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.

29 comments:

panu said...

Why, why, why are you this convincing?

But I shall still go to that damned JIMKHANA because i want to keep myself fit. and lose weight because even after this i have rolls of fat around me. and because i wont be a slave to food. to any food.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Hmmm. Right now I'm on the Atkins. Which is nice because one can eat one' fill.

I equate fat with (a) low fitness and (b) low self-control. I'd eat all I wanted if I exercised enough and were really really fit.

But hey, I like your attitude!

J.A.P.

Dreamcatcher said...

Brilliant post.

thalassa_mikra said...

RR, here are some facts that might delight you as much as they delight me -

1. Crunches are the most useless exercise ever. They are based on the baseless theory of spot reduction and are too much effort for little gain.

If you want to strengthen abdomen muscles, yoga or pilates are equally good and not as tortuous as crunches.

2. Frequent moderate exercise is better than high intensity exercise. And brisk walking and dancing counts :).

3. Mass media beauty ideals make absolutely no sense. I once had a neighbour who fit the Western high fashion beauty ideal - she was blond, tall, super skinny and looked like Uma Thurman.

And none of the men I knew wanted to sleep with her because she was too skinny (I swear she chased a friend of mine for months and he kept saying no).

Another time, I was on a study tour in Romania with a bunch of students, one of whom was this tall, slightly chubby African-American woman in her late 30s.

Gosh, wherever she went men just swooned over her - she got the most attention at any bar even though the other girls in our group were slim and in their early 20s.

Why? Because she had a dazzling presence, a broad smile and knew how to have a good time.

Trina said...

you are lovely. you really really are, as ive always said. im the same size as you, roughly, and i genuinely believe we are both fucking gorgeous. in solidarity and admiration,

di said...

Humour us and read this, yea?

di said...

Ack I'd painstakingly posted two links. Who ate my links?

sandman said...

Load of tosh!

You are all kinds of beautiful.

Suki said...

Bravo!
And I shall keep up with the two-hour walks because it's nice to be nowhere chatting with a friend, shall keep up with the aerobics because it tires me out and makes me feel good and makes me breathe well enough to work better and sleep deeper.
And I will eat MORE because god help me but I need the energy I'm not getting! Thin may be in, but I'd prefer a little spare tyre to the bad mood I'm in because it's nearly 1 in the afternoon and I haven't eaten since morning.

Heh.
So I say keep up the gymming, but keep up the eating too :D. What's life without being stuffed to the gills on good food? Eh?

March Hare said...

Telepathetic jogajog mairi!

Or else, how would you know that I just came home after bunking my morning walk halfway through, because the legs - they protested too much?

I shall walk. And perhaps skip and do my share of sit-ups. But yes, I shall also eat. Generously. Because if I am thin, but depressed - what the f*** will I do with my 'beautiful' body?

Arundhati said...

try going clothes shopping with mummy dearest. every damn thing i try-on would "look much nicer on sister". because she's reed thin, silly. Gah!

We should go for lunch as a mark of protest.

Ron said...

Ive struggled with body issues all my life. Most of my insecurities, and confidence problems stem from the fact that I do not adhere to a the popular notion of "beautiful". After many MANY years of torturous exercise routines, and diets bordering on starvation I have finally come to terms with the fact that I will never have the kind of body that Im told is the ideal. But you know what? I recently also discovered that I do not care. Im good enough for me (and most of the guys Ive been with including Rahul) so there!!

Loved this post...lets meet up for a dessert session soon. What say? :D

Priya said...

Care about my body? Tchya! Last thing on my agenda. And let me tell you, I've always been comfy with my xs size (At 35, I'm finally a M in some brands, YAYAY). Ok the flat chest did start bothering a wee bit when men started complimenting my face and smile during the clandestine dates many moons ago. I couldn't be sure whether they were trying to make up for the deficit elsewhere:P Even if they were..I really couldn't care less. But I couldn't have put this better than you in words...brilliant post. Next time I'm in Cal, Mama Mia it should be... to discuss more on thunder thighs and ni-mai 's...ki bolish? :P

Opaline said...

I wouldn't mind being thinner but I don't mind being fat either. Fuck that, I DO mind but not badly enough to not eat, okay, fuck that too, I eat one square meal a day. But thats just how it is. I don't think I could stick to a routine diet but it feels good to get some exercise once in a while, no? And it's not the fat that rankles as much as the unfit.

mojo said...

totally...if everybody looked like everybody else its no fun....plucked eyebrows and straightened hair...ugh!!
i wouldn't mind gaining a few kilos but i dont bother with it too much...depriving yourself of food is the worst thing one can do to oneself...food is good, good food is even better, please do not stop eating....:D

kaichu said...

we have talks due.

panu said...

