On the occasion of International Women’s day, I would like to share real stories of real women with regards to body image and self-esteem. I am so thankful to Lisa, Kanika, and Shelly to open up their hearts for our readers today. Without further ado, read below the stories of 3 wonderful women who struggled to fit the societal norms only to realize that “self-love” was the only path towards peace, joy, and satisfaction.
I grew up with the perfect mother – she was so beautiful and so skinny! She’s been the first woman I looked up to, and I wanted to be like her. Later, when I started to watch TV, I saw all these amazingly skinny women. Back in the days, it was even more popular to only show women who were nearly anorexic. They were so insanely slim – pushed by an industry telling them how they have to look.
And then there was me – a teenager – convinced I’d only be happy if I had a perfect skinny body. I believed, once I am slim, I am worth being loved.
But I struggled with my weight. In school, they were making fun of me, saying my fingers look like sausages. I often cried after school. So, I told some adults about it, and their way to cheer me up was shocking – they told me things like ‘don’t worry, you are not fat, just not as slim as the others’ or ‘it’s ok, men go out with skinny girls, but in bed, they prefer curves’. My takeaway was, I am only good enough to be someone’s bed bunny. When I went to clothing stores for teenagers, I always had to ask for the largest size. It made me feel embarrassed and ugly.
All of this made me go on one diet after the other – starving my little, young body for days with pineapple diets, soup diets, not eating at all, or just doing sports excessively.
And now the irony comes into play. Looking back – no matter if at pictures or my old jeans – I was never fat! Not even close to being fat. I had a normal, average body. Yes, I wasn’t insanely skinny, but I was far away from being fat.
It took me years to develop a healthy relationship with my body. I started with post-it’s on my mirror – ‘you are beautiful’, ‘you are worth being loved the way you are’ and similar notes like this. I looked at them and spoke them out loud every day.
And once I started to love myself, I also started to love my body. I started doing sports, not to get skinny – but because I realized it makes me feel good. I stumbled across a youtube video of an Austrian nutrition professor where he explained the health benefits of intermediate fasting. Later I became vegetarian because it was important to me. Once I started focussing on those things – being healthy, doing things I love, living up to my morals – my body followed.
I also learned that I shouldn’t believe everything I see on Social Media or TV. My picture is the proof – on the left one I am looking chubby and unhealthy – on the other, I am super skinny. Between these two pictures are only four days.
If I could give my younger me a piece of advice, I would tell her: Stop worrying so much about your body, but instead, use this energy to find out who you are, what you love, what makes you truly happy – and discover a way to live independently from the outside world. If you love yourself, the rest will follow.
I have always been a thin kid with a dark complexion. All of my family members, my mom, dad, my sisters and my brother have been “FAIR” (as i remember a lot of people calling only me “Kaali” (translates to a girl who’s black in Hindi). So much so that when a newlywed aunt saw me, she couldn’t believe I was my mother’s daughter. As a child, you don’t even realize what these terms mean, but a repetition of being called dark-skinned or a hanger for clothes slowly starts leaving an impression on the innocent mind.
Some of these incidents at school made me realize one thing – being academically bright was the only choice I had. Right or wrong, this helped me shift focus. At least this shift made me realize that there was more to life than the color of the skin or my slim structure. The same kids that had teased me were now on my doorstep to clarify their doubts in the class.
As funny as it may sound, while I had shoved these thoughts away in some corner of my heart during my college years they spring up again and guess what, Bipasha Basu came to my rescue this time around. She created some kind of validation that I was looking for.
I was 50 kgs a decade ago (when I didn’t fit a certain standard) and today when I am in my late 30s and I have a 10-year-old son, I weigh 52 kg and the irony is that the same girl who was teased, and was referred to as a skeleton is now a “Yummy Mummy”. If these aren’t double standards then I dont know what are.
People usually think body positivity usually circles around weight gain, but trust me being skinny is equally ridiculed. To me, body positivity is loving each and every body type and image. Practicing self-love is so important and yes, I am thin even today, that’s how I was born and I respect that. I take care of myself by giving my body the exercise and nutrition it deserves. I no longer bother about the societal standards.
