To be honest, I am always doubtful about my own parameters of beauty and aesthetics when it comes to people. And I have realised, the fear of the unknown is somewhat deep-seated in me, and on any given day, I find those whom I know, or familiar with, more beautiful than any random stranger who could be ‘beautiful’ according to the normative – regardless of their skin colour. Precisely because of this, I find myself in a very uncomfortable/indifferent position when it comes to campaigns and/ discourses that idealize any person(s) as the most beautiful! (be it Dalit assertion or the mainstream’s Savarna consciousness)
WIth regard to actors, I connect to them through their cinema, I do not for sure, know, who they are or can be in their personal/private spaces.
Critically reflecting on and resisting hegemonic tendencies of aesthetics and beauty parameters is important, but one should be careful not to hegemonize such resistances as the only voice of resistance!
PS: I have tried ‘fixing’ a ‘type’ for myself and terribly failed in executing it, as I found myself thoroughly disenchanted with them as I got to know/grew more familiar with them. On the other hand, I also have been drawn quite often to someone who did not fit into that ‘type’ which I set for myself, only because I thought I got to know that person better!
Let me try and break it down:
First of all, that post was a response to the current debates around a comment made by an actress about Vinayakan. She said and I quote “ Vinayakan is the most beautiful man she has ever known and his beauty is his character”. This particular comment had invoked two kinds of responses (as I can see from FB statuses and comments)
i) ‘People’ are generally happy with it, and sharing it widely, because they might also feel Vinayakan has a ‘beautiful character’ if not really ‘beautiful’ according to set standards of beauty
ii) Some, (eg.@Pramod Sankaran) feels Vinayakan is beautiful in itself, what renders him not beautiful/makes his ‘beautiful’ character is the existing Savarna standards of beauty.
This has to be read in line with various campaigns and discourses around ‘beauty and skin tone in India or anywhere else. Such as ‘Dark/Black is beautiful’. I strongly feel when one has to assert ‘dark is beautiful’ it could also arise out of a context that had considered ‘dark’ not beautiful. It can be seen as a resistance to the hegemonic savarna/white standard of beauty, but it sooner takes over the space in the resistance movements, and even find acceptability among whites/savaranas. Once a fellow comrade commented about me: “ You’re just the way a Dalit beauty should be”. So what about those Dalit beauties who do not look like me- to break it down further- who do not have i) dark skin ii) curly hair iii) voluptuous body? ( which is what he meant by his statement, which was highly sexist and offensive, although, he meant it as ‘compliment’ ) What is the space for such ‘embodied beings’ in the movement that in-itself claims to be inclusive?
I see this as a problem arising out of the same essentialization through Savarna (counter)logic.
However, the question that I try to raise is even more complex:
For instance, once Jaseela Cheriya Valappil has written how she is intimidated by ‘savarna/white/fair-skinned’ professors who otherwise mesmerize most of her classmates. While on the first note, it would seem similar to the above said (counter)logic, she goes on to explain how her fear is deep-seated and shaped by her knowledge and understanding of Savarna males through her various socializations(she mentions popular literature here). Her ‘bias’(as she says), although deduced from the (counter)narratives about Savarna males, from her standpoint of a marginalized woman, is subjective as well as part of the discourse.
Here is where my previous post comes in. I was trying to say, whoever I found attractive, may not be because of what their embodiment represent. I have liked and loved various kinds of men and women, although the majority of them may be dark-skinned( as my lived-world is dominated by working-class Dalit men and women). I have found all of them beautiful, because I like them and I am familiar with them. They may or may not fit either mainstream’s parameter of beauty/of various counter-cultures parameters, but that has little to do with how I ‘see’ them. It is also because of my fear of strangers that could also be strengthened and informed by my subjective existence as a (vulnerable)marginalized woman. At a time, when I was carried away with resistance movements, I had deliberately thought/and tried being with persons whom I found ‘attractive’ according to this (counter)logic of resistance( Tall, Dark macho)- and only found myself being repulsed by them as I got to know them better.
Also, there are situations in which I had found myself haplessly ‘in love with someone who did not embody this ‘resistance’, rather very mainstream ‘handsomeness’! It could easily be read as a Dalit woman ‘secretly’ longing for a ‘white’ male(as he was not a caste-Hindu. But with that person, I had not shared anything intimate, not even a glance of intimacy, despite being together for almost three years, even in situations that were considered as ‘classic romantic’. In all those times, we were a practical joke to others- the impossible(even now maybe). However, later when we knew each other better, we couldn’t resist each other. (being together need not always be knowing someone), and I remember us re-imagining ourselves in those otherwise ‘unromantic’ situations again and again as a romantically involved couple. I must also confess, that my convictions, along with mainstream’s notions of a ‘fitting couple’ had contributed greatly to the disintegration of our relationship. I was eager to tell him every time, how he did not quite ‘fit’ into my ‘type’ of a male companion/partner. Maybe I was scared too, as Jaseela was. We were constantly negotiating our power within the relationship, and I was quite not ready to be the submissive ‘subaltern body’(although he might not have been looking at things the way I was) and found ourselves entangled in endless power games and manipulations; only to my realisation that ‘the only winning move for me was not to play.
Yet those momentary transgressions in our togetherness had continuously informed my own knowledge of self, and how arbitrary were the standards that I kept for persons, (in various terms) although many a time, resisting the hegemonic, eager to surpass the norms and boundaries and various controlling images forced on myself and women like me.
Let me come back to the initial theme of this discussion. Vinayakan may not be beautiful to Savarna consciousness. But asserting that Vinayakan or his kinds can only be the true representations of Dalit beauty/body is as problematic and reductionist as saying Mammooty/Mohanlal can be the only ‘Malayali Masculine’. However, not recognizing and sufficiently addressing the taboos attached to these caste-marked Dalit bodies are also problematic. Individual tastes and ideas of beauty are mostly socially constructed, but there are can also be ‘acquired tastes’(which can also be socially constructed). And there could also be consciously adopted choices( again, can be socially constructed, as well as informed by very particular subjective lived experience). As an extension, I like several actors, not because I know them personally, but because of the characters, they have portrayed in their films. There could be brilliant, better human beings whom I may have found attractive if I knew them personally, but not attracted as of now, because I may not like/impressed by the characters/movies they have done.
The most important question for me, however, is how we politicize our intimate spaces, and how we reflect on our own choices and tastes critically.
*tagged Neelima and Akhil Jith as they were at the forefront of a campaign for ‘dark-skinned beauties’!