I want to explain that by ‘alter you’, I mean alter who you think you are. You are not your body. You are not a number. You are not a colour. You are not a race. You are not a name. You are not a country. You are not a label. So who are you? Find out and your skin will fit.
*If you liked this, follow my microfiction/micropoetry on https://www.yourquote.in/ideasmithy
Of the many wars a woman fights, body image issues are some of the hardest to tackle. Because they’re always fought by an army of one against the whole world inside the dark battlefield of one’s mind.
I have a form that fits a few popular beauty standards, enough for me to grasp onto them and fight against the attacks on the parts of me that don’t fit. Do I believe it’s harder because of this? After all, I’m not large, I’m not small, I’m not visibly asymmetrical. Well, we all find our pains hard to bear, don’t we?
I speak often about being a dark-skinned person in a country with a colonial hangover in the form of a fairness fetish. But I never really talk about my stomach. Add a layer of shame and another of silence to deep-seated complexes. Imagine a perfect well-shaped pot with a tiny hole in one side. That’s what body image is like. All the compliments, all the validation leaks out of that one part of one’s body that doesn’t fit. And that one part of you that feels imperfect becomes a clogged drain, lined with shame, resentment, fear and sadness. In my case, that place is right in the centre of me, in my stomach.
I have never had a flat stomach. Not as a toddler, an adolescent or an adult. It has stayed un-flat through swimming, crunches, aerobics and gymming. I’ve been advised to give up eating rice, cold water, dairy products after sunset, fried foods. Nothing works.
I do want to say that nobody has ever shamed me for my stomach. Among all the insults and attacks that came my way, the stomach never featured. If anything a boy long ago called it ‘cute’, another one said it could make a guy feel better about himself knowing that I wasn’t a perfect marble statue and recently a friend called it ‘Madhuri Dixit chic’. While these compliments made me laugh and glow with pleasure, at some level I did not really buy into them. I just shrugged them off as affection for me/crab mentality/funny kink. My relationship with my body is tightly locked away inside my cells. It’s hard to see yourself the way others see you.
11 years ago, I won a few battles when I got myself a tattoo. My dragon, emblazoned across the left side of my waist, breathing flames all the way to my navel was my victory flag. I used to wear short tops and croptops often then. The dragon tattoo was also the very first symbol of IdeaSmith, my online alter ego.
Somewhere in the last few years I stopped. I succumbed to the easy shortcuts that smart styling offers to ‘hide my flaws’. I experiment a lot more with clothes now but I instinctively gravitate to looks that emphasize the things about my appearance, that are permitted to be called beautiful. Most days now, I don’t even remember my dragon tattoo.
But this Monday, I took out this top that’s been lying unused for nearly three years. It’s short and because it ties at the back, it (in my head) emphasises how rounded my stomach is. The words that form in my mind when I usually see myself this way are PODGY, UNHEALTHY, CHUBBY, FLABBY and that dreaded euphemism – MUFFIN TOP. Truly, I do understand what body image issues sound like inside one’s head.
I draped on a trenchcoat over as a security blanket and travelled, my head held high, the body language I assume when I’m faking it till I make it. Then I met Neha and we stopped for a bathroom detour before proceeding. I ruefully and reluctantly stared at my stomach in the mirror in the ladies’ toilet and said,
“It’s not umm….flat.”
Neha didn’t laugh at me (like people often do when I admit to feeling uncomfortable). She didn’t tell me I didn’t have the right to feel diffident about my looks (again, like a LOT of people like to tell me). She just said,
“You know, most women don’t have flat stomachs.”
We spoke briefly about adolescent fears and things that we battled growing up. I mean really briefly, because it was just the time it took to climb one staircase. Maybe it was because it came from a woman as glamorous as she is. Maybe because she didn’t look at me any differently for having an unflat stomach. Maybe because she didn’t judge me for worrying about something as stupid as that. Maybe it was just because she was kind. But I felt a surge of courage go through me. Sometimes you need people to believe that it’s okay for you to be scared, to stop being scared. My dragon awoke again.
And when my name was announced, I left my coat behind and went up on stage. Just me, my ideas, my dragon tattoo and yes, my stomach.
So this then is me. Just as I am. Complete.
Thanks, @tuningforkstudios for the pictures! And thank you, Neha.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
“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?”