Friday, February 04, 2011

Fairy godmothers for our times

Most trashy romances have at least one episode involving dress-up, where the heroine has found a magical dress, her hair is right, she doesn’t feel fat and is the belle of the ball. In fact, this part is often more passionately expressed than the hero’s entrance. (Helena Rubenstein demonstrated consumer insight decades before the term was coined when she said: “In the factory we make cosmetics, but in the drug store we sell dreams”.)

It’s the fairy godmother that makes Cinderella’s story, not the faceless prince. The subsequent fitting of the slipper and happily-ever-after was just the knock-on effect of the real turning point when Cinderella discovered her “look”. These were some of mine:

A hairdresser named Beatrice: I spent years fighting my curls, hating them, aided and abetted by hairdressers who tried to teach me impossible acrobatics with hair dryers and brushes. Then I accidentally found the best salon I’ve ever been in (for the record, Cut and Shape in Dubai). The hairdresser assigned to me went into raptures over my hair, others came by to wonder and exclaim. One of them told me that people “spend fortunes to get that look”. It was news to me that I had one at all. I was dissuaded from having the elaborate procedure I’d come in for and shown instead the basics of looking after curly hair, celebrating it, even. I walked out a different person. Both Bea and I have long since left Dubai, but my good hair days go on and on.

A shop called Be: Having spent the formative years worrying about my hair, I had no time left to develop any clothes-sense. So I just wore what my friends were wearing. Except that they were all either statuesque or waiflike, and their choices sat awkwardly on my decidedly Dravidian body type. I resigned myself to the fact that my clothes were always wrong, until I checked out a new boutique in the neighbourhood and there it was, that look thing again. The sudden access of freedom that came from finding my style was like the first time I had the courage to take my feet off the ground in a swimming pool – it was more like learning to fly than swim. They shut down long ago (perhaps I was their only customer – I’ve certainly never seen anyone else wear my clothes), but their work was done.

A girl called Jerusha: I was preserved in cotton wool till I was about sixteen, which didn’t prepare me much for teenage social life. I didn’t know about dancing and dating, the rhythms of a party or cross-gender repartee, to name a few. Pat Boone, Abba or the Beatles were fine, but Madonna, Wham and Top of the Pops were closed books. And talking of books, academic excellence and having read almost everything by Jane Austen and Wodehouse were hardly conducive to party conversation. Then, in walked my neighbour who not only knew all the important things but didn’t seem scared of them. Non-judgmental and intrepid, she passed on her knowledge and approach to life, changing mine. She’s still around, family now in fact, so her good work continues. And years later, another girl called Smita took up the job of updating and supplementing her work.

A man named Nicolas: Entering my life some twelve years later and definitely not non-judgmental, my differently oriented cabin mate combined high standards on the look front with a designer’s respect for individualism. His frank opinions and equally unreserved praise gave me the final ingredient – confidence in my own judgment.

Once the fairy godparents had finished with me, I was reluctant to waste it mucking about with glass slippers and now prefer going on happy single holidays instead. But here’s the thing – I look good doing it.

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