How My Family Changed the Way I Saw Myself and My Body

The idea of beauty is not open to interpretation.

Rather, it is enclosed within the curves of a particular body type and is one that has been reinforced in my family for as long as I can remember. And unfortunately, even after spending years trying to rid myself of this dysfunctional value system, I still can’t face the mirror before leaving home.

Sometimes, I wonder what it’s like growing up in a house where you aren’t fat shamed constantly.

And mind you, comments that usually entail the message that you’re overweight aren’t as aggressive. It’s those petty, diminutive jabs that are supposed to be jokes. The entire worth of my existence, reduced to the expansive scale of my waistline.

This stems from pop culture as well.

In fact, even reading books, at a certain level, has become a harrowing experience – all my favourite female protagonists are pretty and petite. Movies and TV shows deal another massive blow at my dwindling self-confidence. I wanted to be Hermione Granger when I was ten-years-old, but I knew back then just as I do today, that I could never look anything like her.

Also read: Size+: ‘My Body is My Business’

I guess it hasn’t been all that bad.

After all, we’re witnessing a rising awareness about body positivity as I write this.

Movies like The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants and Hairspray were a blessing in my early teens – a time I’d really put on weight due to my deteriorating mental health. Imagine being emotionally vulnerable and, on top of that, having to worry about how your thighs look. It makes you feel absolutely worthless. I don’t even want to recall the kind of comments I had received from my own parents, let alone my extended family.

Even though I had supportive friends, access to the right information and the knowledge that I’ve come a long way since, I still can’t seem to face myself in that suffocating trial room – and I don’t understand why.

I deem myself to be a failure because my body doesn’t adhere to conventional standards of ‘beauty’, and this isn’t something I’ve heard recently. No, it’s something I’ve been telling myself. I’ve internalised the same stereotypes I criticise.

Also read: YRF’s ‘Mahi Way’ and the Case for Progressive Indian TV

Believing in what you preach seems like a long journey to embark upon. Every time I go shopping, I can’t muster the courage to buy a pair of blue jeans. Beauty standards have reduced us to inanimate objects, and it’s not just those tabloids or fairness cream ads that render our self-worth irrelevant. I feel like it stems from out of our own homes and festers in our minds.

However, we can try to educate our parents about how their nitpicking is absolutely pointless. I can’t promise that it will get better because I, myself, don’t know. All I know is I tried – I really tried to change this mentality at home and in theory, the response has been positive.

Yet, all I remember of my farewell is getting ready in that wine-coloured saree.

I was standing in front of the mirror and feeling pretty for just one moment as my mom whipped out her phone to take a picture.

The first thing she said: “Beta you look nice, but you’d look better if you lost a little more weight.”

Vani Sharma is a college student trying to navigate about this world
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty