I can't quite remember when I began to feel a veil of self-consciousness over my body. But by the time I was 12 years old, I was told that I was putting on weight, and that I needed to exercise. Interestingly, I never thought I was fat. Not when I was 12 years old. Not when I was 22. Not now, when I am pushing 30 and have loosened muscles all over after carrying a child for nine months. But I have always been described as huge by people around me -- in a way that makes me feel bad about it.
Trouble is, when the world around you begins to think you are not like the rest of them, you begin to believe in it too. Especially when you are 12 and are nowhere near building a self-reliant self image. Especially when your mind is tormented by breasts, groovy looking boys and perfectly sculpted celebrities.
In school, every time I looked at a petite, dainty shouldered girl, I felt overwhelmed by my hugeness. Every time I walked beside a boy shorter or punier than me, I cringed. I cringed so much that between the ages of 12 and 14, I suffered from a chronic back pain and developed a bad posture. In short, I stopped moving in that free, spirited manner of a child and occupied a body that I was waiting to vacate.
"I was a straight A student and a national-level athlete. But these successes did little in stubbing out the insecurity I felt in not matching up to conventional standards of size and shape."
When I look back, I keep wondering what all the fuss was about; why I couldn't pick myself up sooner. I was never fat. I was 178 cm and always weighed between 70-75kg which was well within healthy BMI limits. I was a straight A student and a national-level athlete. But these successes did little in stubbing out the insecurity I felt in not matching up to conventional standards of size and shape. I had allowed my weight to come first. I had allowed people to define me by my body.
Yes, I am aware of all the arguments tendered for such situations. That it is a result of conditioning, male gaze, popular media setting unreal and unhealthy body image standards, all of which are reinforced by school kids who spend their lunch breaks by coming up with hurtful but ingenious nicknames.
Fortunately, by the time I turned 16, I found most of my girlfriends battling with their own body issues. I didn't feel alone anymore. To my relief the guys in my class had finally caught up with me. Height-wise and shoulder blade-wise. Losing my mother around this time also led me stop whining about things I couldn't change and be grateful for the things I had.
Suddenly, the whole body issue seemed to disintegrate in my head. I realised that I might not match up to the prettiest girl in class but I had a tongue to match any one who felt like taking me down. I vividly recall putting a pesky, puny friend of mine in place for addressing me as Anaconda (yes the huge, gigantic snake) for a whole year.
" A fat ass or mutton chop arms are no excuse to remain tongue tied."
It was over a game of basketball and he was getting trashed. He tried to distract me by calling out that annoying nickname one last time. But I was 16 and I could be mean too. So I turned around and said, "I can't help it if you are five foot nothing." It shut his mouth forever. He lost the game and the will to tease.
We both finished school and stayed friends. Over summer, he called me up one day and blurted that he was very insecure about the way he looked, especially about his complexion. That day I realised something else. People who make you feel bad about yourself seldom feel good about themselves. They try and make someone feel miserable so that they feel better about their own situation.
Slowly but surely, I regained my confidence and with it my self-image and body confidence. I began to rediscover my body -- in the endless legs and toned arms -- and miraculously everyone around began to too. I felt fit and wonderful and my stride was back and my shoulders were finally out.
I understand that body issues can be a lifelong problem. For a lot of us. It has this uncanny habit of slinking into our minds and start festering before we know it. But every now and then a reality check might help. So does a sharp tongue. A fat ass or mutton chop arms are no excuse to remain tongue tied.
Being plain doesn't mean you can't fall for the cute guy at work; being fat doesn't mean you can't raise your hand to answer a question in class. Don't allow someone else's name calling and opinions ruin a lifetime of endless achievements and opportunities.
This article was first published in iDiva.com on April 4, 2015