My beautician has known me for quite some time now. In fact, she was the one who did my make up during my wedding, long before it was compulsory to tag the “make-up artist” on your Facebook and Instagram post and the wedding photographer charged an arm and a leg to give you that picture perfect wedding album. She has seen me transform from a skinny bride to a delirious new mother to this more matured grounded woman that I’d like to think I have become. Who, if I may add, has been trying to lose all of that baby weight for years now.
“You think I need to start using anti-aging? Now that I am past thirty?” I ask her, making casual conversation.
“No. You don’t need it yet,” she replies.
“You sure? I mean, I do take good care of my skin…”
“You just need to lose weight,” she cuts me off.
“I know I do…”
“No, seriously. Or else, your face is gonna droop down. Like this,” she illustrates, drawing lines along my cheeks.
I don’t know what to say to that. I had always prided myself on my good skin, but this was like a bolt from the blue.
“You’ve put on more weight since the last time,” she continues.
“No, actually I have shrunk a bit…”
“Who are you kidding? You can’t fool me! Look at this!” she says, almost outraged now as she pinches the side of my waist. I wince.
“And this!” she pinches the flesh that bulges out from the side of my bra. She considers herself victorious. She has made her point.
I felt hot tears roll down my cheeks, and I am embarrassed. Embarrassed that I don’t have a comeback. That I am resorting to tears when I should have told her exactly what was on my mind.
“ENOUGH!” I wanted to shout. “Enough of this body shaming!”
But I didn’t. Because she was older than me and I considered herself a friend.
How many times have you been told by a “well wisher” that you need to lose weight? How many times has it been pointed out to you (as though you needed reminding) that you’ve put on weight? How many times have you cursed your body because of these comments that it has brought down on you? How many times have you denied it food just so you could look a certain way that society deems attractive?
And now ask yourself, what has your body ever done to deserve this?
I contemplated starving myself, cursing my hunger, telling myself I was weak because I couldn’t stay without eating. I gauged my day based on the number on the scale, feeling giddy if I saw I had lost a few grams, and then feeling like the world had come to an end when I gained those grams back after an indulgent weekend. I refused to eat carbs, and chose to survive on vegetables and proteins.
Then one day, my five year old rebuked me. “Dal and veggies is not a proper meal, Mamma. You need to have rice.” And then I realized the precedent that I was unknowingly setting for my little girl. Here I was, telling her to eat properly because she needed strength, and at the same time, not following my own advice. Wasn’t I being a hypocrite? I was truly at a loss, torn between wanting to become thin and wanting to ensure that my daughter doesn’t have body image issues when she grows up.
And then, on a fortunate day, I came across the be.come project and the wonderful, wonderful message of body neutrality, and my world changed. There’s body positivity, of course, but let’s face it, it’s not always easy to look in the mirror and love what we see. There are days when we’ll love our body, and days when we won’t, but body neutrality says that we respect our body no matter what.
It was subtle at first, this change in me, but one day, it suddenly dawned on me that for the first time in my life, I am working out because I enjoy it and not because I want to lose weight and become thin. I am in fact eating more intuitively than I did before, and I realize I am more attuned to my hunger cues. In fact, the other day, when I walked out of the house wearing a cute outfit that even showed a little bit of skin on my stretch-marked tummy, I realized I have a new spring to my step.
What I am asking you to consider, is respecting your body, treating it like a friend instead of a foe. My five year old loves to do the workout with me, which means that instead of having to lock myself in a room so I can huff and puff without feeling conscious, I now do my workout in the living room right next to her. I smile through the tough bits because I love that my body is capable of doing those moves, and I don’t feel embarrassed when my husband comments on just how sweaty I am.
Cliched though it may sound, I think the part of my body that has changed the most over time, is my mind. Here’s to body neutrality, then. Here’s to realizing that even if it is not possible to love your body always, it is possible to mindfully respect your body for what it is.
This article first appeared on “Of Dreaming and Daring”, which can be found here. You can follow Sankyha on instagram at @ssamhita