Body image. They are such simple words with one universal definition, yet you wouldn’t come across two people with the same story to tell. Our own perception of how we look and how this makes us feel is usually not a topic that is spoken about, whether it’s because we haven’t got anyone to tell, or because our stories don’t seem worth sharing. And that’s how I feel, typing this introduction, with no idea as to how the next 800 words of this blog post are going to go. It’s scary to put yourself out there and talk about the things you’ve hated about yourself or been most ashamed of. But I’m going to do it; and I hope that this gives you the strength and courage to do so too.
My experience with the RAP project has definitely made me feel inspired to open up about some of the things that I have personally dealt with. After hearing Allison speak about the unrealistic beauty standards that the media presents to us and listening to some of my peers’ own stories about body image, it’s made me a lot braver to say things I never had before. During the talk, I heard stories about people feeling insecure about their biracial backgrounds, not wanting to get a tan because it would look unflattering and stories of my peers struggles with weight from an early age. At the time I wanted to say something too, and I regret not doing so, but having the pressure of choosing what to say, with everyone in the room watching me did not exactly present itself as the perfect opportunity for me to express myself.
Growing up as a 4th generation Malaysian Indian I was a chubby kid – it’s a fact – but as a 13 year old I couldn’t bring myself to say it. Yes, you could make fun of me all you wanted and pull at my cheeks or poke my belly fat, but you could not get me to admit that I was anything other than a ‘healthy’ weight.
Looking back, I was in denial. My stomach would form three thick rolls when I sat, I had cellulite on my legs and my arms were nowhere near as skinny as my friends’. I still remember bunching up the fat on my stomach between my tiny hands almost every single day, and wishing that whatever I had managed to scoop up would one day magically disappear.
I would hate shopping because I knew that every store I went into, I would have to try on clothes that were larger than the recommended size for my age. My mom would constantly harp on about how I needed to get outside more and trade in my Oreos for an apple – not a chance! Group pictures were my biggest fear because I knew that there wasn’t any kind of angle or lighting that could ‘fix’ the disaster of my body. Every photo was another bit of evidence proving that I was fat, a mocking voice saying ‘I told you so’. So yeah, I guess I knew that I was fat, but there was no way you were going to get me to admit it.
Going through this did not make my childhood easy. My mom was always super weight conscious and didn’t exactly send the best body positivity messages to me as a child. From as early as seven I remember her trying to put me on diets, telling me that she was worried I was going to grow up to be fat…She would also let me know every time she thought I had gained a bit more weight. Now that I think about it, I can tell you that there are dozens of memories that I have that are to do with my weight. The first thing I think about when I think of 11th birthday party, is a memory of mom telling me that I shouldn’t have any ice cream because the dress I was wearing, that she had only recently bought, was getting a little snug. I also very clearly recall sitting on her bed, i’m not exactly sure when, but she was telling me that when I grew up, she didn’t want my body to be any larger than hers. Why couldn’t she have told me that she wanted me to be independent, or charismatic or authentic or tenacious instead? Why did it matter to her so much whether or not I was skinny? I remember being laughed at at tennis training because I’d always be the last to finish the warm up, or being the only girl in dance class who wasn’t able to do the splits. So yeah, it kind of sucked being a fat kid, but it wouldn’t have been as difficult if the people around me didn’t let me think it was something that defined me. Even though I don’t feel as bothered by these things as I used to, it makes me question why I was allowed to spend so much of my childhood being this hurt.
One day, I decided I didn’t want to be the ‘fat friend’ anymore, I didn’t want my weight to be the topic of conversation at family events and I certainly didn’t want to hear another comment about what I should and should not be eating. I was tired of crying myself to sleep over the numbers on a weighing scale and I was tired of not being happy. Fast forward to today, I’m fifteen years old and no longer carry the weight that seemed to have been both physically and emotionally weighing me down throughout my childhood. So I made it…Right?
If I thought that losing weight by eating healthier and exercising was going to get people to be any nicer to me about the way my body looked, I had made a mistake. I had expected, or at least hoped, that whatever sense of satisfaction and accomplishment I had achieved would not be ruined by what everyone else around me thought.
Now, my brother tells me I need to eat more, and just last week my grandma told me that my face had grown so thin, it looked like my eyes were popping out of my head. My weight is still the topic of conversation at family events. In the past my family would comfort me, saying stuff life, don’t worry you have time to lose weight, it will be a while still before you marry…As if I would consider marrying someone who considered my weight to be a deal breaker. Now, they crowd around me, smiling as they lift my arms and say ‘You’re so thin! Are you on a diet?’ or ‘Don’t lose any more weight it won’t look nice!’
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that one.
That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy in my new skin. I’m much closer to being able to say that I love my body, and that seemed impossible to me only about 4 years ago. The only thing I with is that the time period in which I was chubby had not taken away from my self esteem so much. I wish I could have been just fat without having to agonise over it every moment. I wish my weight had been just another part of my identity (not the only thing that defined me) similar to the way that my skin is brown and my birthday is two days before valentine’s day. These are just facts that shape me but do not define me.
Maybe if our society wasn’t so repulsed by fatness, maybe if women weren’t portrayed in the media the way they are, I would have felt less insecure. But unfortunately I am affected by magazine covers and fashion ads and by my best friend’s most recent post on instagram.
After having been through the whole process of going from chubby to pretty skinny, I can tell you that no matter what size you are, people are always going to find a way to tell you you’re not good enough. If you are struggling to be happy with the size of your waist or the fat on your thighs, just be reminded that there is so much more that defines you. People can say what they want…no matter how hard we try we can never make them stop, so we kind of just have to stop listening. As depressing as it may sound, we can never win in the eyes of society so we have to stop trying to win and accept that life is not a competition.