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My world according to your feedback

What else can one expect in an age that rewards frivolous feedback

I have finally found the perfect tattoo in my middle age: F*** feedback. It might be too much to permanently mark my forehead with this abrasive message, I understand, but it has to be on a body part that’s clearly visible to my friends and family.

A 2012 Forbes article on accepting feedback gracefully had the following subheads: 1. Stop Your First Reaction. 2. Remember the Benefit of Getting Feedback. 3. Listen for Understanding. 4. Say Thank You. 5. Ask Questions to Deconstruct the Feedback. 6. Request Time to Follow Up.

I’m happy to report I followed none of the above pointers (especially 4) when faced with a recent “situation" involving excessive feedback.

Of course Forbes was talking about feedback in the workplace but in my case, my earnings are not linked to the well-meaning feedback I received from loved ones this past fortnight so it’s easier for me to let them know this: I don’t care what you think. Not about the way I look or dress, most certainly. I’m also not interested in your opinion of the way I’ve handled my professional and personal life choices and whether you think I’ve gained or lost weight since we last met. Kindly scrutinize yourself in the mirror before you tell me I look tired or old. Are you wondering what happened? Allow me to explain.

We were sharing the couch and he had been staring at me quizzically for several minutes. I’ve been observing you for a while, he finally said, and I’ve decided: Go back to your curly hair. Your personality is different when you have straight hair.

Across him another friend mused: “You look so much better with this hairstyle. Keep it. Don’t go back to your curls."

Curly hair is probably my most distinguishing physical characteristic but after a bad haircut this past fortnight I decided to iron my hair for a couple of weeks. I didn’t facebook, tweet, snapchat or instagram my new look. Not once did I scream “what do you think, world?" from anyone’s rooftop, but that didn’t stop the pointers from pouring in. My expression, for those who cared to glance at me before they opened their mouths, clearly indicated that I was not interested in what they were going to say next. Nobody was deterred.

When I posted a holiday picture with my daughter on WhatsApp, one friend replied: “What’s with the hair? Hope it’s not permanent?" I said it wasn’t. “Phew," she replied instantly.

After a few days of living with my straight look, my husband said: “Okay enough now. Let’s go back to the curls." And then he repeated this at regular intervals until I broke and washed my hair. My bad cut came right back and, after a couple of days, I went back to the parlour to straighten it.

One night I paired the new style with a fire-engine-red matte lipstick from MAC, and had to send a picture to my girlfriend. “Kisses but can you please kindly get over this mad affection for straight hair. Love your curls but ya if this makes you happy then uff!!!! be it," she messaged back.

What mad affection? It was a temporary, practical solution. I didn’t reply.

There were those idiots who stared and said: Hmm you’ve done something. And those who looked away guiltily when I caught them staring at my hair. That’s right, I wanted to say, look at my eyes when you talk to me, creeps.

What else can one expect in an age that rewards frivolous feedback? There’s a comments section below every social media post—the world around you has official sanction to say anything that comes to mind. Disabling comments would rid us of many first-world problems, I believe. And who do you think you’re fooling when you add that meaningless “retweets are not endorsements" to your Twitter bio?

Everyone should learn from children, I always say, and this time was no different. My daughter took one look at my new hair and I could see her do the mental math as she calculated how she could derive the best benefit from my new look.

She was thrilled she could finally play with my hair and style it with pins and bands. Sit here Mama, she said, and ran off to get her “professional hair-stylist" kit before the curls came back.

To understand why she was excited, you must acquaint yourself with some curly hair basics: Curly hair can only be combed at specific times (in the shower after you’ve heaped on the conditioner) with specific tools (a wide-tooth comb) and by specific people (yourself).

If I had asked questions to deconstruct the feedback, as Forbes suggested, I might have shared the following with all the people who commented: I was enjoying the ease of straight hair.

I could go to bed with it untied, wake up early in the morning not looking like I had a bird’s nest on my head and rush off to an all-day conference after cursorily running a brush through my hair, which then magically looked neat in a matter of seconds.

My hair required no cocktail of styling products or elaborate bathing rituals. It didn’t stand at right angles to my face in a photograph (all curly-haired women have experienced triangle hair). It didn’t require cold water rinses to seal in the moisture or a microfibre towel to dry it correctly.

It was almost like taking a solo vacation where you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs. But I saw no need to share these thoughts with everyone who commented. Instead I just muttered, “It’s temporary."

Of course, one good thing did come out of the episode. I could see the column write itself every time someone thought it was their fundamental right to critically appraise my new hair. I can’t wait to post it on Facebook and drown in the feedback.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

She tweets at @priyaramani

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