In the dark hours before morning, on a cold wintry day, a silence hovered tensely in the king’s palace. The queen had given birth to a child.
The people awaited news with bated breath. For nine months priests had been put to work offering fervent prayers up into the skies. A boy, a handsome boy to take over the kingdoms responsibilities on his tiny shoulders. If not a boy, if it had to be a girl, at least make her fair and beautiful. Sacrifices were duly offered, money poured out of the treasury and into the priest’s pockets. With one hand they grasped the money, the other making atonement for every sin that might have been committed. Nothing was left to chance.
On the morning in question, the baby was born. A baby girl. She was not white but brown. Her skin was not flawless. A birthmark covered the major part of one arm.
The queen took one look at her and renounced her child. “I have no baby,” she quietly said. “My baby is dead.”
The girl was taken to the river and floated away in the arms of fate.
Not far away, in a forest, lived an old couple. They lived alone and they were happy, but for one exception. The couple was childless. Their empty arms yearned for the weight of a child.
And as happy stories go, the queen’s baby floated down the river and into the arms of the childless couple. Thus rescued, she grew up on the medley of their combined love.
Meanwhile, the king and the queen got their handsome son and fair daughter. They were raised on mantles of power and superiority. On their shoulders rested the doom of perfection.
The queen’s fair daughter was praised and flattered. She was dressed in heavy silks and brocade, oiled and perfumed; every tiny flaw concealed under layers of façade. She was fed on ideals of societal perfection: stand tall, look fair, be flawless, carriage straight but not rigid, smile but no teeth. Was that a freckle? Cover it up quickly! How could you allow a thorn to scratch you foolish girl? How could you be so careless….
And slowly the reflection began to crack. She saw scars where there were nothing but dimples, wrinkles where there were nothing but frown lines. And the reflection cracked and cracked and cracked. “I will never be beautiful,” she thought.
The old couple’s daughter, raised on the love and adoration that shone out of the couple’s eyes, could see no flaw in her appearance. She liked the color of her skin, reflecting warmly in the sun. She liked the mark on her arm; it made her special….unique. She was loved. She was happy. She was beautiful. She was content.
The moment we are born, we are tainted by judgment. Growing up we’re systematically molded and blended into the same clay that runs through society. Our colors are subdued; individuality repressed by societal norms. We are placed on a one way street with walls on both sides and encouraged to be unique and free. Broadminded people on narrow streets.
Any slight deviation from the norm, these rigid rules written in blood and engraved into the collective mind of society is consequently regarded as imperfect.
White became the norm for beautiful. Flawless became the norm for perfection.
Perfection. Is it a neat flowing calligraphy, evenly spaced, between the lines and grammatically faultless. Or is it the angry gash of words that spill out of catharsis. Is it a life unblemished and unmarked, pure as white, smooth as stone. Or is it the scars, the lines, the cracks in our facade, the flaws in our norms.
How many times must a mirror crack. How many ways should a reflection be distorted.
Perfect (adj.) – having all the required or desirable elements or qualities or characteristics. Without fault.
Perfect (verb) – make something completely free from faults or defects.
And the mirror cracked. And cracked. And cracked.
Author: Anandita Rao