Writing this post has been playing on my mind for a few years. I’ve started it several times but have never been able to finish it fully. This need began right after I read Alicia Keys’s post on Lenny’s Letter which was empowering, inspiring and encouraged me to think. It resurfaced when I was reading Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey – a self-published collection of poems that reflects society’s discomfort with various topics related to women. And another book – The Subtle Art of not giving a Fuck – to make me realize that this was long overdue and everyone needs to start telling their truth.
I tried to recall when this insecurity about my body crept in. I remember being a child that kept comfort above all else when it came to clothes. I wasn’t fazed that my friends had started to grow up and were aware about how they affected the boys we played with. I was blasé about the impact my menstrual cycle would have in my life when I first got it – only knowing that it would be a regular, troublesome monthly feature for the rest of my days. As I grew, I was less than curious about babies, didn’t think sex was enjoyable or a big deal and was very much part of a group of geeks and intellectuals in college. I passed my time playing Monopoly, having a book club and trying to get through my exams. I don’t remember having this insecurity about my body or face. Without obsessing, I had come to the conclusion that I couldn’t care less about my freckles, pimples or my thighs – all highlighted constantly by my mother who thought I needed to take care of them.
I started working at the age of 20, before my graduation results were out. I recall investing in a wardrobe and wearing eye liner in an effort to be presentable. I moved to my second job and that just bought on more clothes, make up and hair straightening. By the time I was interviewing for my third job, I looked like a product right out of a business magazine. But in this organization where I’ve spent 4 years, my weight started to fluctuate. Because of everyone dressing down in this new city, I opted for loose and comfortable clothes to work in instead of my skirts and dresses. Everyone noted the sudden change in weight and the dressing down in my attire which made me uncomfortable because I kept telling myself there was nothing to worry about but my skirts started getting tighter and my shirts were stretched. My face lost its sharp edges, my arms started to jiggle and there was a sign of puffiness creeping in.
I think I did start to care then. Every time I looked in the mirror, it was to frown at my shortcomings. For someone who had a large appetite and a love for food, I started to manage with fruit plates, dry fruits and home made meals. Trust me, that didn’t last very long. I then decided to exercise. Oh the woe! I had to drag myself out of bed and put on those sneakers way too early in the morning for my taste. I tried to do both. But for someone who likes to snuggle in a blanket and read, this was too much. I started to look at other girls who had better bodies and tell myself that I had to get there. I started to look at girls who were larger than me and thank God I wasn’t there yet. Who hasn’t given me unsolicited advice on how to lose the sudden weight I had gained? Who hadn’t told me multiple remedies to get rid of the pimples that didn’t seem to stop? The rules of beauty are strict and relentless – the media appreciates thinness and flawless. The fairness cream ads, the hair removal, the dark circles and the green teas were all rolling in money because there were people like me wanting to be someone I’m not.
We seem to live in a world of Facebook and Instagram posts where your life is a series of pictures and you are judged basis this. At the age of 27, I have my colleagues, friends and acquaintances getting married, having babies and going on vacations. And they all looked fabulous doing it. And what was I doing? I was working hard at a career telling myself that vacations were for later. When I got thinner. And I could wear those shorts that I’d seen in a store. Or when I hit this number in the weight scale. I admit, I went through this for too long. There was nothing better than applying a filter on a good picture of mine to post and get those comments/likes or to click a picture of food in a fancy restaurant that I had eaten. I would ensure the filters hid my scars, my smile was not too wide to see my gums and I looked comparatively thinner than I actually was.
After a year with these thoughts – I realized what I had become. I had, in essence, become a woman who was low on confidence, self-esteem and didn’t think I was good enough. It didn’t hit me like some lightning bolt. It was a slow progression of confused thoughts that gradually started to make sense. I realized I was body shaming in a mild sense but it was there, nevertheless. I didn’t decide I had to do something about it. Instead, I acknowledged that I had hit a low and no amount of moaning or whining would help. I would need to pull up my socks (literally) and decide what was my best body for myself. It’s a work in progress – this change of mind. It’s me telling myself, for every comment I encounter, that society has put this in their/my head. They have created these flawless standards and beauty products that will apparently fix it. They’ve also stuffed us with this concept self love allowing us to let go/ get unhealthy with an unwillingness to improve. Society wants me to pay for a gym membership, invest in diet food, party and travel for Instagram, check in or comment on memories that pop up on Facebook, window shop and add items to a cart of things that I really don’t need.
So I let it go.
I first got rid of my personal Instagram account. It was hard – ridding myself of all those good, filtered pictures. I opened a business account ensuring the pictures were only book covers/ books. I stopped shopping. I haven’t bought any form of clothing except what I truly need (undergarments/ socks and a jute bag) for myself. I invested in my library membership and a website to maintain and run as a project. I go for long walks every alternate day so that I can listen to music that I don’t get to listen to during the whole day. I invested in Netflix/ Amazon prime where I watch what I want to when I can’t read or write anymore. I don’t follow any person’s feed, life or post pictures of myself on any social media platform. I use Facebook to watch videos that are fun, interesting or informative OR to voice an opinion on a current issue I feel strongly about.
I am now perfectly content with having a family that loves me, with books I want to read, a job that pays the bills and a functioning website. I have people questioning my mother on why I have become a recluse or why they don’t see pictures anymore. But it’s liberating. I feel more emotionally stable unlike the oscillating moods (uplifting to morose) that I used to go through. I don’t discourage the pursuit of beauty. I love dressing up when I go out with friends and sometimes, there is no better feeling than the euphoria of having bought something really pretty. But I don’t crave it anymore. I’d rather pursue healthy living with a few days of indulgence every once a while. Disappearing from social media has been the best decision I have made in a long time. And I tell every girlfriend of mine that they are beautiful just the way they are – their scars, blemishes, wrinkles, laugh lines, tummies and thighs have their own stories to tell. I hope with more women starting to talk about this – we have more inclusion and break stereotypes
I don’t need new and shiny things. I don’t need likes, shiny hair, flawless skin and Maybelline. I don’t need the perfect photo with the right angle and sunlight that makes my eyes sparkle.
I don’t need validation anymore.
I need my truth. I love my scars. I know how to protect myself and pursue what makes my soul happy.