Back when I was a three year old beginning to make friends, Acha always used to tell me to never pick my best friends based on how pretty they looked. He didn’t want me being kind to someone because they looked like they could be the princess in my book of fairytales and mean to someone else because they didn’t fit the mould. I’m not sure how much of this my tiny brain could have imbibed; but I got the general rule. I was not to judge someone based on how they looked.
But something Acha forgot to mention then was that this rule applied to myself too. And now two decades later, I find myself struggling to apply this tiny thing when it matters the most, to myself.
Self love is such a fickle thing. It is so easy to love yourself when you are at your ideal weight, with acne free skin and flowing locks. You go to bed, feeling like Destiny’s darling, but you wake up the next morning and who should greet you in the mirror but Mr Pimple and his family. You feel bloated, your clothes don’t hang perfectly anymore. And at the moment when you need self love the most, it deserts you without a second glance. Quite like all the times your carefully mined courage disappears when you have to ask Amma for a night out.
But I digress. See, I realised that the second best way to lose weight was to exercise. The first was to not eat. It made me furious back then to see Acha act out when I said I was going on a diet. I mean, how could he not want his daughter to look great and get healthy?! How dare he protest against my amazing plans! I think he realised even before I did that the path I was on was the quickest shortcut there could be to an eating disorder. Anyway, none of his outbursts ruffled my feathers because I was on the path to a “before-after”, “an iconic glow up” type of transformation. So I contained my cravings and cut down my portions like a good little soldier. I loved all the changes in my body and loved all the sacrifices even more, because I was finally doing what I was supposed to. I was flying on the highest highs of self-love.
But you see, there is only so long you can reign in a mad elephant before it goes on a rampage. The same goes for a foodie. There is only so long you can go on pretending to be happy. Looking back, I am glad I broke when I did. But then, it was heartbreaking to see that my chubby cheeks and the squishy belly fat return. All my self-love was annihilated out of existence. I was no longer trying to look the way I was supposed to, so where does that leave me?
Was I a failure, too weak willed, unable to do what was required of me?
It took lots of soul-searching and falling on the body positive side of YouTube for me to realise that I looked exactly the way I was meant to. All bodies aren’t meant to be skinny, they wouldn’t be beautiful if they starved themselves to fit into this mould. I didn’t have to lose few kilos to begin thinking of myself as beautiful, I shouldn’t have to have nightmares about weighing myself and watching the needle go a little further than it did the last time. The moment I decided that the way I looked was the least important thing about me, the moment I decided I was beautiful just as I was, I was free. Free from all those heavy expectations I carried around, from the self-consciousness of gaining weight. Free from not allowing myself to feel pretty because I was not as thin as the girl next to me.
Earlier, when well-meaning friends texted me about my appearance, I would humor them. “Oh, yeah, I know!” “Must be because I am staying at home.” — All excuses for something I had no need to seek an excuse for. So now, it’s shoot point blank. I unleash the beast. And it is terrifying because it’s such a stark contrast. It’s owning everything about myself in the place where I would apologize. It’s celebrating the fact that my amma makes the most delicious sambar and aviyal that makes you want to serve yourself another plate of rice. It’s also the confidence of knowing that I can last a straight two minutes at a plank. I am now learning that self love should come exactly in the form that we choose to shower upon everyone else; unconditionally, not subject to clauses that say you have to weigh so much or your skin should shine so or your hair should not have more than this amount of frizz. Self love should come most on the days when I have binge-eaten my way out of an existential crisis, or after a study leave has made me gain five kilos. I can lose the kilos or keep them, but I should be able to love myself all the same. And most importantly, I should be able to shut the mouths of people, who are hell bent on noticing only my weight gain.
Featured Image Source: Shreya Tingal/Feminism In India