On the second day of joining a boarding school, I was missing my family but was very excited about what lay ahead. Years of reading Harry Potter had made me think that hostel life would be fun and full of adventure. I had dreams about wandering the hostel corridors on dark nights with a power-packed group of three friends, sneaking into restricted areas and of grand feasts like the ones at Hogwarts.
Little did I know that the reality of it all would be so different.
It was the day I had my first face-off with bullies. In schools, it’s simple – if you’re round and plump, they will call you ‘Moti’. This is an accepted and popularly practiced norm in Indian schools, and I’m sure in schools around the world. Following suit, I was nicknamed what I look like.
The mere sight of a chubby kid running around on the grounds disgusted my PE teacher. He shouted, “Ae, aata ki bori, tu rehne de. Bahar aaja (Hey, you sack of flour, let it be. Come off the field).”
I followed the instructions and left. I tried to ignore the jibe as a one-time thing.
Little did I know there was more to come.
The campaign had started. The wicked gang of class bullies now had their eyes on me. They began the campaign with name-calling. “Fatty acid” was among the first ones they came up with. Eventually, it shifted to ‘motu‘, ‘chotu’ and the list went on. They also drew funny cartoons depicting me on the classroom board. I vividly remember most cartoons had big circles and funny faces.
I also had to encounter slurs being hurled at me in the corridors. It was all very funny for this group of bullies – I could see the gleam in their eyes whenever they spotted me.
Little did I know these were hollow humans inside out.
Soon enough, I started to feel suffocated. The jibes, the sketches, the insulting looks, the fright and unresolved anger – it all started choking me. I was trying hard, to forget, to ignore, to live, to cry it out, but I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t.
I began to despise my body, my thick thighs, my round face, my swollen hands. I abhorred it all.
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I felt trapped and glum, almost like I was in a cage. I desperately wanted to be free. Then it struck me: What if I lose weight?
Little did I know in that moment of discovery, I was falling for the trap.
I had now come across a foolproof solution to my problem – a self-starvation diet. Avoid food as much as you can. Your body has enough fat stored. You can go on without eating for days. Convincing myself in despair was easy.
I started my cold war with food. Sometimes greens, sometimes chappati, sometimes porridge.
Little did I know I was deceiving myself.
Two months on the escapist diet, I lost 10 kilos. After another month, 5 more kilos were gone. Eventually, the name-calling stopped. They grew disconcerted by my existence. While I was happy, I wasn’t gratified. I wasn’t liberated.
Soon, my health started worsening. One fine morning, I found myself losing my consciousness during assembly.
I woke up in the medical room with a drip injected into my arm. The school nurse kept me under medical observation for one week. In that week, I was given enough food and enough time to introspect my behavioural patterns.
Little did I know that it was my time to heal.
It did not take long for me to put the two and two together and realise that I was abusing myself. I realised that losing weight was not an escape, it was a walk further into a deep tunnel. A walk into shame, hatred, anger, diffidence, anxiety and disgust.
While I was running away from the bullies, I was torturing myself. They were never at the losing end and are now still gaining their two minutes of fun from another subject. It was me who was always at the losing end. It was me who was ashamed of her body. It was me who lived through sleepless nights. So, if I am losing no matter what – why not lose in my favour?
This body is all I have, it is my only refuge.
From that day to this day, I am still untangling these weaves of self-loathing and self-doubt. But since then, I have had my moments of self-acceptance, moments of liberty, and countless happy mirror selfies.
Manvi Gupta is journalism Student and a committed reader