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A quick primer on how to deal with body image issues in this bad, bad world of ours.
By Amrita Rajan
Life as an Indian woman is riddled with downers. If they’re not trying to kill you, rape you or talking down to you, then people are constantly telling you how to live your life or pressing fake condolences on you for being such a wretched disappointment. But let’s say you’ve somehow managed to find a pocket of sanity to live out your life and populated it with awesome people who’re absolutely supportive. Now all you need to do is get those voices in your head to shut up.
You know them – the ones that grow and feed on a million advertising jingles, Bollywood item songs and the casual conversations of your insensitive guy friends. They tell you your lips are too thin, your hips are too wide, your legs are too short, and ewww! look at that cellulite and hahahah! are you really going to wear those jeans with that muffin top hanging over it? I mean, if you look closely, it’s not even a muffin top, it’s a proper paunch. This is why you have no friends and can’t get a promotion and your husband doesn’t love you and – STOP!
Take a moment off from beating yourself up and read:
I have a theory. When people criticize your figure, obviously you feel bad about yourself. But the greater pain is your subconscious recognition of the fact that this person has broken a social pact with you. They have crossed a line and said something to you that they should not have. Worse, they are going to get off scot free because you can’t really argue with them since you share their low opinion of you.
Well, now it’s your turn. Nod your head mournfully and accept their blow. Then lean over and mention whatever it is that they are most sensitive about: their thinning hair, the bunion on their foot, the scraggly hairs sprouting off their chin. Remember to be as thoughtful and concerned in your delivery as they were when they were shooting arrows into your self esteem. After all, you’re all friends! Right?
Now that you know how to handle the undermining frenemies around you, what about all the one-way communication constantly harping on your weight issues? Magazines and media narratives that tell you your stomach is too flabby, your butt is too saggy, your arms are too jiggly… in short, nobody wants to have sex with you. Ever.
Well, look around the internet for a few behind-the-Photoshop stories. Those impossibly perfect images they try to sell you as ‘natural’? Lies. Nobody looks like that, not even the models in those photoshoots. Do you even know what goes on in a photoshoot? Let me tell you, if you had a dedicated team of experts to do your makeup and hair every day, taking a couple of hours to highlight all your best features or give your face an entirely different contour, and then had a person whose only job was to magically clear your complexion, erase any extra curves and actually reassign the proportions of your body (shorten your torso, lengthen your legs, slim down your neck, etc) – then you too would look exactly like your body ideal. But until they invent Photoshop for real life, take a good long hard look in the mirror, decide what your best features are and search for a makeup tutorial so you can learn how to accentuate them. It’ll make a world of difference.
So you don’t like your body and maybe your passive aggressive friend or relative is constantly hurting your feelings by pointing out just the things you hate the most. But imagine if you were Aishwarya Rai.
For years, all you’ve heard is how beautiful you are; people from around the world are tripping over themselves to describe your physical perfection. And then… your weight becomes a national scandal. Scratch that, it becomes an international scandal! Can you imagine? Tabloid after magazine after website after news channel debating endlessly about whether it is nice or not to call you a chubby while gleefully displaying photographs of you shot from the most unflattering angles when previously you didn’t even know you had an unflattering angle.
Perfection comes with its own drawbacks, my dear.
I would like to introduce you to some other people who couldn’t stop criticizing their body parts. Eventually, they decided that they had to do something about it. Here are the results.
“Oh, that’s not me,” you think to yourself. “I don’t want to do all that anyway. I just want this one thing fixed and then everything will be okay.”
Do you really think those people thought they were going to end up looking like that? The plastic surgeon’s office sits at the bottom of a slippery slope.
Do you have a personal soundtrack? Every woman needs one. It reminds you how awesome you are, it gives a spring to your step as you navigate your city’s impossible traffic, and it drowns out that negative person who lives in your head. It could be any song that empowers you. Something with tempo and style, that delights you.
The first song I turned into my personal anthem as a little girl was Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai from Guide. “I am a flood or a storm” – an elemental creature and nobody gets in my way! I still get a rush of positive energy whenever I hear it. My favorite as of this weekend is Flawless from Beyonce’s new album. “Bow down, bitches!” I sing to myself as I struggle to find a foothold in the jam-packed train during rush hour. “We flawless, ladies tell ‘em I woke up like this!”
Every beat has a counterbeat. Find the one to the critic in your head and put it on repeat.
You know what’s easy as pie? Standing in front of a mirror and criticizing yourself. “My lips are too big, my hips are too wide, one of my breasts is bigger than the other…” Much more difficult is to find the things you like about your body.
“But I don’t like anything!” you wail. Well, nobody said it was going to be easy. Let this be your challenge – every day when you stand in front of your mirror beating yourself up for not looking like Deepika Padukone, you have to find at least one thing about you that you like. Maybe you have elegant hands or pretty feet; perhaps your teeth are in excellent condition or your fingernails are perfect. You have to find one thing. And when you do, you have to draw attention to it.
Find your puzzled husband and point out the elegant arch of your eyebrows. Tell your best friend about your amazing hair day. Inform your mother about the radiance of your skin. The trick about appreciation is that people forget to do any in the rush of everyday living; the thing about self-esteem is that it falls just a little further every day it spends in silence.
So get out there and love yourself out loud. You’ll be shocked how many people were just waiting to chime in chorus.
Disclaimer: This article is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek look at the common issue of women being unhappy with their bodies.
*Photo credit: Crystal Coleman (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
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