On Tuesday, like any other day, a single tweet rattled a lot of people on social media. A user was looking up Indian cricketer, Smriti Mandhana, and her search threw up a picture of the 23-year-old cricketer but with marked alteration: her skin tone was lighter, there was a dash of red lipstick on her lips and also kajal in her eyes.
The user, Chethana, took to social media to point this out and also shared the cricketer’s original photo to highlight the difference. “Was Googling Smriti Mandhana and came across this photoshopped image. Actual image on the right, for context. How f**ked up are beauty standards if a cricketer’s photo in a press meet is being photoshopped to lighten her skin tone and add kajal and lipstick,” she wrote.
There lies a not so subtle criticism and shaming, if you will, in the practice of photoshopping Mandhana’s pictures: being a woman she ought to look a certain way. Notwithstanding the fact that she is being unanimously hailed as the most promising cricketer today, backed by an enviable record of accolades — she was awarded the Khel Ratna in 2018, was named the Best Women’s International Cricketer last year and most recently became the second-fastest Indian to reach 2000 One-day International runs, bypassing skipper Virat Kohli and second only to Shikhar Dhawan — Mandhana continues to viewed merely as a woman in the public eye, stripped off her achievements.
One can understand this differential and regressive attitude better if one merely replaces Mandhana with any male cricketer, irrespective of their accomplishment. The picture was from a press conference. Now, for comparison sake, imagine Virat Kohli in her place. Pictures from the event would still be shared but unlike modifying the way he looks, there would be a dissection of the things he said. The moment gender of the person sitting on that chair changes our expectations from them also shifts, along with our perception.
A male achiever is viewed as someone who has rightfully earned his place on that seat, dispensing wisdom and anecdotes that we will use as references later. His gender does not become extrinsic to his profession but in a way justifies his career choice. However, for a woman there always remains an unbridgeable gap between her identity and gender. Once she is in the public domain, her choice to be viewed the way she wants to be is inadvertently denied, reducing her to a sexual object. Her words, achievements and accolades are all pushed to the fringes.
Mithali Raj, the former Indian captain, too, has faced this far too many times. In 2017, she had tweeted a photo of herself with fellow cricketers, Nooshin Al Khadeer, Veda Krishnamurthy, and Mamatha Maben. Completely disregarding the occasion, she was trolled for apparently sweating in the photo. She, of course, silenced the troll and also drew attention to what was the point of the photo. “I m where I m because I sweated it out on d field! I see no reason 2 b ashamed f it, when I’m on d ground inaugerating a cricket academy.”
Chethana’s tweet garnered a lot of support, as many joined the conversation voicing their support and condemning the practice. But the fact remains that this is not the first time and certainly will not be the last time when a woman’s achievements will be glossed over and her appearance will be considered above that. It takes just a quick overview of social media to understand how it is still prevalent. Women, all women, are judged using a single parameter: the way they look. Even the jibe or insults hurled at them are directed at how “ugly” or “fat” they look. Even though Mandhana has not responded, she has an agency to. Those who did it will perhaps even eventually apologise but this will not change the next time a woman will be trolled for being fat or skinny, too fair or too dark the moment she puts up a picture of herself.