@ chu - it sounds like the beginning of a conjugal quarrel. If you get divorced, I can marry the two of you and live a bisexual bigamist's life ever after.

@ peep - woman come to princeton tomorrow. I have baked CAKES with chocolate and orange bits innit.

cummerbund said...

Nice blog. I know what you mean, even though I am on the other side of the spectrum, stick-thin, bone-sculpture more-like. You're quite right when you say that ALL women have issues with themselves period. But it's better to be a hag for oneself than die trying to be an idea for someone else. A man once told me that there's something glazingly beautiful about every woman: it's just about seeing 'her' for what she is. Truisms. Nice post.

zish said...

brilliant. brilliant. brilliant.

Rimi said...

Jahshala, how come this post didn't show up ALL these days? Moste odde, this.

Peep, ki boli, daroon likhechhish. I'm ever so glad to have gone through the whole process of feeling horribly fat, being miserable because I was too lazy to do anything about it, and not daring to wear anything but salwaar kameezes. At 23 I've walked through the inevitable fire, and with no help from self-help books or pro-size activism, I'm reached plus-size zen. And I've also joined yoga classes because as comfy as I might feel in my body (minus my tummy, it's fucking annoying to go around with it) I don't want a stroke at 32 like someone I know had.

The answer to self-images is so obvious, I'm astounded more people don't get it.

What I still have a problem with is being considered attractive. I can't see how that seems to happen from time to time. But I suppose like Swati's friend, all that laughter does the trick ;-)

Sam said...

Ah well!! likeyou i too used to give a damn about weight issues.. but of late what with a little more knowledge what those rolls of fat are doing to me starting with a high BP, i'm really taking notice now.. the prob is.. the more i try to shed.. the more i gain!! :/

Tygr Tygr Burning Bright said...

i will have you know that well padded women are more comfortable than women whose bones hurt you when you try to hug them. and you are not fat. you are svelte. and if you really do have a bit to spare(i dont think you do, all thats necessary to make a peep is there) i will be glad to take it off you.

Dhruva said...

I still say. You're not...thick...

hehe. cheers to you, you $%@$#@&!@#!

=D

WHAT'S IN A NAME ? said...

This post should have featured on every newspaper which ran a story on 'Women's Day'. Take a bow, Ma'am. You seem to be the epitome of "For liberated women we first need women to be liberal to themselves" principle.

Linkin u up at my blog. Could I ?

Sunday. said...

The most annoying thing isn't the fat, is it? Its the clothes, don't you think?

And I canNOT relate to people who find exercising a pleasurable activity. Tellmehow?

But you're smoking, really.

Macadamia The Nut said...

Gosh! Consider yourself 'virtually' hugged by me! ;)

I loved your post and YOU are SO damn right!

It irritates me when people equate beauty with weight. I've seen rail thin people who face ressembles a coconut scraper and yet are considered *puke! puke* sexy. EW!

Sometimes I think that we are more concerned with what the proverbial 'they' think than what WE genuinly want.

For a long time now, I've been living for ME. Doing what I love, and not what my neighbour's dog thinks I shoud do. As long as it doent hurt anyone else why should it matter.

:D

kaichu said...

i love you, know that?

rainbeau_peep said...

panu,
Mairi. I'm not dissing exercise. I'm NOT. I just don't want to measure out my intake in spoonfuls. I want to eat what I like, when I like and not think, "This chocolate is going to make me ugly."

J.A.P.,
A diet that cuts out one food group entirely and concentrates on cholesterol-increasing proteins and fats? Let me know how it went. I want my bread just as much as I like my meat. So no diets for me. Although I've been denying the existence of chocolates for the last 3 days.
Baby steps.

dreamcatcher,
Thenkew :-]

thalassa_mikra,
I know what you're talking about. I feel so encouraged by this friend who lives in London. She's large and loving it, and her men have always loved her - with the weight and everything. She used to fret about body image while she was in India. But now she's confident about herself and keeps telling me to stop obsessing! Self-confidence does wonders to your looks, I think.
Indian men are so ... inadequate in this one respect. With their narrow notions of what is beautiful and what isn't. I can still get away, probably, because I'm fair-ish. So I probably look like every good Indian boy's mummy - or their notion of what their child's mummy should be. :-| I don't know. It's worse when you fall in love with someone who obsesses over body image. Ugh.
Look at me rant.

