For The Times the Body Shaming from Your Local Desi Auntie Gets Too Much
Oh, India, you beauty. Land of diversity.
Ah yes. Right, diversity. Let’s talk about diversity in India. We have so many boxes to check when we enter that domain of conversation.
☑ Land? It spans from the Siachen Glacier to Indira Point – saffron to golden to green to sapphire. Check.
☑ Food? Well, if you’ve ever savoured Rogan Josh and Idli in one meal like I have, you’d know what we were about to say. It’s obvious. Check.
☑ Religion? No need to elaborate. Check.
☑ Language? Ami tomake bhalobasi, my crush, milo toh kahin. Check.
☑ People? Check.
□ People’s bodies? Ambiguous.
Illustrated by Harshi Lal.
Because, you see, this isn’t only a simple checklist of what makes India diverse, it’s a checklist of categories that most of India understands to be diverse, and as of 2018, bodies don’t fall under that purview.
India doesn’t understand bodies. It body-shames every day. Body-shaming technically meaning, “expressing mockery of the shape, size, or appearance of an individual”, India does not discriminate too. There’s always something to say, whether you’re too skinny, or too fat, or too tall or too short. It doesn’t matter. The definition of the perfect body is apparently very, very narrow.
Imagine yourself walking through a forest – hot as some unnamed circle of hell – and the curse you have to bear is to walk until eternity passes and more, but not moving forward one inch without falling back. That precisely, is what it feels like trying to love your body in this country.
Even with all the added benefits of living in a joint family (read; one benefit – aloo parathas for breakfast), there come many more things that you would not want to hear. Unless you’re unimaginably lucky and blessed, there’s always going to be a hand discreetly stopping your hand when you reach for a serving of your favourite food, or in other cases, a verbal reprimand from your friendly neighbourhood aunty about how you’ve become thin as a railing, or a word to your parents from a caring relative about how your clothes are inappropriate for your body type.
“You hear people telling you that your face is too angular, that you’re too muscular, that you’d be so much more beautiful or handsome if you just did xyz. And the thing about this is, it starts much younger than you’d expect.”
India will comment on baby photos and tell mothers that she’s too dark, that she needs besan and uptan. India will tell twelve-year-old boys and girls that their appearances matter more than what they’re learning at school. It will tell the youth that they would not be “desirable” without letting them or teaching them to understand their bodies.
There will be people telling you to eat fruit often, to make sure that you keep walking, to keep telling you to take up another hobby, “such as sports, you know!” There will be people staring unashamedly at your kohl-lined eyes and your prized mini-skirt and telling you to be ashamed of your boldness. And, to top it all off, when getting into a lift, you’ll have been made fun of by the group of friends with respect to the capacity of the lift. Because if you’re too thin, you can fit 10 more, and if you’re too fat, “will we survive this trip?”
There will always be the one odd advertisement telling you that you will never get a job offer, or worse – a marriage offer – if you don’t hide your scars, followed by three others telling you to turn your complexion from how it was given to you to ek gora nikhaar, because that is how it will sell you to people looking for a forensic scientist at an accounting firm.
I’ve read millions of articles about bodies and shaming and objectification of the same bodies, and maybe it speaks volumes that I feel the need to write another one.
This one is for everyone who’s felt the walls closing in around you while you try to breathe, so as to fit into the tiny space confined by the restrictions imposed via impossible beauty standards. It’s for telling you what you can do.
Charity begins at home, right? There are two changes you need to make within yourself to make the world a better place.
One, learn to reclaim your body.
Bit by bit, insecurity by insecurity, one day at a time. Such a radical notion in today’s world isn’t an overnight phenomenon, it’s a process. I know, it’s hard to reclaim yourself when you’re half-convinced it now belongs to everyone trying to mould it. Every one of us has looked at mirrors and decided that there is one feature of them they do not like. And every one of us has looked into mirrors and decided that the one feature they’ve been called out on deserved to be called out on. Here’s a reminder: it wasn’t.
There are so many people who’re going to do it to you, who’re going to tell you how you look decides how you live, and you will learn to stand up to them if you aren’t already, but the first person you need to stand up to is yourself.
I’m speaking from experience, and it is not pretty. All hating myself brought me to do was stand in my bathroom every night for months at a time, trying to induce my own gag reflex, with music playing in the background to mask the sounds of my retching. I lost both weight and brain function. The twisted part was, the people around me told me I was much prettier, so I continued.
At the cost of sounding preachy, I’ll say: don’t make the same mistakes I did and listen to yourself. You’re the only one who can solve your problems, not your pseudo-concerned relatives. You are the only one who deserves the right to figure out what’s best for you.
Look at yourself and the mirror once more, sometime soon. But, let go of everything you’ve heard about yourself or thought about yourself, and then look at yourself in the mirror. Remind yourself that if you are going to change it, do it only because you want to. Lose your weight, or eat a bit more, or do what you think you need and not because people are telling you to. Do it when you think you should. Listen to yourself.
Tell your haters to shut up, and tell that one annoying friend who has that annoying nickname for you which they find funny, to shut up too. You’re not ‘football’ or ‘matchstick’ or ‘khamba’, you’re you, and that’s enough.
Talk to your family and make them realize where they’re going wrong. Talk to your aunties. Tell them it isn’t just tough love. You cannot change all of India, but if you start by changing your immediate surroundings, and others do the same, well — something’s bound to happen.
Tell yourself to take baby steps to loving yourself. Notice that I’m asking you to love you, and not your body.
It’s because you’re not your body. You have so much more to you. You have grey matter for a reason. You’re always going to be “desirable” to the right person. Remember that it’s your shell, and it belongs to you, and claim it as yours.
Two, stop shaming others. Yes, you do. No buts.
It might be when you’ve playfully told a person that their overbite was funny, or that their nose was weird, or that they should eat before the north wind takes them away. It might be a fleeting moment of judgement where you’ve looked at a person and decided that they could not wear the clothes they were wearing with that body. It might be when you’ve not stood up for your own friend when she’s been told that she wasn’t pretty enough. You might have those thoughts, but before you speak about it, stop yourself. You’ll be a better person.
A friend once told me that if you think something upon seeing someone, and then you have a second thought stopping yourself from thinking that, because it’s their life and they can do whatever they want, the second thought matters more. It’s because you’ve been brought up and influenced and tried to fit into the perfect image, but you have started distancing yourself from stigma, and that, is always progress.
And, if your progress ever faces a relapse, come back to this article for a reminder.
Run in that crop top. Show off your arms. Let the bit of jiggle you got around your face free. Wear clothes that fit. Line your eyes with however much kohl you want. Wear the cute skirt you’ve been hiding. Wear makeup if you feel like it (applies to all genders), and wear your hair as “ungodly-ly” you want. Wear those shorts, please, they were expensive. Laugh without wondering if your overbite is showing. Let that gap in your teeth keep you cool. Love your stretch marks and your scars. Never hide any of it.
Remember Prince Morocco from Merchant of Venice? (Sure you do, you’re Indian. You’ve gone through that curriculum.) Now, he might be an idiot, disregard that, but he loved his skin. He knew why he had his shadowed uniform, because of the sun, and he prided himself on it.
If a complete and utter nincompoop can do that, you can too.
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
Inwords understands that some stories have unfavourable repercussions for their authors, but must be shared regardless. This is why we offer writers the option to write anonymously. You can write for us by contacting us at [email protected]
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