As a child I remember I had a stack of fairy tale books from Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Anderson, blue cover with bright colorful illustrations. Oh, how I fell in love with Cinderella, Snow White, and their likes! Cinderella with her glass slippers, scintillating ball gown, and the magic of transformation. She who was covered with cinders from top to bottom (she owes her name to that ) was transformed into this beautiful, gorgeous girl with glass slippers who waltzed straight into the prince’s heart with her beauty, grace, and manners. I wanted to be that Cinderella!
The problem was I was short, stocky, wheatish, super short hair, childish round eyes, awkward, shy and I was not really an epitome of grace. You get the picture? So, I slept every night hoping and praying that overnight some magic would make me taller, slimmer, and perfect – turn me from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. I would be the heroine straight from the land of fairytales. Well, as you can imagine nothing like that happened.I did get the attention of many a Prince Charming but that is another story for another time. Jokes apart, these stories were so deeply rooted in my psyche that my life from childhood to adolescence through adulthood and till about my late thirties were dotted with moments when I felt highly uncomfortable with the way I looked. I wanted to see Cinderella in the mirror, instead, I saw myself. You see Stories matter! Allow me to elaborate.
As an oral storyteller, my work with traditional narratives like fairytales, folk tales, and mythology has allowed me to delve deeper into some of these stories that I had loved as a child. Needless to say, it has been highly unsettling. These stories have been with us for a very long time. And there is no sign of them falling out of favor anytime soon. They are everywhere in popular culture, books(J.K Rowling, J.R.R Tolkien, and more), TV shows, fashion shows, ballets, and Disney movies offering children a fantasy world of deepest desires and deepest fears. But they are also powerful messengers of cultural ideas, rife with harmful stereotypes especially gender roles especially when we take these at face value. And I am not the first one to point this out. These stories are a history of sorts and most were written by men at a time when conventional gender roles were at an unnatural height and society was deeply patriarchal. Collected from the women but written by men. And the majority of these tales have a stereotypical association between beauty and goodness and then conversely between ugliness and evil and laziness.
Now let me tell you what transpired in my story. My transformation did happen and it was a magical journey. To begin with I have great parents who raised me to believe in myself and be bold and courageous. That did help me a bit to step out from my Cinderella complex. Then I met my husband who loves me unconditionally, an equal partner, and is probably my greatest fan and critic all rolled into one, he encouraged me to follow my passions and helped me tremendously to grow as a person. However, the turning point in my life came when my daughter was born. Laying in the recovery room, as I held her tiny pinky finger in my hand,I promised myself that I would raise a child who is self-assured, confident, happy, and loves herself. I would not raise a Cinderella and in order for that to happen, I had to be a role model. I had to start liking … no loving myself. But that’s easier said than done. I loved myself as a person but was still suffering from body issues plus postpartum depression. And as life rolled on through its many ups and downs, so did my body and confidence. Then a year or so before tuning forty, quite by accident “running” came into my life.
And it brought along Self-love, Self-assurance, and Respect for my body as permanent guests. Running gave me the much-needed confidence, the self-respect, the proud medal of the suntan, burnt face, and stubbed toes. It was a world where my physical appearance did not matter at all and I could just be myself. And suddenly I was free. Free from my many complexes! It was not just one single moment of epiphany but many such moments as I ran to the finish line again and again. I was truly happy and had started to love myself. And I am happy to report I still do! Of course, by no means do I claim that every day is the same. Then we would be living in a utopian world.
But now when I look into the mirror, I don’t search for Cinderella anymore. Instead, I try to see a woman who says I am happy. I am healthy. I love myself.
Did you go through something similar? Is there a story in your heart that you would like to share with the entire world? Your words can make a difference to women around you, impressionable children, and young adults. To share your story, simply get in touch with us or to get associated with the Body Positivity, read our post, and get associated with us on our new creative collaboration.
To read posts from February, click here