Gender Performativity in everyday life

During a routine ritual of a movie night with my 6 year old niece, she casually mentioned how one of the characters is a “perfect girl”. Intrigued by that thought, I decided to explore what a “perfect girl” meant to her. She went on to state that a perfect girl was one who was a good person, listened to her mom, did her studies on time and grew up to be a beautiful girl. I pointed to one character, who did not really align with the conventional codes of beauty and said, “Like her?”. She gave me a wide eyed surprised look and pointed to one of the characters and said “No! Like her”.

The character whom she perceived as ideal, was thin and tall, with a slender waist and long flowing hair. Quite contrary to the amiable, sprightly and more humane character I had pointed out earlier.

The everyday manifestations of gender performativity are culturally rooted and can be quite diverse. In India, one tends to observe how entwined gender, body and the notions of ideal beauty are. From a young age many girls in India become aware of their bodies, thus compelling them to align with the conventional codes of beauty with unrealistic standards. Moreover, recent discourses of equating happiness, health and wellbeing with a certain body type amplifies the notion and pushes us to perceive a healthy body through binaries → thin = emotionally happy and physically fit and fat = unhappy, unhealthy and needs to do better.

Such pre-assigned attributes are often internalized and have a great impact in shaping young perceptions and significantly contributes to the feeling of not being “good enough” unless certain standards are met. While discourses around the topic are gaining momentum, there is a need to be more inclusive in thought and action for a more meaningful impact.

Author: Rupali Kapoor and Adishri Guha 

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