The Fashion Design Program Coordinator at Raffles Design Institute and independent designer is loving her journey of femininity and the fact that she gets to determine her own life. Here’s why it’s important for everyone to get that freedom.
by Sakina Esufally
I’m doubled over with laughter as I listen to Dinesh’s wise-cracks on everything from the Kardashians (“Where do they find these whack-job men?!”) to end-of-the-week exhaustion (“People are out and about…and I’m just tired!”). Relaxed and forthright, her hair in a trademark topknot, Dinesh says in her wry tone, “My sister says I look like an angry ballet teacher in this hairstyle…oh, well!”
It’s a rare thing to find someone who’s willing to laugh at herself with no restriction. “At certain points in life, you have to decide whether you’re going to laugh or cry. I always laugh,” she says, with an undertone of sass, breaking out into a huge smile.
It’s equally rare to find such an esteemed personality not look at herself as cut above the rest. Dinesh has that rarest of gifts—the ability to connect with people, regardless of age or experience. She’s direct and unflinchingly honest, not afraid to say you’re wrong, while simultaneously indicating she’s on your side. From our first meeting early last year, I’ve recalled her poise and prose (clipped, effective and deliberate) with envy. I was undoubtedly thrilled, then, to have the chance to speak to her about something that’s seated at the core of, both, her and Cosmo: Owning your femininity.
“To me, femininity is not based on appendages or body types. Instead, I equate femininity with resilient strength. And, contrary to the mainstream, slightly misogynistic view, getting in touch with your femininity doesn’t mean being emotional and weak, or that you’re going to break down every second (what utter nonsense!)—I think tapping into that core of emotions keeps you strong and grounded.”
The term ‘femininity’ i.e. the quality of being female doesn’t only lie in whether women (those that are born as such and those that are transitioning) choose to wear a dress or put on lipstick; inherently, it’s something more innate. Though, physical appearance does play a big role.
Dinesh hasn’t had any plastic surgery (and, as of the day of our interview, nor does she intend to), but she has embarked on hormone therapy that, in her own words, has “softened” her out. Then with her infectious, from-the-belly laugh, she says, “And by that, I mean I get more fat on certain areas of my body than I’ve been used to, like on the hips. But, it’s all positive change. I love every bit of it.”
The transition has also been very gradual. “I wasn’t a jock, who showed up one day with Double-Ds,” she says, eyes sparkling. “There are actually photographs from when I was very little (I must have been about 3 or 4) with me in a dress, thrilled to pieces. Biologically, I wasn’t born with an Adam’s apple, and I’ve always had fuller lips and doe eyes; I’ve always been feminine featured. My mum used to jokingly say, ‘God never intended you to be a boy.’”
“In that sense, I was very blessed,” she says, quietly. “My mum and granny were very educated and they allowed me to progress on my path to femininity with a lot of support. In our world, I understand how huge and rare that is. I do not, under any circumstance, take it for granted that I’ve been privileged enough to not face traumas as I started on this transformation.”
For Dinesh, owning her femininity was a journey she always knew she wanted to take. “Without this journey, I would have felt incomplete,” she states. “I would have felt like I was acting—like I was an alien in another body. When you can’t be your true self, it’s like there’s a being inside you, trying to tear out of a shell. It’s not a hard sentiment to understand: for example, if your life-long dream is to be a farmer, but you’re working as a doctor, you’d feel much the same way. It doesn’t feel right; and it feels like you’re losing out on all you could be. That’s why I think being self-actualized is so important—living your most authentic life, makes you feel secure and confident with who you are, because you’re not pretending to live a life you love. You’re actually living it.”
Does embarking on a journey of femininity require an identity change, I ask. Like, does she ever feel the need to change her name to reflect her feminine self? Some people might think so, she confirms, but not her. “I don’t feel a compelling reason to change my name, because who I am hasn’t fundamentally changed. I’ve always been me. This journey is not about changing that; it’s so that my outside can match the inside I’ve always felt.”
“Besides, I love my name. My parents gave it to me. It’s my identity and it’s all I’ve known. I’m developing my existing self; not creating her anew.” She continues, with a sprinkling of dry candour, “Also, if someone called me by another name, I’d be like, Who are you talking to?! It would be a very confusing situation, and it’s not a complication I need! The older I get, the more I try to simplify life. I’m about peeling away layers, not adding them on.”
Dinesh mentions the criticism she’s faced in passing, not because she’s skimming over the topic, but because it really doesn’t have much bearing on her. She’s over it. “I’ve definitely received comments. As a result, over the course of my journey, I’ve become much more understanding of, and kinder to, others, because whether you realize it or not, people are battling their own demons. I’ve also grown a thicker skin…”
“But, I mean,” and here she rolls her eyes. “If anything about my life bothers you, look away. Simple! Just avert your eyes from the ‘horror.’” (Another high five, sister!)
The day before, Dinesh had sauntered into her Cosmo shoot, which, unbeknownst to us, was her first in sari. She looked beautiful yes, but as much because the sari looked like it had been created for her, as because she radiated self-worth and positivity. “I was a sari virgin!” she exclaims. Then, “I honestly think I’m beautiful.” It’s not aggressive or conceited; Dinesh tells most people upfront that they’re gorgeous, so why should she not hold the same standards for herself?
“It’s important for me to disprove the theory that embarking on your journey to femininity is seedy,” she expresses. “You can be successful, respectable and demure, and still want to embark on it. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. Hopefully, I’ve had that impact and I’ve been able to help people recognize the importance of being authentic.”
“It’s important to know what’s good for you,” she says leaning back. “You need to trust your inner self. Women have the power to do whatever they want; it’s my hope that they always do.”
This article was copied and originally published as ‘What Does It Mean To Feel Like A Woman?’ in the August 2017 Confidence issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka.