Saturday, February 23, 2008

An apologia for my thighs

I had a couple of peanut-butter-and-chocolate biscuits yesterday. A concerned friend told me I "should have some control", because I am capable of looking like "a goddess". Sure. Because getting off the carbs and onto a treadmill is the key to faith and world domination.
Skipping the gym and eating chocolate having thwarted my chance at divinity (only of the visually-appealing kind, though. a pity, but nevertheless), I've been wondering what it is that made me all defensive and angry at my friend. Our Indian goddesses aren't criticised for their belly, I was reading Sanskrit plays where the desirable woman's thighs were compared to banana trunks. I've got that metaphor down pat, promise.
I haven't read The Beauty Myth, but I'm curious to know why my responses to enjoying myself, to being comfortable in my skin - all wide circumference of it - is so ridden with guilt. I did come across this link about Wolf's book, though. It's messy but has some of the statistics that are in the book.
I am fat. I have a problem being fat, but it also bothers me that I should have this problem.
I refuse to go around telling myself that it is my "fault" that I am fat. It is not my fault that I enjoy eating food. It is not a fault that I have chosen not to adopt hunger as a life-mantra, but rather to indulge myself in the art of food, to be seduced by the wildness and variety of flavours and smells and colours that good food provides. My friend is proud of girls who measure out their intake in calories, who take only a spoonful of something sweet because it shows their "control". We are obsessed with the body, but I am yet to come across any woman, fat or thin, beautiful or plain - who is comfortable in her body. I don't know of a single woman who wouldn't change any one thing in her appearance, if she could. Prove me wrong if you will, and I will take comfort in your confidence.
When I was younger, I was also larger. I have grown up being fed on the concept of "thin is in". I was told that I will automatically be more beautiful, more attractive, more powerful, more of an achiever, most importantly, that I will be accepted more willingly - if my thighs are slim, if my stomach is flat. My teenage years were spent running (ok, ma, waddling) from one room to another, away from my mother mocking me for my flab, telling me I will never have a boyfriend, never be loved. I have grown up believing I am too large for love. I fought it then, it seemed too hollow, too hurtful to give in to. I didn't want love that was measured in proportion to the size of my hips. I didn't want to succumb to my mother's taunts - I fought back by refusing to fall in with her plans of sculpting a new, more socially acceptable, desirable daughter. I decided to disregard my body because it would make her mad, and it would make me hurt less at the humiliating paradox of being inadequate because I was too full.
But things didn't quite go according to book. I met men who loved me despite the girth, who loved me with all I came. I felt comforted by their acceptance of who I was. It was too unfamiliar to me. But the self-victimization of which so many - too many - of us are a part, caught up with me. I wanted to be perfect for those men who loved me. I thought if I fell in with these classifications of 'beauty', of "perfection", then I would make them happy. I thought I was doing it for them.
So I punished myself - I went without food, I ran, I walked, I swept floors, I did crunches, lunges, I pumped iron, I lived on soup and cigarettes. And the weight kept dropping. The lighter I felt, the closer to 'perfection' I got, the more deprived I felt, the more hollow, the more empty and unhappy, less liberated. Sure, I went shopping more often, but I also looked at myself more often, took the little things in life too seriously - thought twice before a dinner with friends, kept looking to see if my butt looked bigger or smaller than last week. Meanwhile, people were dying, kids were malnourished, and there I was, all proud that I had skipped dessert. Which would have been OK, if I had been happier, or healthier, but I wasn't. With every kilo I lost there was the discontent of finding that I still wasn't perfect, wasn't even near perfection, because I didn't have the perfect skin, the perfect nose, perfect mouth. I was not prettier than that girl at the movie hall the other day, leave alone the one in the movie. It wasn't about anyone else, it was about me not being ok with who I was.
I don't know where this self-hatred stems from. It's simplest to blame patriarchy, and perhaps also not completely unjust, come to think of it. I know a strong woman who has fought with poor body image all her life because it was the only resort of her emotionally weaker husband. He needed to make her feel small, to make her feel like she was too much where she should have been less. Less is more. A male friend's candour the other day:
i like slim people. because they look smarter, and and more agreeable to me. this is a notion that i have since i am born. and i cant change it.
Maybe it's the media's projection of unreal, impossible-to-achieve body images - airbrushed, botoxed, thighs vacuumed out, tummies tucked, food vomited, waxed, threaded, siliconed. Ripped apart. Stitched back up.
Then there's our cook, Sabita di. She's a large, beautiful woman, and one day when my mother (who obsesses about bodies, as much others' as her own) asked her, "Sabita, tumi eto kaj koreo mota hou ki korey? Onek bhaat khao?" she was quick to retort, "Ta bhaat khaabo na? Sharadin khetey khetey mori, bari giye duto bhaat na khele korbo ki? Mota roga tey kar ki aashe jaaye." Something to that effect, it was too long ago. Here was a woman who was blissfully unaware of what it is to be expected to conform to a particular kind of body - to be told that this is a desirable body, and this other one here, that's two sizes too large? that needs to be struck off the menu. Sabita Di diregards her body too, but she is not in denial of it.
Don't get me wrong, I don't support over-indulgence, I don't support gluttony, and I am not opposed to exercise. It is important, I feel destressed when I exercise. But to do it solely to conform to a popular conception of the body, of assembly-line women, all of them with ironed hair, tiny bottoms and flat chests - I will not fall into that trap. I'm doing it all the time, yes. But I want to get out of it, I need to get out of this constricting view of my body. My body is not bad, or ugly, or undesirable because it is not like a thousand other bodies. My body holds all my stories, my memories of touch, my experiences. It is mine to control, my domain. I want to live in it, not to try to run away from it. I want to be healthy, but not ashamed of who I am. So don't tell me about control, don't tell me I will be better if I'm two sizes smaller, because I'm pretty darned great anyway.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day a.k.a I still don't make any sense to you

[last lines]
Clementine: I'm not a concept, Joel. I'm just a fucked-up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. I'm not perfect.
Joel: I can't see anything that I don't like about you.
Clementine: But you will! But you will. You know, you will think of things. And I'll get bored with you and feel trapped because that's what happens with me.
Joel: Okay.
Clementine: [pauses] Okay.


I waited for that trite 'okay'. There is something very reassuring about how the film ends. We're all seeking acceptance, trying to come to terms. But the desire for sameness constantly clashes with the powerful allure of difference, of something new, untried, wild. Unfamiliar yet anticipated, dreamt about. Primal.
He didn't say it, at any rate. My imagined reality.