Growing up, I remember the shock and concern of my family over my sudden weight gain. This concern arose primarily due to looming hereditary diseases and was followed up with multiple trips to different doctors. Despite an already healthy diet and added solutions, my weight gain refused to stop. The constant push to exercise, monitoring of my diet and embarrassing comments did not for one moment consider what I felt.
To be honest I refused to exercise for the most part because I was so annoyed with the nagging that not working out became a form of rebellion. Which child would not be angry when nicknamed “sumo“, “moti” and the likes? Yes, I hated my body, but I hated the remarks more and no way was I going to bow to them. Despite my stubbornness, I did get affected. My confidence collapsed and no one knew why a child who had loved to dance on stage since she was 3 years old gave it up when she was 14.
It is still difficult for me to forget the mocking laughter of my classmates. Initially, I restricted myself to dancing alone with locked doors and curtained windows. Still, later as I tried to regain my confidence and took the stage in school, that laughter kept ringing in my ears like a creepy radio tune reminding me of all those moments when I was too ashamed to perform anymore.
Like most people, especially women who have faced body shaming, I have felt shame, embarrassment and hatred towards my body for the longest time. I won’t lie; I still do. Comments like “she takes so much space”, “you’re a burden on the universe” and “haathi ka bachcha” from my childhood bear an imprint on my mind that no amount of self-love seems enough to erase.
Coming back from the memory train, how the concern for health risks of weight gain shifted to a concern for my attractiveness because “no boy will like you”, I’ll never know. Being obese and in your 20s sucks (to be honest it sucks at any age).
“You’re amazing! I would have definitely dated you if you were slimmer.“
“Beta, if you don’t work on yourself, how will any boy even talk to you. After all, how you look is the first thing that catches the eye.“
“We’ll have to look for someone like you — fluffy.“
“You need to reduce your weight. How do you think you’ll manage the house and work if you’re not physically fit?“
“Daud lagao thodi, fir tum attractive lagogi.“
The annoyance of young-me on always being bugged to exercise more is nothing compared to now when I’m bugged to reduce weight to please others, especially to find the right man. In a flash, all my achievements and constant efforts on building my character cease to matter. Hence, my conflicted relationship with my body continues.
I wanted to be comfortable in my body, but it always felt strange to me. I wanted to feel healthy and ward off the looming threats of hereditary diseases, but at the same time my annoyance with the nagging and uninvited advice would make me angry and I would end up avoiding everything. Often, it made me stress-eat because I started believing that I will always be unloved. The much-needed conversations about body positivity emerging as a beacon of hope are sharply contrasted by the increasing dimensions of propagating the desirability of perfect bodies.
From the clothing industry to fashion guides with recommendations for hiding flab or compensating for the absence of it. Quick food solutions for the appropriate party figure to a large part of the fitness industry thriving on selling the perfect body. Media imagery of what is beautiful and what isn’t. Online comments from people hiding behind computers bulldozing imperfections to families, friends and society that casually remark on our bodies — we are constantly hounded by this idea of a perfect body.
How many of us have ended shopping trips on the verge of a breakdown, often crying in the trial room itself? How many of us have failed to find clothes that fit and hated our bodies more? How many of us have turned to crash diets, intermittent fasting and extreme workout plans to lose weight fast — all in our desperation? How many of us have cried our eyes out listening to or reading comments about our bodies?
Borrowing from my experience I would like to highlight another point. We are often told that the suggestions come out of a concern for our health, but is it so? “Looking” healthy has always trumped “feeling” healthy. When acceptance of me as I am by a few friends finally put me in a better position to take care of my body, my focus was on nutrition. While I was delighted with the results and started “feeling” healthier, those around me were still stuck on me not “looking” fit and I failed to convince them otherwise.
The pressure to lose weight made me more inactive, lost and left me feeling unloved, whereas the acceptance made me want to be better. Having a healthy body has nothing to do with body shape and size. That has been a daring lie we’ve been fed. A healthy body is about nurturing ourselves and feeling healthy. One can be the same shape and same weight, yet feel healthier by focusing on nutrition. No handles, big butts, heavy thighs, stretch marks (or their absence) can determine an individual’s health.
While body positivity might help us feel less embarrassed, there remains a long way for most of us to feel adequate and at home in our bodies. Unlike a cloak we don’t like, there is no way for us to switch bodies and there are so many of us that go on living, disconnected from our bodies.
If I can dare say, most of us want to feel good and healthy in our bodies, to indulge guilt-free in eating what we like, to be seen and loved for who we are and not how we look, to not succumb to society’s mythical standards, yet we desire to be accepted for once. It was acceptance which helped me overcome some embarrassment and start caring for myself.
Yet, is it enough when the broader message from society remains the same? I still end up hating my body on most days. We are still bombarded with the inadequacy of our shapes. How do we form a connection with our bodies when a specific waist size is preferable over nurturing our body and mind? Despite conversations on body positivity, the ideal body narrative takes more than enough space to make a healthy relationship with our bodies a conflicted one: accepting yet embarrassing.