Which one of these is the right question to ask myself: When was the first time I realised I was thin? Or, when was the first time I was made to realise I was ‘different’ and there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed? Or, when was the first time I defined myself as a thin person and was comfortable being so?
Becoming comfortable with my bones has been a long process. I always did feel comfortable with my body – with looking at myself in the mirror naked, or with being flat (or being two-dimensional, as I was ‘laughingly’ called by my friends). I was in the ninth grade, when I began soaking in what others thought and said about my body. For the first time I paused and took cognisance of how I looked through other people’s eyes. That was the beginning of being conscious, and being uncomfortable with being me.
I knew I was always underweight but it never bothered me. I was a very active, energetic, and outgoing child. I had many friends, took part in everything in my school days – there was no reason to ‘question’ myself! My parents loved me and accepted me for not just my thinness but also my anger, which was soon to become a big part of how I defined myself. Interestingly this was also the time I became friends with two of my now closest friends who are as thin as I am; a common exasperation that has only brought us closer. In retrospect, I realise that these friendships were a conscious decision, perhaps to feel safe and ‘normal’; like I am not the only one who is ‘different’ or the odd one out.
Random aunties in market places and buses giving suggestions about how I need to eat boiled potatoes and butter enraged me! How dare they? Who gave them the right to comment on my body? The limit of my ‘tolerance’ and patience was when our college guard had the audacity to say, “Arrey tum toh kitni patli ho!” (“You are so thin!”) I still boil with anger at not turning back and physically pushing him away and screaming, ‘None of your business!’ When did my body, that is so private and personal to me, became public – open to be discussed without my consent? From an interview for a job at a mental health organisation to my current place of work where I’m surrounded by ‘educators’, everybody feels they have the prerogative to comment, question, and ridicule my body. Each time, I was invariably left feeling helpless and frustrated.
But how do I stop these people from making me feel so? In a capitalist world where women have been commodified so brutally, and even worse, where women do not object to this commodification, am I asking the wrong questions? In a workshop on Body Image (at an Art Gallery at Lado Sarai) with Pramada Menon, for the first time I was part of people who were all struggling with the same problem – how do I own my own body again? In the workshop, I learnt how to translate my anger into words, and more pertinently,not feel guilty for confronting and questioning people who hurt me. I realised that people just don’t think! They have never been questioned or taught to draw boundaries. When I do engage in a conversation with the teachers in my workplace (I work as a counselor in a school) or even with my friends, they are able to reflect on and question the understanding of an ‘ideal body’ type. We all know where the stereotype comes from. But when did we internalise it so much that we believed it to be the only truth/reality? Why didn’t anyone ever question how our reality was being formed?
After being trained, I now facilitate sexuality education workshops with students of junior school and middle school. A big part of these is understanding the concepts of masculinity and femininity and body image – deconstructing them before these floating, omnipresent, definitions of who and how I must look like get frozen and embedded in how I’d like to define my body, myself.
The personal-political journey and process has only begun. When I am alone or with my friends, I feel safe and sure of who I am. But in public spaces, the gaze – both of men and women– still makes me aggressively defensive. These statements are filled with a conspicuous contradiction – and so am I. Am I thin by choice? No. Would I want it any other way? In my teens I probably would’ve traded my body for a more popularly accepted one. It would’ve certainly made my life emotionally less chaotic since I would not have been shrouded by questions that made me doubt myself. I am happy being thin now! I am neither anorexic, nor malnourished nor anemic, nor do I suffer from any other ‘eating disorder’. I-am-just-simply-thin. We all must have the right to claim our bodies, the way we want to. And I will not be apologetic for who I am, anymore.
Image courtesy Ekta Oza