Last week, I was trolled about my looks. Some men friends said they liked how I look. The troll’s attack is based on the idea that a woman’s worth is in her looks and that anyone can boost/undermine it with words. My friends, however well-intentioned, were reinforcing that idea. Strangers like salespeople have felt entitled to comment on my dark skin and suggest ‘cures’. Romantic partners have been able to establish authority over me by calling me ugly, desperate and in need of their validation.
These were possible because my body has been seeded with fields of shame, ripe for whoever wants control over me. My nose shape, my bony frame, my foot size, my rounded tummy, my skin colour – these have been snatched from being my body organs/traits and turned into free access areas for other people to rule me. I say NO. My body, my rules.
My body image & self-esteem are not based on other people’s opinions. My body is mine, the only thing that truly is. It is my home, my vehicle, my canvas. It works in a way that enables me. It is beautiful because I say so. I refuse to let shame be a guest in this body. This is how I get to walk out of my home wearing bold lipsticks, sarees & hoodies, colours deemed too bright, hair considered too stylish, dresses called too slutty or young. My femininity, my beauty, my sexuality, my identity – these are not for anyone else to judge. They are what I say they are. Body Pride because it is my right.
When you feel shame over something that you can’t control (like your body), remember it is external. It’s a festering wound someone else inflicted on you. Wash that wound of foreign bodies like other people’s words. Clean it by distancing yourself from people who would wound you (deliberately or not). Tend it to it by remembering the ways your body serves you well. Heal by honoring all that you are and have, just as they are. Cauterize your vulnerability to other people’s opinions because yours is the only one that matters.
“To all girls who die for a ‘ZERO FIGURE’, Sweetie remember real men go for curves, only dogs go for bones.”
I looked it up and found a Facebook page even dedicated to this ’cause’. I don’t have a problem with the statement itself. I just think that it misses the point.
Size zero is the fashion-friendly euphemism for anorexia (or dangerous inclination to it). Certainly there are more women falling prey it to. What’s really alarming is that it’s going down the age ladder as well, with younger and younger girls grappling with body image issues at an age when their worries shouldn’t extend beyond crushes and marksheets.
Let’s examine this at its root. The impossible notion of beauty is being foisted on us by popular media, fashion gurus and the beauty industry. This includes fair skin, light-coloured hair and the bizarre size notions of barely-there waists, hips and thighs. It’s the cause for unhealthy diets, starving and purging (inducing vomitting after eating).
But you know something? It’s not physical. In order for a human being who is normally curvaceous to get to the hallowed size zero, the ideal has to have penetrated to a frenzied level, which takes it into the realm of the mind. The size zero issue is an issue of self-esteem, not one of body measurements. Victims of anorexia are known to have distorted perceptions of their bodies.
Now let’s look at that statement, in context. It may be true that men prefer curves to angles. First of all, that’s a fact that’s been parotted out for decades now and it still hasn’t stopped women from wanting thin bodies by dieting, exercising, surgery, drugs, smoking or purging. Secondly, even if it does have immediate impact on a size zero-obsessed woman, I fear that this is a superficial, if not foolhardy solution.
If a woman is starving herself to achieve an impossible notion of beauty, it is because she values what someone else tells her about her body over her own self. To tell her that a man actually likes her body another way is simply diverting that desperate need for outside validation from one source to another. Now, whether she gets her cues from Cosmopolitan or from the men in her life, isn’t it just as unhealthy?
Here’s another dimension to that above ’cause’. I’m a thin woman and fat doesn’t stick to me. I come from a lineage of lean people, male and female. I am a small eater but I’m medically fit and normal in my food habits. Does this mean that I should feel less than beautiful because I don’t have the curvaceous ideal that men desire? Should I feel like a second-class citizen because I’m a skinny woman in a land of well-endowed women? Any look can be disparaged and I’m sure the phrase, “She looks like a thirteen-year-old boy” isn’t unfamiliar.
I respect my body because it functions in every respect. I value my body because it is mine. I feel beautiful regardless of whether popular media or the men in my life think so. And you know something? When I believe it, the world does too. I know this because I’ve experienced body image issues too and I’ve come out of it on the other side – feeling beautiful and happy. That had nothing to do with measurements or validation and everything to do with looking into my mirror, thinking,
“Hey gorgeous, aren’t you lucky to be you?”
I have a friend who looks into every mirror, glass and reflective surface that he passes. The pater is best known to the dhobi as the source of endless lectures on the perfect way to iron a pair of trousers versus a pair of cordruoys. The boy thinks any suggestion towards a health regime is an insult to his body image.
It mayn’t be obvious, but these aren’t so different from what my gender has been accused of, for years. But since the men will have to take umbrage at this, let me give it another name. It’s Manity and it’s worse than vanity because its bearers believe that they possess no such flaw (errr…virtue? Since everything male has to be glorified and paraded around?).
Let the peacocks preen now.
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She tells me about her struggle with weight, coming to terms with it. And she quotes another friend who said that she had to stop obsessing over it, to stop making it the be-all or she’d never be happy. I point out that I said the same thing, a year ago. She pauses and in equal measures of honesty, vulnerability and courage, says,
“You are….a slim person.”
I know the unspoken words, I can complete them in my own head. How then, do I explain, how do I prove to her, that I really do understand? Let me tell stories, instead.
“Let’s play StarTrek. I’ll be captain. You be the pointy-ears guy.”
