“Thoda jaldi utha karo, walk karne jaya karo.”
“Don’t wear that dress, acche ghar ke bacche ho.”
“We know you like your Bharatnatyam class, but you have to clear the next exam.”
If you’ve grown up in a desi household, you’re not averse to a toss of ‘constructive criticism’ in your routine. From my mom being aware of everything that goes on in my life (we loved to gossip) to my father deciding which coaching institute I would study at for my entrances, my parents have been greatly involved in my life.
Such is the story of every other desi kid; our life isn’t ours only. We share it with the family.
So, as far as they’re concerned, “We interfere because we care”. And I am all for the interference, except when it starts getting to me. My family meddling in my relationships and commenting on them is a regular occurrence, but there is one relationship I refuse to let them participate in – the one I have with myself.
Growing up, we’ve all loathed our bodies at some point. For some of us it was about the way we look, for others it’s more intrinsic. I’ve had both. Let me make it easier for you: I’m a woman in my early 20s who has been overweight since she was 8. I have back issues, neck pain, migraines, and allergies that get triggered by unidentified objects (I’m guessing fairy dust but my doctor doesn’t agree).
So, I’ve always viewed my body as a battleground; if I’m not fighting what I see, I’m fighting what I am.
Having scrolled through scores of Instagram posts on body positivity, reeling under the pressure of being liked for my courageous and bold attitude, I’ve often lied about loving my body. I still don’t love it. And how can I?
How I grew to hate my body
If you ask an 11-year-old, “Beta konsi chakki ka aata khaate ho?”, she will probably wonder what’s wrong with the food she’s eating; more so, what’s wrong with her body. Society has had no qualms in making me believe that the way I looked was problematic, and even funny. I’ve sat at gatherings with aunts asking, “Iska toh weight kam ho gaya” when I wasn’t eating because of exam stress.
So, it became normal to me. I knew that every time I went to a family gathering, an event in my society, or even a lunch with the friends of my parents, one of the hot topics of discussion would be ‘overweight daughters’. If there were other kids in the group, I would notice smirks.
Naturally, I recoiled. I stopped wanting to go to family functions and meeting people. One of the reasons being that I’d have to shop for clothes. When you’re a kid standing in the kids’ section, with an imbecile shopkeeper glaring at you and saying, “Inko toh ladies section ka top ayega”, you just want to evade the experience completely.
The shopping nightmare stopped once I grew up; I was now an overweight woman instead of an overweight kid. I still encounter the creepy grin spreading across the salesperson’s face when I ask for a bigger size. But I at least shop from the women’s section without feeling out of place.
But the one involving my concerned friends and family didn’t. My desi surroundings were as desi as they could get.
On a recent occasion, my mother’s cousin asked her why I wasn’t trying to lose weight. Another one decided to sit me down in a corner and prepare a juice-cleanse chart for me. Another one still said, “Ladkiyan toh moti hi acchi lagti hain”. The latter felt like she was making a case for me, but I was exhausted enough to let it slide.
The reason I say desi surroundings instead of family is because this goes beyond the “concerned family”; turns out your friends are equally concerned when you’re overweight.
If I had a nickel for every time someone complimented me by saying “You’re very pretty for a fat girl”, “Tu thodhi patli hoke sundar lagegi”, or even “Hot nai, tu toh cute hai”, I’d have to put it all in a Swiss bank account.
But, enough of these fat-girl issues. There is more than just one way in which I resent my body.
The challenge in loving my body
When I’m not questioning my body over its appearance, or because of what I see in movies and magazines, I am busy detesting it the way it challenges me. If all of self-doubt is a mirage, the health issues are still very real.
When I got diagnosed with a problem in my back, I started resenting my body the most. I’d be tired from the pinching pains, the medicines made me lazy, and the bed rest drove me crazy. I couldn’t work out, I couldn’t pick up a fallen key off the floor, I couldn’t even dance to It’s the time to disco anymore.
The migraines don’t allow me to travel because I get car sick. The allergies are a nightmare when I’m wearing makeup; one trigger and there is a mascara-massacre on my face.
But, what adult doesn’t have health issues? Who amongst us hasn’t hated our appearance at some point? The internet is doing a great job by asking us to love ourselves after years of hatred being ingrained in our system. Right? Wrong.
Why I want to love my body
From body-positive influencers to fitness gurus on the ‘gram, everyone has urged me to love my body. Some of them advocated for change – change what you don’t like – and others called for self-love.
Yet, this incessant pressure to suddenly start loving my body is one that doesn’t go too well with me. How can I suddenly embrace my stretch marks? How are my bulging love handles beautiful now? How is the chin hair and arm acne any less despicable than it was before?
Body positivity sounds like a beautiful idea, and not to sound otherwise, it really is. But when the world forces you to love something, does love not lose its entire point? Isn’t the whole point of loving something to love it for everything it is? Should it not come naturally to you?
Why does self-love become inclusive of body positivity? Body neutrality seems like a peaceful spot too. If I don’t hate my body, I am okay not loving it. I am fine with it, like it is with me.
I know my body isn’t perfect, but it keeps me going. And that is all I ask of it. Just because my friend who once scoffed at the thought of me participating in a beauty and talent show at my school suddenly finds herself enlightened, I will not love my body because she wants me to. Neither will I challenge my limitations because I am ‘more beautiful and attractive’ than I know.
Also, while we’re on the subject, the next time you tell someone “moti hai lekin sundar hai”, it’s not a compliment. It’s like saying that it is almost exceptional for an overweight person to be beautiful.
So, between this tussle of love and hate, I’ve settled at acceptance. I accept my body for everything it is. I accept it for the changes it goes through, for the way it reacts to a spicy gol gappa, for the way it decides to get bloated every other day, and for the way it makes me feel about myself : almost sexy, almost confident. Almost me.
I work out on some days because I know it’ll help my health, I slumber on others when I don’t have the energy to overlook my flaws. I treat myself well some days with an oatmeal pancake or fruity smoothie, and I challenge myself with neat shots (of karela juice, for all the kids reading this) on the others.
But I refuse to fight it, spite it, or glorify it. I refuse to change it for the world. I refuse to love it or hate it. I can accept it. This is our relationship, and we’d like to take it slow.
Maybe a dinner and a few drinks, and then ‘like’ can be on the table.
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