There are few times in a year that I wake up in the morning to wear formal attire, do my hair, put a little kohl under my eyes and slip into my heels. This is rare as most of the days you would find me in my jeans and converse, sans any makeup and my hair staying whichever way they decided to stay that day. But on those few mornings, I make a little effort as I ready myself for my business meetings.

It is not necessary to do any of that but I cannot walk into those meetings in my jeans and converse either. Most often, I leave things mid-way. This morning I leave dabbing the concealer on the dark acne scars halfway through. I remind myself that it does not matter. There are far more important things in the world than my acne scars. I take a final glance and notice that my hair has decided to behave today. The natural curls are not standing out and are obediently falling on my shoulders. I rarely have a good hair day.

The curls remind me of my conversation with a 10-year old young friend of mine and I write this post today for her, for my daughter and for all young girls like them.

“Aunty, are these your natural curls?”

“Yes, they are.”

“You do not have to use a curler?”

“No. This is how my hair has always been.”

“You are so lucky. I wish my hair had curls,” she said stroking her straight long beautiful hair.

“And you know what, I have sometimes secretly wished I had straight long hair like yours. But my hair just curls up however hard I try,” I tell her in my response.

“You can use a hair straightener,” she says with a surprise that an adult could be unaware of such simple measures in today’s times.

“My friends use curlers. But my mom said I am too young for them,” she finishes up.

Aha! That’s when I understand what the discussion is all about.

“Though I sometimes wish for straight hair, most of the times I am comfortable with my own hair, the way it is. My curls make me happy. I feel sad when they flatten.” We both giggle together.

It is the onset of middle school, I can hear the peer pressure of looking good, the desire to put on make up or curl your hair or dress up a certain way. I can hear the slight turmoil in her voice about what is right, what is not? She is looking at me, seeking an opinion and an assurance that her mother is right.

My daughter is listening on. What I tell them today is going to make some impact I can tell by the seriousness on their faces. It is easy to fall prey to the pressure of looking good and that could last for a lifetime, so I tell them a story.

I tell them a story about when I was a teen and acne had left deep craters on both sides of my cheeks, the skin inflamed and almost raw. I did not look half as good as other teens my age looked. I had looked in the mirror and felt extremely sad and angry one day. It was the morning of an inter-school debate competition. My mother had said something that I remind myself of very often, till this day.

“When you stand in a front of a room full of people, your look will matter only for a bit. After that, what will matter is what you know, how much you know and how well you can present what you know. What matters is how good you are at whatever you think you are good at.”

I repeat this to my daughter today again when she was nervous about her presentation in her class. She was going to talk about Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut to go into space. I emphasized to her that we remember Sally Ride and many other women like her for their contribution in their respective fields. Not for theirs curls or skirts or hair do.

Follow your heart. Curl your hair if that makes you happy. Do not curl it because that is what everyone else is doing. The world will always judge and there will always be an overflow of suggestions. You are too thin. You are too fat. You are too short. You are so tall. You wear glasses. You don’t look cool. You clothes are skimpy. You dress like an old lady. You should wear make up. Your makeup is too loud.

It never stops whether you are 10 or you are 40 or 60. It is a lifetime event.

So the best thing is to not let yourself bother about the world and do what makes you feel good and what makes you feel happy. If that dangler in your ear lifts your spirit, wear it on the days you need a little cheer. If the tennis shoes keep your feet happy, wear them everywhere that you go. No one will notice that you wore the same turquoise jeggings to four parties, if that is what you want to wear. Don’t suppress your giggles just because everyone else has forgotten to laugh aloud. Don’t stow away your poems and verses, share them aloud, for that is your gift. Paint the canvas in the colors that you choose, there are no rules.

Be what you want to be and do what you want to do. The world is a bit ruthless, you will realize as you grow up. The world talks about empowering women. But we can empower ourselves by our experiences and accomplishments, by what we can dream and what we can create, by our compassion and a little forgiveness for the world.

And if and when you get the curlers, I will love to make the curls for you. Just as I would be the first one to stand in the queue when you have your book-signing event or when you open an art gallery or you run your own cafe. I will come to cheer for you on your graduations, your life events and even when you decide to go on a journey to Mars.

Picture by Soumi Haldar  and Post By Piya Mukherjee Kalra