trina,
you are a size and a half smaller, but you know what? I do think we're pretty darned awesome, actually. :-]

di,
dood. gimme some credit. I'll eat many things, but links is not one of them.
You could post it again, yea? I don't have comment moderation, probably never will. So whatever you write stays.

sandman,
dhus.

suki,
Attagirl! This is exactly what I mean, you know!
Butbutbut. 2 hours walking PLUS aerobics?
I admire you. Don't skip breakfast, please?

march hare,
Lol. Tell me about it. I go to the gym when I run out of excuses not to go. It's just.so.boring.
You skip and do sit-ups and keep eating. Because you are too cute and must be the way you are for the rest of, at least, my life.

bob,
lunch. hmph. i'm sneering at the idea. i have not so much as seen the tiki of you in seven hundred years.
but yea, clothes shopping. try going with my mother. She thinks everything I try on would look better on her.
What sucks is that she's right.

ron,
You're lucky to have found a man who loves you for your body as well (I have seen photo. You're effing hot). Most of my insecurity probably stems from being with men who have a problem with my body. Or at best, a grudging acceptance of it. Which is nutty, because the men I'm NOT with, like me (or more) irrespective of my weight.
Life's little ironies.
Yes. Nothing is more fulfilling than a bunch of girls who love food sitting and chatting over tiramisu. Seriously.

priya,
Lol, it's a date! I have a skinny friend who keeps complaining about being underweight. But then she consciously doesn't eat, so I've always thought she wants to be skinny. Me, I'm fat and don't even have a nice rack to make up for it. Which makes me all the more disproportioned, because aren't large women supposed to be well-endowed?

opaline,
I think it's the fat more than the fit, for me. Because how can you really tell how unfit you are unless... I dunno ... you go trekking or something. My stamina isn't so bad, despite the moderate-heavy smoking. But it sucks to not look good in pants and a tee. Something as basic as that.
You keep quiet anyway. You're gorgeous.

mojo,
You got that right. I used to pluck my eyebrows (well, did it thrice), but I stopped because the pain was just not worth it. I don't want to look assembly-line. Having to wax is bad enough.
But you. I have seen you. You are tall and svelte and dreamy.
Tall people. :-[ They have so much more space to store the fat. on a vertical plane, i.e.
To be tall and NOTfat. What an improper utilization of space. :-D
Ok, seriously, I'm bullshitting.

kaichu and panu,
we have had talks since. and i didn't eat cake.

cummerbund,
works only in theory. there's always a reference point. a mean. that point is all fad-driven and keeps shifting. And we fall for it every time. That's what I'm taking issue with.
But I loved what your friend had to say. :-] Where are all these men in my life?

zish,
thanks.thanks.thanks!
*but i'm still fat-fretting. so, entirely pointless therefore*

rimi martini,
You're fishing for compliments, right? Beeyatch. I have seen you in a mini-skirt and you looked saxay. Sure, you're fat, like I am. But lots of men find us attractive. The problem is, when you start asking yourself, "what's wrong with these men?" and DON'T ask yourself what's wrong with the thousands of others who think fat is automatically unsmart and ugly.

sam,
Pretend that, dark chocolate? It was never THERE.
[It makes you cranky with withdrawal. But it's something.]

tygr,
Such aye pritty. You're thin but. Very, very thin. Painfully thin. You're everything you say a woman should not be.
But then, you're not a woman, are you?
[Sorry, I'm running late and ranting without thinking.]

Lily,
You're thick-headed. Come home.

what's in a name,
Thanks, I'm sure. But you have no idea. :-D
I'm too low on self-confidence. The post was a reaction against my own problems with my body. Problems which, despite the post, remain.
But it feels good to have convinced you! :-D

sunday,
I am. Heavily. I'm a heavy smoker. That could be interpreted in so many ways and they'd all be true.
Goddammit, I'm SO late right now, I'm just writing mindlessly!

macadamia,
Lol. I've never been much concerned about the neighbour's dog. He seems to like me anyway.
I wish I could live for myself. I do it sometimes. But because I'm also all the time trying to conform, there are periods of unhappiness. Disaffection? I'm so glad you've managed to overcome all that. It takes more strength of mind than I have, perhaps. Let's see.

kaichu,
wotakando. :-o

Nimpipi said...

immediately funny, but what a lovely, totally identifiable-with post!

(hi:)