The Bell Jar and me

“I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.” —Sylvia Plath

No amount of feminism is ever going to stop mothers from constantly worrying about the presence of grey hair on their daughters’ heads or their sense of clothing. My mother is also no exception. When I ask her an opinion about what kind of outfit to wear for a dear friend’s wedding, she gives me a list of the entire wardrobe. And when I reject outfit after outfit giving reasons like the colour’s too bright or too embellished or too fancy for a wedding, she shoots me her awful look and goes on a long tirade. Some of which includes how could I possibly not want to wear good clothes or if I buy them only to adorn the wardrobe or that I had no sense of clothing style and that people judge us by clothes and me looking like a hawk alienates people. There is more but I can’t even recollect it now. It is funny that my assertion of my body, my choice, my clothes has no desired effect on my mum.

I am constantly reminded of the grey hair by my next-door newly married neighbour, her mother-in-law, my grandmother, my male and female friends, family members of my friends when I visit them. Not that it matters to them, but people especially women folk still believe in making another woman’s life hell by giving her hell about her body, clothes, physical appearance and her thoughts too. And this continues as we go from generation to generation. I sometimes feel that feminism is also about imbibing the thought that a woman’s personal choices about her body concern no one but herself. To a larger extent, it is about having conversation between women of all ages to shun their outlook towards physical appearances. Sure it’s nice to look good and attractive but it should not become the norm for everyone to follow. How is my unkempt hair or unplucked eyebrows bothering you any more than the daily life crisis of so many individuals who struggle to survive? Yes, women do get judged by their clothes more than the men are, and that is something I wish would stop.

When I first read Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, I was 21 and about to graduate from Architecture school. She resonated with so many everyday issues a woman faced in her daily life. Esther Greenwood seemed like any one of us young women who were filled with the uncertainty of the working world outside the academic atmosphere we had been training ourselves for two decades. I distinctly remember wondering if Esther was me while progressing through the book. It was as if my own life was being replayed in front of my eyes even while I was reading something written in the 1960’s. By the end of the book, I was so sure I never wanted to be any close to Esther that I shut myself out of Sylvia Plath’s world. She perhaps seemed to mirror a life I saw for myself. Ain’t I glad though that despite my desperate attempts to withdraw from Plath’s suicidal novel, I read her once more when I was 25 and this time, I exactly knew what was happening to Esther. She was a victim of her own high-brow aspirations thrust upon herself by her mother and the other women in her world. I had become a little wiser too in not projecting everything I read into my own life. For that, I am eternally grateful to growing up and failures and other working world experiences.

So, when my mother couldn’t stop complaining about my lack of prim and vanity, I only closed my eyes and remembered Plath. All of mum’s words fell on my deaf ears as I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.


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