I was born underweight. Just a simple adjective, isn’t it?
But it came to define my life.
Coming from a Punjabi family meant I needed to look a certain way. What’s a Punjabi woman without her body as proof of her khaata peeta khandan, anyway? The women in my own family have full bodies with defined curves, and then there’s me. A stick thin, always underweight girl who can’t seem to put on any kilos.
During my growing years, my dadi would make sure I eat six meals a day. Placing me on her lap, she would tell me I’m lucky to be born with a good metabolism but looking healthy is also important. “Kam se kam mere jaise moti toh nahi ho par apni khuraak ka khayal bhi karo,” she would say while feeding me with her own hands.
By the time I reached puberty, things became slightly difficult. Like any teenager, I was exceptionally conscious of the way I looked. Hence, when my peers called me a hanger or suggested I try weight gaining milk powder, the understanding that somewhere I need to change my body to be accepted stuck into my conscience.
And it stayed there, much after puberty was over.
You see, back then I was sure- my thin frame made me ugly.
While I felt ugly for being too thin, the same girls who liked to refer to me as a hanger had their own issues. Some of them struggled with pimples and some from the aftermath of popped pimples. While there were few who hated the sight of their love handles, there were some who struggled to squat for a conventionally good butt. Mind you, we were all girls in our teenage years, spewing poisonous body shaming remarks at each other and secretly hating our own selves.
As more time passed, I realized the problem of being uncomfortable with your body wasn’t just a teenage issue. Generations of women suffered from it. My mother, both my grandmothers, the neighbour’s daughter and the house-help, all these women had been made to believe they were less than perfect.
I grew up in a time where your own reflection was your worst enemy. The mirror only showed the flaws, never the pretty side. And hence, the women I absolutely loved suffered mental torture everyday.
Their excessive melanin was a side of ugliness.
If, they were too fair, they looked pale.
Their posteriors could never be shapely enough.
They even believed that pimples wasn’t just a result of hormones but a sign that your body hated you.
They were taunted for having breasts too small but also breasts too large.
They were either too thin or too fat.
The same grandmother whose lap I had found refuge in believed she was less than beautiful because of the flesh in her thighs that had raised three generations of children.
The women came to be shamed for what they ate, because it was too much and at times, it was too little.
Soon enough, they turned against each other. Pointing out the flaws in a fellow female’s body.
And then there were slightly more serious cases like me: a slip into depression because of a lack of validation.
It may sound shallow but I was brought up in a world where a woman’s body was where her whole personality began and ended. You’re either conventionally pretty or you’re nothing.
But I forgive them. I forgive all the girls who haven’t been comfortable with my boney frame and those who thought my hair was too short and those who had a problem with my dusky skin. You’re all forgiven because in my short 22-year-old life, I’ve learnt that I’m never going to be perfect.
But you see, this time I’m sure: your definition of pretty doesn’t make me ugly.
In fact, there are multiple definitions of what we all find beautiful. And ladies, on days when your body doesn’t correspond with that definition, change the definition, not your body.
Your skin colour is you.
Your body is perfect in all proportions because we do come in different shapes and sizes. How lucky are we to be so unique!
Your pimples will go away and if they leave scars, you embrace them as an addition to your beautiful body.
Your breasts, small or big or sagging or perky, are perfect. Don’t listen to boys who tell you otherwise.
There is nothing too thin or too fat. The truth is that we’re our own person. Our curves, or the lack of them, don’t define us.
You eat what you like. It could be a whole kilo of fries or a good amount of Greek yogurt. But eat for yourself, not for those who deter you.
But most of all ladies, acknowledge the beauty in each other. Remind each other to be comfortable with themselves and to step out of definitions of pretty.