TW: Body image
My relationship with myself and my body began to go downhill in my early teens when the following message was unequivocally conveyed to me: that I was “overweight” and had to get serious about getting my “health” back on track.
This did precious little for my health – on the contrary, it set in motion an extremely undesirable chain of events inside me, that I still struggle to put an end to. At the ripe (not very) old age of 13, what should have been the most carefree years of my life, I began hitting the gym religiously and cutting certain food groups out of my diet, for fear that they were “bad”. And what for? Was becoming healthier really the point of all this, or was it little more than a quest for acceptance, from myself and from others?
Anyway, the older I grew, the needier I became. The more I shrank, the more highly everyone (including myself) thought of me, and vice versa. The only message I thus received was as follows: thinness is a signifier of the highest virtues, and the space my body occupied was inversely proportional to how disciplined, how hard-working, and how worthy of adulation I was.
My body became much, much more than a sum of the functions it performed. It was my ticket to, or away from, the life of glory I relentlessly and consistently ached for. Instead of practising gratitude towards my body for nearly effortlessly functioning, to keep me disease-free and energetic all day, I began to see it for what it wasn’t: on the daily, I used to beat myself up because my legs/arms/butt/midsection wasn’t as thin or as toned as a Victoria’s Secret Angel’s.
The comparisons, however, didn’t end at actors and models – I began to obsessively size myself up even against random acquaintances and if I came off as “chubbier”, I’d hit the gym with more rigour, and chalk up a new diet plan depending on what was in. Countless times I embarked on weight loss “journeys” and failed, for which I blamed my own supposed weakness and poverty of character. However, it wasn’t as simple as that– as I now know, deprivation and sustainability seldom go hand in hand.
My most “successful” efforts to lead a “healthy lifestyle” came in the last few months of 2018, which was when I was at my thinnest, and supposedly at my happiest. The diet I had put myself on was a mixed bag of what I’d picked up over the years from articles and books on nutrition, followed unforgivingly to the T.
One extra calorie, one early/late meal, one missed workout, and I became a “bad girl”. In short, one infraction was all it took to make or break how I would feel about myself for the rest of the day. All I ever thought about was how desirable, how aspirational I’d be by the “end” of it (which I never saw, by the way).
Never mind that my once rich, varied, and sophisticated to the point of snobbery, reading, list now consisted primarily of Google Searches like “Deepika Padukone fitness routine”, “Kate Middleton diet and exercise”, and “How to eat and work out like a Victoria’s Secret Angel”.
Never mind that I’d count calories obsessively and compulsively, to the point where even chewing gum and mouthwash wasn’t spared my merciless calculations. Never mind that on many a leisurely movie and dinner outing with my parents, I felt obligated to run to the gym and work my butt off in order to “earn” the “luxury” that was dinner. Never mind that in spite of identifying as a staunch third-wave feminist, I wasn’t practising what I preached. Never mind that the system of beliefs I had built my entire existence around was the one that had birthed and sustained horrors like corsets, foot binding, and eating disorders.
Thankfully, good sense prevailed. I made changes that were much needed and long overdue – I started socialising with those who loved and respected me for who I was and unfollowed a lot of influenzas (a nickname I’ve come up with for social media influencers) who were instrumental in keeping me and countless other young girls on this narrow path of self-loathing and reward and punishment.
This, along with a lot of introspection, led me to my present state – although I still exercise every morning, I’m proud to report that I’m making a conscious effort to push vanity out of the equation. I exercise because exercise releases endorphins that strengthen bones and muscles, and have, to my pleasant surprise, worked wonders for my sleep cycle!
Corporations and society kept hammering superficial, toxic messages into my malleable psyche, and I, like a sponge, kept internalising them. That is until I’d had enough. Until I was finally introduced to the beautiful, strong, intelligent woman living inside this vessel, who has oodles of love, warmth, and ideas that will one day make the world a little more inhabitable. Until I knew better and saw through the photoshopped, surgically enhanced overworked and underfed lies. And I won’t stop calling them out.
Although I’m no longer at my slimmest and the “diet” is officially a thing of the past, I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally in a much healthier place now. Although I still have the occasional bad day, my self worth has improved by leaps and bounds. Unlearning centuries of patriarchal conditioning is no mean feat but I try every single day. I’m going to be a good girl and stay on track, because I have learned that when I rise, so do other women. When I’m happy with myself, I unwittingly give them permission to love themselves and embrace their gifts, too.
When I shine, we shine! And wouldn’t that be beautiful?