In lockdown, a summer without another gaze, meeting my body without criticism

Nowadays, my kitten’s is the only opinion that matters. And he has no concept of judging someone based on their body.

Aarushi Agrawal July 04, 2020 12:02:59 IST
In lockdown, a summer without another gaze, meeting my body without criticism

This essay is part of our 'a summer without...' series. Read more here.

*

“Aaru, you’re so fat,” said someone close to me, confirming the deepest fear 14-year-old me had about my attractiveness. She wanted to borrow my skirt, but it was a size too big. She gathered up the excess fabric of the waistband for me as evidence.

Over the years, I realised that she was also a child at the time. But in the decade since, I have never warmed up to skirts. They’re for the flat-tummied, I’d tell myself. And once I learnt, theoretically, that body shape needn’t influence one’s fashion choices, skirts just weren’t appealing.

Given who I am as a person, they simply weren’t my thing.

*

“Oh, you’re fat, I didn’t realise,” said a boy 17-year-old me had met on Tinder, based on my social media photos. I instantly worried about what he’d be thinking, since we’d shared a joke about loving Nutella earlier. Would he recall that in a different (read: disgusted) light now?

He still spoke to me and he still wanted to meet me, but the tone of his texts had changed. I didn’t feel special anymore. I felt disposable. And I felt so afraid of my fatness ever again putting distance between me and someone I considered cute. So I stopped using dating apps.

Given who I am as a person, they simply weren’t my thing.

And because for a teenager matters of the heart are amplified, this one also had a double effect. I told myself that I didn’t like how I looked in photos. Over time, I just became a person who doesn’t like taking or being in photos.

Given who I am as a person, they simply weren’t my thing.

*

“You need to lose some weight ha, what is this?” said a genuinely concerned, well-meaning friend to 19-year-old me on New Year’s Eve. I told him it was fine because I’d been exercising every day. He wasn’t having those excuses.

I spent most of that year wearing a jacket to college every day. It was a fashion statement, my personal style. I had to wear the jacket because most of my wardrobe had sleeveless and spaghetti tops. But that’s what I’d been wearing on New Year’s Eve, and his face had literally contorted at the sight of my arms. Over time, spaghetti and sleeveless tops weren’t as fun as say, three-quarter length sleeves.

Given who I am as a person, they simply weren’t my thing.

*

Through all of this, I kept waiting for kind words that never came. I tried looking for someone I could look up to; not curvy, not a person with “weight in all the right places,” just straight up plus-size, and still considered beautiful. In movies, television shows, magazines, on social media. I didn’t find her. Instead I saw size zero become a fad. I saw around me, girl after girl, all thin and pretty. How are literally all of them doing it, is this a joke? I wondered.

I even turned to books, the single most important part of my life, for solace. But based on a random online suggestion of a book with a ‘fat protagonist,’ what I came upon was erotica where they used food as foreplay and the man actively fetishised the woman’s round belly, and reading that as a teenager I just felt like a deer looking into headlights.

*

“Yeah you got good marks and all, but now you need to focus on your weight,” said someone extremely close to 22-year-old me.

You make it sound as though how I look is the only thing that matters, I retorted, because by now I’d learnt how to express my anger at such comments.

“Yes! The first impression makes all the difference in this world,” was the exasperated reply. He had no time for all my “feminism crap”. He meant well and I just needed to listen.

I rolled my eyes, because I’d learnt to dismiss such words as societal conditioning. But it didn’t matter. Because by then, I had unyieldingly, expertly internalised that voice.

For anything that went wrong, anything that happened in life that I couldn’t make sense of, any insecurity, my mind kindly weaved a narrative that connected that event to my weight, constantly blamed my body. And that became the only reasonable explanation, especially in cases where I couldn’t obviously see an alternative.

Why didn’t she offer me the food when she did everyone else at the table? Because she can see I’m fat and has decided I don’t need more. (Helpful hint: it was meat and I’m vegetarian.)

And so it went.

*

When I learnt the concept of ‘body image,’ I also learnt that body image issues are a very common thing. Most people have them. If it’s that common, it’ll go away on its own as I grow up, I thought. And I focused on every other part of life.

But then there I was, years later, finally facing my body. Instead of going away, my body image issues had spent the years seeping into every part of me. I’ve had mental health challenges but suddenly, out of nowhere, my body had become my biggest challenge.

Over the past decade, my body has varied from admirably fit to worryingly overweight. But even with the former, the nagging criticism that I need to lose just a little bit more weight has always been there. My arms and thighs could be lighter, my stomach could be flatter. Even as a I dig up old photos and giggle at how thin I was, the related memories associated with looking at the mirror revolve around ‘not quite’ and ‘just a little bit more to go’.

*

Today, my body most certainly falls in the ‘worryingly overweight’ category.

But for the first time in a long, long time, I am meeting my body without criticism, and noticing it for what it is instead of seeing the fatness I expect, instead of feeling the disappointment I’ve come to expect from myself. I’m understanding the wise words I’d been asked to repeat some time ago: “I’m not fat, I have fat.” I’m being kind to my body.

Because being in lockdown for this extended period has been an extraordinary sigh of relief for my body.

For the first time in a long time, I’m experiencing a summer without condemning every part of my body. A summer without obsessive discussions about beach bodies. A summer without forcing myself on a diet, checking my weight every day, and wondering if the whole season will go by before I actually have a decent body. A summer without stoles and jackets because there’s no one to gawk at the size of my arms through tank tops. A summer without worrying about whether what I’m wearing is ideal for my body type, focusing instead only on comfort.

Nowadays, my kitten’s is the only opinion that matters. And he has no concept of judging someone based on their body.

— Image ©sketchify via Canva.com

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