I had? Because the profession I am in can be very demanding. No wonder then that so many of my ilk go under the knife in the hope of perfecting their flaws. And then, when you look at their before and after pictures you wonder – why did they do it? These are beautiful girls who invariably looked better the way nature intended them to be… there’s a symmetry in that asymmetry. But the desire for perfection leaves us obsessed. At the same time I’m no one to judge; if you’d like to change your face or body, its every woman’s prerogative to do what she wishes to enhance her beauty.

What Acid Attack Survivor Laxmi Taught Me

But what is beauty? I mean truly, it is only skin deep and if someone were to rob you of your beauty you would still be intact somewhere inside.

The other day I had the good fortune to interview a beautiful woman who happened to be an acid attack survivor. Laxmi Aggarwal didn’t like it when I referred to her as an acid attack victim. She said “He threw acid on my face, not on my dreams”. After the attack she wasn’t shown a mirror in the hospital and when she finally saw her face she was horrified. For 8 years she kept her face hidden behind a veil but after the Nirbhaya case felt that she should let the world see her face. She is one of the front runners of the Stop Acid Attack campaign and has filed a PIL which has stopped acid from being sold over the counter. When I was talking to her all I could see was the sparkle in her eyes and the confidence in her voice. I didn’t notice the scars…

Laxmi told me, “He threw acid on my face, not on my dreams”. (Photo Courtesy: Manasi Joshi Roy)
Laxmi told me, “He threw acid on my face, not on my dreams”. (Photo Courtesy: Manasi Joshi Roy)

I’ve tried Botox because I felt my eyes had too many crows feet and that my brows furrowed a lot. But all it did was freeze my expressions and I knew that as an actor that wasn’t something I wanted… I wanted the emotions to show on my face. So I’ve decided, no more Botox for me. But I don’t know, maybe some day again the mirror will tell me that I’m not looking as young and beautiful as I should and that perhaps I will feel the need to enhance it with outside help…

But all this seems so shallow when I understand that Laxmi had to undergo several surgeries to recover her face… it puts my vanity into perspective and I no longer feel the need to ask the mirror who is the prettiest of them all.

I’m becoming the woman I’ve wanted….

“I am becoming the woman I’ve wanted,
grey at the temples,
soft body, delighted,
cracked up by life
with a laugh that’s known bitter
but, past it, got better,
knows she’s a survivor–
that whatever comes,
she can outlast it.
I am becoming a deep
weathered basket.

I am becoming the woman I’ve longed for,
the motherly lover
with arms strong and tender,
the growing up daughter
who blushes surprises.
I am becoming full moons
and sunrises.

I find her becoming,
this woman I’ve wanted,
who knows she’ll encompass,
who knows she’s sufficient,
knows where she’s going
and travels with passion.
Who remembers she’s precious,
but knows she’s not scarce–
who knows she is plenty,
plenty to share.”

– Jayne Brown

(Manasi Joshi Roy is essentially an actor. Full-time mom. Part-time dreamer. Sporadic blogger at This, That & the Other. A regular foodie who loves to travel.)

As published in the Quint