A few days ago, I wrote about how I think I’m not changing in the ways that I should be. I’m not seeing or doing or reading new things, I’m not growing. But another thing that I’ve been thinking about is whether I’m changing in the wrong ways. I’m not the same person that I was a year ago, but am I becoming someone that I don’t want to be?
A few years ago, in the inevitable ‘what do you want in your future boyfriend/girlfriend’ discussions, I had categorically stated that even the tiniest bit of sexism, communalism, racism would turn me off. I said that I can’t be with someone who discriminates, or expects me to do something just because I’m a woman, or goes against everything that I believed in. And the same “rule” should apply to my friends too, not just a boyfriend.
But today, my two best friends are not who I would have “chosen” keeping that “condition” in mind. They often make fun of others’ fatness or less-than-perfect looks. They crack sexist jokes, say things like ‘he’s from the South, how cool can he be?’, disparage hair styles and laugh at people for what they choose to wear. V thinks that the strong south Indian accent that another friend has is hilarious, M refuses to eat at a Muslim restaurant because “they are unhygienic about their food”, and a few weeks ago, V told me that he’s extremely glad that I’ve learnt “how to dress” in the year that I’ve been here.
But I am extremely fond of both V and M. They are great in so many ways, brilliant fun to be with, always ready to help when I need it. They laugh at my funny behavior and bad jokes, and crack enough of their own, don’t make me uncomfortable to show the weird and often bitchy side of me. The three of us are very close, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’m not questioning that friendship here: I’m just wondering whether that friendship is indicating something bigger about me.
Am I changing? Have I become more accepting of the fact that there are chauvinists and racists and communalists in the world, and that I just have to live with it? My friends say that their sexist/racist jokes are just that: jokes. And I know that. But jokes are also rooted in something deeper, right? I’m not calling my friends sexist or racist; they’re definitely not that bad. But they do have some... tendencies might be the right word.
More than the sexist/racist aspect, it’s all the talk about appearances that really bothers me. I’m not the girl who laughs at the fat guy; I’m fat myself and I don’t care. I’m not the girl who discusses the gross factor of stretch marks and dark underarms; I have them myself. I’m not the girl who makes fun of a dress that emphasises a big tummy, or a t-shirt that has too much “bling”. I’m not the girl who walks home talking about how shabby another guy looks, and how he really needs to change that. I’m not that girl, so why am I getting sucked into it? Because my worry is not just that my friends feel the need to laugh at an ugly dress, it’s also that sometimes, I laugh along.
Why am I suddenly trying to go to the gym regularly? It’s not the health factor, or the discipline, or the all the endorphins that actually make me feel good. It’s because my weight and jeans size is starting to bother me. Why am I saying things like “You made out with her? Really?” when I really have nothing against the girl in question. I can’t even justify it in my head when I think about it later. And if I am participating in a discussion about someone’s dressing style, there’s always that faintly uncomfortable and guilty feeling at the back of my head, and ignoring it bothers me.
I know that these jokes are mean and wrong. I know that it still doesn’t matter that someone is fat, or dark, or has a strong accent, or likes bright yellow band-aids, or that a guy has a fairness face-pack and fruity moisturizers in his toiletries basket. My beliefs (so far) are the same. But I’m starting to question them a little too. Are looks really of zero importance? Is it really wrong to laugh at fluorescent green shoes worn by a friend? Is it good that I can look past the fat-jokes and become friends with someone who might, on the surface, believe in everything that I don’t?