Ladies! Ladies! They often shouted while I passed by. Being in class 5, I had only started to feel my body and I could not understand why I was called a lady by a bunch of classmates. Was it because I walked in a particular manner or because I was good at copying the dance steps of my favourite Bollywood actress Madhuri? I was often taunted for not being boy enough. Maybe because I didn’t play cricket like other boys did or perhaps I was not using swear words well like other classmates of mine?
But the journey of accepting the body has not been an easy one. The only solution I could think of was leaving my school and city. I thought moving away from one place to another would take these nightmares away.
But I was wrong.
I corrected my walking style and started to walk like a man (mard ki chaal) and once I went to a boarding school, I also acquired the necessary skills to talk like a man. Apart from the gender performance I was forced to enact, it was about the body. I was still considered soft and too close to girls to be a macho man (sakht launda). I felt like a boy, but I could not understand why I was expected to behave like a boy in an already defined set of behaviours performed through the body.
First from not getting enough facial hair to getting too much body hair which often disgusted my friends and made them call me ‘bhalu’. The not so macho man physique made people believe that I didn’t care enough for my body while most of the boys around me were already spending a measurable number of hours in the gym toning their bodies. And all this while I wondered why no one is talking about the body despite everyone having one.
When I shifted to Delhi for my higher education, the concerns regarding the body got heightened. I was often mocked for being too skinny, sometimes on the pretext of not being healthy and at times for not being desirable.
As I navigated these strictly defined gender norms tightly bound to the toxic notions of the body ideal, I realised it is okay to have facial hair as they ensure your manliness, while an excess of them on your body might make you undesirable. I also understood that it’s attractive to have bulging biceps and a toned chest while an overgrown belly might decrease your chances to get a girlfriend.
In a teenage world, where your success and coolness are often measured by the number of times you get laid, the body becomes a prized entity. As one of my juniors remarked jokingly- ‘humara to koi chance hi nahi h Bhaiya tinder par bhi (We don’t even have a chance on Tinder)’. While the liberal university space of JNU, gave me the much-needed respite in the city of Delhi, the body remained unseen even when Butler’s performativity was much celebrated and often referred to in the Dhaba republics of JNU.
While cities emerge as the sites of body shopping, the body functions not only as your capital which is transacted in everyday life through unsaid, unseen means, the body also becomes an essential commodity. The parameters through which the body is qualified to be either a capital and/or a commodity are negotiated through coded gendered norms which means only a body normal will function as your capital and/or as a commodity.
So, if I am too skinny, I won’t be desirable and if I am too fat, I won’t be acceptable either. The body normal is the body premium, and any deviation from it would be considered the body problematic like mine.
However, it is crucial to initiate conversations about the body in our classrooms, among our friends and in the public forums, not because everyone has one, because everyone has a different sense of the body. And it is okay if you have a different one from the body normal, a lesson which I eventually learnt in my journey.