“Who’ll I be?”
“There’s only two women, one fair one and and one dark one.”
“I’ll be the fair one.”
“Yes, you can be the fair one. Let her be the dark one. She’s quite black anyway.”
“I don’t want to be the dark one.”
“Fine, go away. No one wants the dark one, anyway.”
“You are so black. And all these pimples….13…14…15”
“Don’t count them! I can’t help them.”
“Please stop. Please, please, please stop.”
“I’ll won’t be seeing you for six weeks. Get your face cleaned up by then.”
Two hours later
“Bye, I’ll call you once I get settled in.”
“I brought you a little bye-bye gift.”
“Eraser face cream?”
“My dad recommends it to all his patients. Be sure to apply it every night. I want to see your pretty face without having to count those scars.”
“You can’t wear that!”
“Why not? It’s a great print! I love tie-ups!”
“It hangs on you. Look, let me show you how it should look. You…you don’t have the figure for it.”
“Put your shoulders in a bit.”
“Why? That’s bad posture.”
“A decent woman doesn’t put her bust out to the world.”
“You walk with your boobs thrust out. It’s like carrying a signboard that says ‘I’m easy’.”
“You’re ugly. The only reason a guy would be nice to you is because you look easy.”
“You are so ugly.”
“My friends don’t think you are hot. So I don’t want them to know about us. Don’t talk to me when they’re around.”
“Don’t hold my hand. I don’t want to be seen with a black girl.”
At every age
“No, madam, we don’t stock that size in ladies wear. Your feet are too big.”
“Why do you have to wear those ugly army boots? You just like to scare people, don’t you? They make you look like you have polio.”
“What are those things on your legs?”
“My knees are like that!”
“They look funny. People like you should not wear tights.”
“Where are you? I lost my friend!”
“Ha ha. It’s a loose kurta, okay? It’s comfortable.”
“You look like the pole inside a tent. Seriously, girls like you should not wear loose clothes.”
Age 16 onwards
“Madam can I show you something for those scars on your face?”
“Dark people should not wear red.”
“What are those marks on your upper arms (pointing to stretch marks)?”
“Open pores. Blackheads. Acne. You need help.”
“Is that hair on your back? Don’t you wax?
“Bags under your eyes.”
Red is my favorite colour.
Most of my garments are sleeveless.
I buy facepacks and lotions and scrubs. The skin stays mostly the same, give or take a few spots.
The knees are generally concealed in denims or attention is diverted away by a bold neckline.
No amount of exercise or dieting or bleaching or creaming is going to change my skin. Well…it holds my organs in. I try not to think about it. And I cover my thin skin with a thick attitude.
Yes, love, I do understand. Really.
My jeans are too tight for me to breathe. I’ve put on weight. *Groan*. Why, why, WHY should it matter? I am not fat. I have never been fat. I am not going to be fat. And if I do, will it matter? Yes, it damn well will.
Mum beams with pleasure when someone tells her that she looks like my older sibling. Dad on the other hand squirms uncomfortably when someone runs that line on him.
I read (in Mumbai Mirror, where else?) that the cast of ‘Desperate Housewives’ are vying with each other to be the thinnest. Ah, doesn’t that sound familiar? Oh yes, that happened with the cast of Ally McBeal and Friends too.
So yes, we agonize over pimples and pounds (too many!), inches and shine(not enough!), long hair/short hair (whichever we don’t have), height, eye colour, skin tone, body shape, facial features….the way clothes ‘hang on/stretch around’ us, the way colours and stripes and polka dots look on us. A couple of my close friends are perfectly happy spending hours primping and shopping and pouting and look destined to spend the rest of my lives doing just that. Not that they are dumb air-heads. I pride myself on the company I keep and certainly I keep the company of intelligent, independent, strong people (well…the women at least!). But nooo…..there is all this about bad hair days, water retention, easily tanned skin and all that mumbo-jumbo. I’m trying, I’m trying frantically to hold onto my sensibilities…If you can keep your head when all about you..but then I get accused of being too tomboyish. Again, does it matter? Well…..I hate the answer to that but we all know it.
This weekend was exhausting and fun. I spent a lot of time and money on food, clothes and books. 3.5 hours of this fun weekend was spent in my favorite store trying out clothes (not even accounting for the 2 hours it took me to get to the store and back). With two female friends. Did we have fun? YESSSS! And tomorrow I’ll get a facial…just the thought of it is enough to bring back a glow to my face (okay, oily sheen perhaps…).
Rambling apart, are we really that shallow? It is very important for a woman to look good, in order to feel good. Well, also to feel good in order to look good. But yes, every female from age 3 upwards preens, poses and shows signs of vanity. So much for male egos…the female vanities match them.
Perhaps it boils down to the centuries old premise of the value of a woman being in her sex appeal and child bearing qualities. Of course there are statistics to show that good-looking people generally do better than their average looking counterparts. Have women known that always? I don’t think that is quite it. The underlying assumption is those studies is that a person whose ego is well-nourished enough projects that level of confidence which can make the difference between sucess and failure (all other factors being equal). Yes, feeling attractive is a big plus. There is something to be said about having a healthy body image.
With the boon comes the curse and so we’re also riddled with complexes, anorexia, disorders and annoying obsessions. Do you know what I think about The Metrosexual Man? I think he’s a fool for falling prey to the same monster that has been chewing on the long-limbed, silky-haired, even-skinned carcasses of women. Vanity.