From the day I was born, I was at the receiving end of unsolicited comments about what I am and who I am. It has shaped the way I look at myself, feel about myself, present myself and love myself.
The day I was born: “She has beautiful features. If only she had lighter skin tone.”
Age 3: “Your skin shines like that of a crow.”
Age 5: “Your ass is big like a kaath peepde (carpenter ant).”
Age 7: “Let’s not put her in front line for the (school) performance. The other girl is prettier and cuter.”
Age 8: “We don’t make friendship with ugly girls.”
Age 10: “Rub your skin against your cousin (with lighter skin tonne). You will look prettier.”
Age 11: “You wish you could fly? Perhaps like a crow?”
Age 12: “What’s up fat ass?”
Age 13: “You are an ugly black owl.”
Age 15: “You will never find a life partner, you fat dark person.”
Age 16: “You are so ugly. You have to put in more efforts in your studies to succeed in life.”
Age 18: “She thinks she can find love too.”
Age 20: “If you lose weight, you have the potential to look beautiful.”
Age 22: “You should put curd and lemon zest on your face. You will get fairer.”
Age 25: “Look, I photo-shopped your picture and made you look fairer.”
Age 26: “Now that you are in a place with dark-skinned people, you will finally find a man, hopefully!”
Age 27: “OMG! How does she have a boyfriend?!”
Age 30: “Even hers is a love marriage.”
While some names I heard have been downright rude, some others were “endearing and out of sheer love and affection”.
They were all comments from people who were and still are very near and dear to me and who love me unconditionally. Except, according to them, if you love someone you automatically get the “right” to mock and ridicule that person.
They will protect me if some other person mocks me but at the same time they think they have earned the right to mock me in return as well. I do not blame them.
Because at some point in their life, they have been mocked at too by people whom they consider “near and dear”. They have internalised this form of “abuse” as “love”.
I, for sure, do not want anyone to go through what I have gone through while growing up. I often have long conversations with friends and colleagues (never with family) about the importance of loving one’s own body. I most often never let go of the chance to talk about “body image”.
Otherwise an independent and confident person, we often find ourselves indulging in self-pity about our body.
“I don’t like my nose. It is too flat.”
“I don’t like my nose. It is too big.”
“I have big wiggly arms.”
“My legs are like pillars in temples.”
“I am too fat.”
“I am too thin.”
“I am too dark.”
“My skin is too pale.”
“I wish I had straight hair.”
“I wish I had curly hair.”
No one seemed comfortable with the body they were born with. In these conversations we remind each other the need to accept oneself whole-heartedly. Prima facie it may appear that I am having a conversation with someone else, whereas in reality they are mostly a #notetoself and an attempt to remind myself “you are beautiful the way you are”.
I started talking about my dislike for my own body on social media and I found many people who had faced similar “abuse” in their life from their “loved” ones. That’s when I decided to write a post one day.
This was three years ago! Each time I began writing about it, I would think about what my loved ones would feel if I told the world how I felt by their words, deeds and action. Thereafter, I would curl up like a ball and sit and cry in one corner for hours.
Two months ago I joined this course on “restorative justice” where the professor told us in one class, “you are not responsible for other people’s feelings”. This line was a big push in accelerating the process of writing this post today.
I, for once, wanted to take ownership of my feelings and to tell everyone how I felt when people “generously” passed remarks, gave “tips” on how to make myself “more beautiful” and “attractive”, commented on my “sexuality” or lack thereof.
I also want to thank them for shaping me into who I am – because of this experience, I am surely more empathatic and more accepting than what I would have been otherwise. Surely, I have a lot of unlearning to do.
I have been conditioned for decades to believe that I am “fugly” i.e. fat and ugly, that I have a skin tone of a burnt chapatti, that I am dark as a “crow”, that I am ugly as an owl (more specifically a black owl), that I am adorable as a “baby hippo”, that I am cuddly like a “teddy”, that my body is a “square tin box”, or that my body “lacks curves like a pig”. The list is endless.
But I am peeling off the conditioning one layer at a time. Each time I peel off one layer and a new layer gets exposed, I hurt. I hurt a lot. Thankfully I have the support of a very loving partner who finds me beautiful every moment of every day – drooling and messy when I wake up, sweaty after a work-out, cranky after a full day’s work – he smiles lovingly and genuinely says “you look so beautiful”.
You may ask me why I need validation from another person when I am fighting lack of validation from others. That is a fair question indeed. I have asked that question a million times myself. The only justification that I can give is – after decades of listening to dozens of people invalidating me, it is okay, for the purpose of my mental peace and happiness, to accept compliments from that one person who loves me for who I am.
I am fighting a long battle and I should not be harsh with myself. It is okay to seek that much needed support – the support I needed while growing up and was sparingly provided to me.
Today, I wear dresses of all colours. I step out in shorts (which I wouldn’t have done earlier because of “thunder thighs”). I have sleeveless dresses and I no longer worry about fat arms. I proudly flaunt my cleavage.
For I have promised to love myself for who I am and what I am unconditionally – and I will – because I am beautiful the way I am.
(I would like to acknowledge Sandhya Menon for her feedback and for helping me edit the post.)