Continuing our series Let’s Face It! here are excerpts from an interview with Babita Jaishankar, CEO & Founder, WSol Fashion & Image Makeovers Pvt Ltd and Creative Director at Clothing Brand, BAJA.
Pottsandpan (PP): Being an image makeover consultant, how important is this with reference to marriage?
Babita Jaishankar (BJ): The concept of image makeover today has been widely glamourized. It is much more than grooming oneself and wearing good clothes. It’s an amalgamation of one’s personality, lifestyle, personal goals and attitude. I was recently asked to work with a young girl whose parents are looking for a groom for her. My initial impression when I spoke with them was that they were looking for something ‘magical’ to happen! The girl didn’t seem to be enthusiastic but told me that she wanted to marry someone who would live with her in her parent’s house. This was something ‘she’ wanted and not her parents. I wondered if she was just being lazy about having to set-up her own home where the responsibility rested with her to make her new house her own home. Or was the concept of marriage overwhelming her? Presently she doesn’t help at home, doesn’t know how to cook or clean. Her mother does everything for her including shopping for clothes. The family tells her even the basic things to do like when to wear a dupatta (scarf)! How can this girl be ready for marriage? She’s going into an arranged marriage, by choice perhaps because somewhere there is this unsaid notion that everything will be taken care for her. There is clearly a mismatch of expectations. It surprised me that the parents had brought up their son who was confident yet had a daughter who was insecure and dependent. There was a larger issue at stake here – her personality needed to evolve and I will have to work building that before any external makeover can happen.
PP: In your experience what are the expectations with which men and women come to you for a makeover?
BJ: To begin with I’ve noticed a difference in people’s attitude towards their makeover session when they have been recommended to come to me from those who come to me on their own. When someone else asks them to come, they don’t take it as seriously as they feel like there is something wrong with them. If they come on their own, then it’s their innate need to want to make a change in their lives. Men come to me mostly to ‘look good’ or improve their ‘communication skills’ either with respect to applying for a job, improving career prospects or in their social interactions. They want to know what kind of clothes to wear, which brands they should opt for and of course, how they can impress women. Women on the other hand want a lot more – they want to feel confident in their daily interactions and want to ‘feel good’ about themselves.
PP: Women tend to make efforts to groom themselves before their marriage so they look incredibly beautiful at their wedding. Sometimes they lose this momentum when bogged down with marriage and responsibilities. Has that been your experience?
BJ: Yes the role of a mother / wife / working women / or someone who stays at home are all different and a woman’s image of herself changes accordingly. Each of these needs to be dealt with differently. One of my clients is someone who spends a lot of time doing puja and her wardrobe needs to cater to that. Grooming is something that women need to consciously do for themselves. It’s a way to say, ‘I care for myself.’
PP: You have two lovely daughters, how would you define your role as a mother / wife / business woman?
BJ: When I married I didn’t want to involve my parents with helping me setup home. I wanted to do it myself. It was difficult and there were days when I would cry but today I’m glad that I didn’t involve them. They too are proud of how I’ve been able to manage my family. After my first daughter was born, we moved to the US. There I did everything myself – cooking, cleaning, taking my daughter to the school, park, paying bills. My second daughter was born there and even with a young child I still pushed myself to manage the home well. In fact, my husband always came home to see a clean house and all the work done. I’ve invested hugely to bring up my children to be independent both in their outlook and lifestyle. If they wanted pocket money, they had to earn it. I delegated small tasks to them to enable them to value money. It also taught them time management. Today they not only help with the housework but also the cooking and baking. After I started WSol, I ensured I kept 7.30 – 9.30 in the evening free to just be with my children. Sometimes today if I have to urgently make a call I do ask my elder daughter for help to take care of her little sister. They know that I will spend time with them and if I have to make a call it must be important. I’ve openly told my family that this is as much their home as mine and I haven’t signed a contract to be the chef, maid or cleaner. They know that it’s no one’s specific job to clean up. Everyone has a similar stake in keeping the home clean. I’ve tried to strike a balance with all these three aspects of my life.
PP: Has it helped that you didn’t have much interference from extended family with bringing up your children?
