Brainstorming My Body-Image

I remember being one of two Indian kids at my primary school, and one of maybe five kids of color. I remember my best friends as clear as day, although I haven’t seen them in person since I was about eight years old. One of them was a girl, D, whose family is originally from Kenya, the other was a boy, A, whose family is originally from Hong Kong – his family owned the Chinese restaurant down the street from my house. They had older siblings like me, looked different from everyone like me, and always stood at the edge of the playground like me. They both went off to private school and left me to fend for myself – sad day. I was too embarrassed to ever tell them I missed them.

Disclaimer:  This article briefly discusses issues pertaining to relationship and sexual violence, so take care when reading, if it is something that is personal to you.

WAY BACK IN THE DAY:

I remember being one of two Indian kids at my primary school, and one of maybe five kids of color.  I remember my best friends as clear as day, although I haven’t seen them in person since I was about eight years old.  One of them was a girl, D, whose family is originally from Kenya, the other was a boy, A, whose family is originally from Hong Kong – his family owned the Chinese restaurant down the street from my house.  They had older siblings like me, looked different from everyone like me, and always stood at the edge of the playground like me.  They both went off to private school and left me to fend for myself – sad day.  I was too embarrassed to ever tell them I missed them.

I feel like this experience of being the odd one out made me queer, in a sense.  I wasn’t self-confident, didn’t feel pretty or cute like the other little girls and so I ended up being and feeling different.  I played soccer with the boys – I was one of the only girls they let play with them because they could tell I was different from the other girls ie. I didn’t have cooties because I wasn’t feminine.  I wasn’t feminine because I wasn’t confident enough to be.  My sister was more feminine, more conventional, more normal, and everyone loved to tell me how pretty she was.  A’s sister was our age and would frequently and explicitly exclude me from playground games because I was friends with her brother, and I was obviously not trying hard enough to fit in with the white kids.  Being excluded didn’t traumatize me; it’s just something I remember.

PUBERTY:

Right before puberty, I started developing vitiligo (lack of skin pigment) around my eyes.  My mum took me to the doctor to get camouflage cream (ie. prescription make-up) to cover it up because she knew I felt self-conscious.  Well, unsurprisingly, the camouflage cream didn’t exactly look flattering and everyone, especially the conservative desis at puja in the U.S., just thought I wore too much make-up for no reason and I was even more self-conscious.  I was also the odd Indian girl who started growing body hair before everyone else and my mum was really against shaving (until my 19-year-old hairy-feminist-self emerged, now she wishes I would shave!) so I definitely got made fun of for being hairy in between waxing appointments.  I was proud, though, when my desi self hit puberty way before any of the little white girls, and when I started college I stopped removing my body hair.

After moving to the U.S., I got to see a dermatologist who gave me a cream that brought back the pigment in my skin.  It took years but once I was finally fully brown again I was so happy that I wouldn’t have to wake up at 5am to put my makeup on anymore.  But during that period of time where I used camouflage-cream, the only person who really saw me without makeup (aside from my family) was my best girl-friend.  She also saw my huge blue birthmark and my stretch marks and convinced me that it was no big deal.  She was also the first person who I ever came out to and she was the best should-to-cry-on I ever had during my coming-of-age years.  I feel like my attraction to women stems from the urge I had to replace her when we had a “friend-break-up” during college.

This summer, one of my straight desi girl-acquaintances asked me if she could give me a makeover.  Honestly I have no clue why this little girl assumes I want to look like her, but whatever… she’ll figure out her own shit in time.  I now know that my life is not so disposable that I need to be anyone’s mannequin.

THE DREADED EXES:

I don’t think it is a coincidence that I started dating as soon as the vitiligo was gone, and I don’t know what it is that attracted me to the shallowest womanizer in… the Marching Band.  This first boyfriend coerced me into doing things I didn’t want to, and later left me because I was Hindu and he was Southern Baptist.  Religion was an issue because he claimed he was sinning every time he saw me… but not every time he slept with a girl behind my back?  He would frequently suggest that I dress more like his ex-girlfriends and told me I had a darker moustache than he did.  He’s engaged to someone now, and I wonder if she has a blonde moustache.  I don’t bleach my moustache anymore, and I don’t cover up my vitiligo (which seems to be coming back).  It’s such a relief to be bare.

My second boyfriend was and is the most emotionally manipulative and deceiving person I have ever known, and I see parts of him in everyone I meet.  Aside from his compulsive lying, manipulative and controlling behavior, he told me I needed to “get thick,” so naturally I was unhappy with myself for not being good enough for anyone.  I lost my appetite for food… not completely, but enough to say that I’m pretty sure I got “thick” the day I left him.

The first time I slept with a woman I had to have the lights out because, well, I had to.  I didn’t need for her to love me, but I needed her to not be repulsed by the body I had grown so accustomed to hating.  She was a butch-ish trainer at the local gym so I “knew” I wouldn’t be good enough for her.  I didn’t want her to see my stretch marks, my huge blue birthmark, and my “imperfect” brown skin.  Later, when I was in the Vagina Monologues, a fellow cast-member was telling a story about how strange it is that Indian women want the lights to be kept off when they lose their virginity.  I never went back to the Vagina Monologues, that’s just me.

THE CURRENT SITCH:

For most of my post-puberty life, I have had to leave rooms as soon as my father walks in.  I don’t know why, but I seem to have an allergic reaction to my father’s presence, his speech pattern, and his habits.  I get along quite well with him, but his physical presence in my space makes me sick.  I don’t know if my father’s presence reminds me of something that happened to me, something that happened to someone else (vicarious trauma), or if it is just a nonsensical phobia stemming from OCD, but it offends me when people think that I enjoy having this PTSD-like phobia.

My family has always acted like I am just different, like people who wash their hands too much or people who stutter when they’re nervous.  I’m sure it eases their minds to think it is something so trivial, but it gets in the way of everything and has made life very difficult. It is a disgusting grossed-out feeling that is worse than anything I can explain in words, and it comes up in the most random situations from sitting next to my father at the dinner table to sitting next to my partner on the sofa. Saving myself for women-only spaces has worked when I’ve wanted it to, but women can trigger the same reactions in me.

I have told my current partner exactly where I’ve been and where I hope to go.  So he knows that some times I want that true, genuine love and affection, and other times I can’t handle it.  It’s culture shock being fully loved, physically and emotionally.  I’m not accustomed to the unabashed compliments and care giving, especially from a man.  I get creeped out and defensive, as if he is trying to win me over with superficial sweet-talk.  But I also try to trust him, and give back the love he gives to me.

About the author

Anurag

Anurag is a queer, feminist, social worker-to-be. Currently residing in the cornfields of Illinois.  Fierce, emotional and reclaiming the brown-ness.