As a kid, I’ve always been on the chubby side, thanks to an eternal love for food and lack of exercise. For a long time, especially in my high school years and junior college, I was overweight. I became conscious of how I looked, the fact that clothes didn’t fit, that I didn’t look like other girls my age did and that I couldn’t dress like they did. I tended to wear clothes that were large and oversized because they made me feel more comfortable. I did not like games or sports because I was not the outdoorsy kind and am very unco-ordinated. I gradually began to be the butt of ‘fat’ jokes, being called ‘aunty’ and ‘mavshi’ because of the clothes that I wore (salwar kurtas) and my self-confidence began its downward slope. For a person who didn’t focus much on appearance, now it began to matter a lot to me.
When I passed out of school, I began to exercise daily and did my best to ensure that I lost weight. If people mentioned that I lost weight, I felt good. Slowly, I had begun to co-relate my weight with my self-confidence and whenever I put on weight I felt low, uncomfortable in my own skin, unconfident and not myself- someone who didn’t let looks matter. One particular experience that I’ll never forget was at my uncle’s annual barbeque where the whole family got together. My cousins kept calling me mavshi (aunty). I felt horrible about it but didn’t say anything to them because I didn’t want to be rude to them in their own house (I know much better now). When they repeatedly called me aunty, the others around began to ask why they were doing so and it all became even more awkward and embarrassing. I began ignoring them and our friendship tore apart. I remember crying and not wanting to meet them at the next family occasion because I didn’t want to feel the way they had made me feel again.
Time and again people have kept commenting about my weight, my clothing, my appearance, I’ve had remarks saying I need a makeover and I’ve felt awkward about my looks ever since. Till today, even though I am no longer overweight, I am always conscious about how I look.
In the recent couple of years I had the joy of meeting a friend who taught me about body-positivity. She told me to work out and exercise to be strong, to be happy, to be healthy and not to be a certain body size or to adhere to a certain body-image. I began to enjoy exercising because I was working toward being happy rather than working toward not being unhappy, if you know what I mean. I enjoyed eating what I liked without feeling guilty about it. I tried to make myself more aware about body-image, body-positivity, body-stereotypes and realised the damaging effect that people’s comments had had on me were actually quite common and a lot of people had been through the same experience.
Though I had never ever called anyone ‘fat’ before, I had called people ‘thin’ and ‘skinny’. I now realised that it was not okay. I made a conscious decision to be careful about the way I spoke or referred to people or described them to others- be it their appearance, personality traits or my experience interacting with them. I also make it a point to pass on the message of body-positivity to everyone I know. In my head, I’m always going to be the ‘fat’ girl but now I no longer take it as something derogatory or belittling as society has made it out to be. It is simply a word that describes me but doesn’t define me.
Appearance is a big part of our identity. It shapes not only how the world views us but also sometimes how we view ourselves. My experience of being judged on my appearance made me angry, resentful not just toward others but toward myself at times. It made me awkward in my interactions with people. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin and hence, couldn’t be comfortable with others. I have gradually learned to accept myself and am learning to love myself. I am okay with the size and shape that I am whilst knowing that I need to keep working on getting stronger, fitter, better not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. It has taken time to be okay with this part of myself and my identity, but it’s been worth the wait.