BJ: My mother-in-law passed away before my wedding and my father -in-law has always been open-minded. I cannot comment about the lack of interference because I’ve never experienced it. The extended family has always seen my commitment to my family and how well I’ve managed everything. I’ve always endeavoured to make my children ‘street smart’, that way they can survive in any situation. As far as my parents are concerned, they know that they can pamper my children and do everything that is expected from grandparents. But disciplining the children is a joint task for my husband and me as parents. We are a team when it comes to bringing up the children. Even if one of us is part of an argument or tussle with the children, the other party doesn’t actively get involved. The children too by now know that they cannot play us, one against the other.
PP: How do you deal with the pressures of everyday life?
BJ: During a recent conversation with my daughter, she mentioned that she loved daddy more because he was always there to do the fun things with her. I was disappointed as I wanted her to be aware that during her growing up years, I had spent all my time taking care of her every need. But I also realised that the fault lies with us – as mothers we tend to put the father on a pedestal, making him the superhero. I guess what I truly wanted was for my daughter to think that I was a superhero too!
Much has been written about how a mother’s mood decides how the family feels. I’ve brought up my children to be independent but sometimes that too makes me feel guilty. I wonder if I’m taking them for granted! During moments of extreme pressure and tension, I’ve actually walked out of home. I’ve taken my book and sat at a coffee shop reading the entire day. I’ve switched off my phone. I don’t believe in passing on my tension and anger to my children and I know if I remain in the house during those trying times I will vent out on them. Moving away from the situation has not only helped me to keep my sanity but it’s had a positive impact on my family too.
PP: You always look so well turned out, have you always been like this?
BJ: No, I haven’t. If you saw pictures of me as a young girl or during the early years of marriage, you’ll see a different person. I’ve always been an attractive person and would get unwarranted attention from boys. I blamed myself thinking it was my fault and so I would dress up shabbily to shy away from such attention. I was so put off by this that I told my parents to find me a match as I didn’t trust anyone. It’s much later in life that I became comfortable with who I was as a person. I realised that I didn’t need a man to make me feel sexy. Today I dress up for myself.
PP: How long have you known your husband? What do you think has been the one thing that has strengthened your relationship?
BJ: We’ve known each other for 17 years now and I think the fact that I didn’t try to “change him” in all that time played a crucial role. Initially there were moments when I wanted him to react in a certain way but he didn’t, I wanted him to respond differently but he didn’t. We sat down to talk about it and I was taken aback when he said, ‘if you wanted my help or wanted me to react differently, why didn’t you ask me?’ In the US he always came home to a clean, well-managed house so he didn’t extend any support solely because he thought I didn’t need any help. He assumed I would take care of it just like I did. Today I don’t wait for him to become aware of my needs, I tell him. It’s essential to have an open line of communication.
PP: What is your opinion about love in a marriage? What advice would you give young people wanting to commit to one another?
BJ: I think love is overrated. Marriage needs much more than just love to survive. Keeping love aside, one has to understand the other person’s routine, lifestyle, their needs, strengths and weaknesses. Not knowing what the other person wants can lead to unnecessary assumptions. Men are a lot more straight-forward in their thinking while women tend to not only carry more baggage but let it linger on for longer. You get into a marriage because you want to and that gives you the impetus to deal with it. One cannot feel like they’re sacrificing when dealing with issues that crop up. Within our extended family I’m the link between my husband and everyone else. I’m the ‘centre-point’ of my husband’s life as I know he relies on me for everything. As a person I have different groups that I interact with. His dependency on me gives me a lot of strength but is also scary at times.
PP: Do you think there is a need for marriage preparation?
BJ: Unfortunately no one prepares you for marriage. In an arranged marriage especially no one informs you about how you should feel during the very first night with your husband. What if it hurts, if you feel violated, if you feel unsure about doing it right – all these are concerns that crop up. People do talk to friends, families or surf the net but these are personal feelings and views. To each his own – it’s always different and it would help to be aware of the little things. Marriage helps to bind a family together. I feel very secure when I return home after a long day – seeing ‘my own’ people at home waiting for me makes me feel really good about myself. But along the way it’s been a lot of hard work.