Unapologetic, unabashed, fun, confident, happy are words often associated with me… but that is on the outside. From the inside, I am confused, riddled with self-doubt, unhappy with myself, and constantly looking at myself as far from perfect. Most of it stemming from the way I look.
All my insecurities, packed away in different layers of denial, periodic bouts of binge-eating, a fountain of tears – all of it bubbled up to the surface when one of my girlfriends put the question out there a few days ago, in the peak of her vulnerability – Are you happy with your body? And I realized that for the first time, I publicly acknowledged that I wasn’t. As I asked more of my amazing, witty, talented girlfriends the same question, the resounding response was NO; most, if not all of them, were unhappy with the way they looked.
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Since this is something I internalized so much, I never realized that this was a problem with many. Hearing so many women I respected, women who I thought had it all, women whose bodies I envied, talk about their own body shame, got me thinking. As a woman, I have shown tremendous empathy for people around me, I have often fought for the underdog, battled against archaic patriarchal practices, bigotry, and a slew of things that could firmly be placed under the umbrella of feminism (the good kind, of course).
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In contrast, the hypocrisy of my thinking about my own body was like a loud slap in my face. Reality is that I was the bigot, I discriminated against myself the most, my own body the subject of MY ridicule. Hard cold fact – I didn’t see myself or respect myself (which I often talked about) as a whole person. I was only fixated on how I looked. Realization dawned that when it truly mattered, I was no different from the hundreds of men I had judged, glared at, and even given a mouthful to, in order to get the respect that I and other women deserved – as thinking people, as fellow intellectuals, where our minds shone and they acknowledged that we were definitely more than just a pair of tits or ass. It broke me, I wept, and the guilt enshrouded me. Guilt turned to anger, anger to frustration, frustration to a sense of utter hopelessness and despair. When I hit rock bottom, I had no choice but to get myself up and dust myself off. I knew that I had had enough. I was going to free myself from this pity party that I was throwing for myself. I got down to the basics, read everything I could get my hands on for a positive body image, visited my shrink and dealt with my hidden demons. I talked to myself in my mirror quoting the L’Oreal tagline, “Because I Am Worth It” (I used to laugh at how corny it was before my epiphany). Along this short journey, there are a few things I learnt:
1. There will be good days and bad, and how I treat myself is how the world will treat me. So starting now, I give myself the utmost respect and care.
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2. People say things all the time; it’s really MY choice as to what I choose to internalize. Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous words echo in my head as I write this – “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Dear girlfriends, this is probably the hardest thing to do, especially since the people we love the most, trust the most, often say things that hurt the most. Not with guile or malice, but more loosely thrown words of how you are looking tubby, your behind having a life of its own, how an outfit makes you look like the upholstery of a sofa set and the like. Funny, yes, but hurtful in equal measure. You may laugh on the surface of it, but how you let it affect you inside and out is your choice.
3. Always remember – good hair and a great body are only some parts of you. Your mind, how you treat others, a kind deed – need to be viewed and appreciated in equal measure. A slim, svelte girl may seem like she has it all, but trust me, just like you and me, she may have other insecurities. She most likely is being stereotyped as an airhead, treated like a piece of meat, has a tough time making friends because girls are insecure about her, and men just want to get into her pants. Her own demons may have her constantly battling the pressure of perfection and holding on the wraith of youth.
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4. Running away doesn’t solve anything. Ignoring your body or pretending that your stretch marks don’t exist won’t make the problem vanish into thin air (oh, how I wish!). Your stretch marks, your stomach rolls, your fat dimples, open pores, fat nose, thinning hairline, ugly feet – whatever your problems may be, are a part of you. You don’t have to love them, but you don’t have to hate them either. You need to separate the emotion of dissatisfaction from despair. Sometimes, whatever you try, your body won’t respond, and that’s fine. Remember, your body is merely a facet of who you are and not a reflection of what you truly embody (pun intended!).
Put a pause on feeling sorry for yourself because you really are not alone. Talk to your girlfriends, vent, share, use a trained professional – do whatever it takes to get it started. Just stop being a hypocrite and a bigot and STOP discriminating against yourself. Remember – YOUR positive body image starts with YOU.
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