From the inception of our lives, we are exposed to specific things, which builds our early and deep-rooted relationships with them. Things like beauty, personality, and differences are based on caste, class, and other socio-economic sensibilities. The hunger for such relationships is not explicitly acknowledged, but the amount served is priceless and worldly. However, in the process of teaching and learning, nobody taught us to love ourselves. Most of us spent our childhood hiding behind the bush; while for some people, their childhoods could be very interesting and full of joy, that is not always the case. When adolescence hit me, my body and mind changed drastically. My mother stated, ‘ab tum jawaan ho rahe ho’ (now you are becoming mature), but she never told me that adolescence could be more severe than many other things. Children in the school teased me and called me different names like Bauna (Lilliput), Maiki (Womanly), etc. There were lots of confusing changes in my body; each thing seemed different than before and distinct from each other. I was just sure of one thing: that I was a male and related to others of my sex, mentally as well as sexually.
In terms of height, I stood at 4.5 feet when I was 15 years old, and I thought that I would not grow anymore, but to my surprise, I grew each year. My body started changing, my hands grew longer, my legs grew firm, and my shoulder and chest became broad. My neighbours’ always thought of me as the eldest and not the youngest in my family. The fascinating part was that I started getting a lot of male and female attention and I enjoyed it. This gaze attracted a lot of violence and abuse as well, both sexually and mentally. With passing time, I became aware of my choices and started taking a stand. Time passed and so did the triggers; my body changed more. I was now 18 years old and my height was 5.5 feet and my weight had jumped to 68.
One fine afternoon, when sitting with a cup of tea, Meera, my mother remarked, “You grew dramatically and became a man. Look at your shoulder. Arggh (she remarked sarcastically)!” I was so happy to hear the word ‘man’ attached to me for the first time, as all this while, I was ridiculed for not being man enough. My mind was happy for the time-being but my body was not. I started getting stretch marks on my chest and around the beltline. Previously, I’d wear a vest and roam around all summer, but suddenly I stopped. I started wearing T-shirts because they hid my stretch marks. I was so ashamed of it. This freaked me out because at that phase of my life I was a star on dating apps in Guwahati. These stretch marks, however natural, triggered me so much that I never took my clothes off when the lights were on, even if I was around my boyfriends or on dates. See, we all want to love ourselves, but our ways might be different. I loved myself in secret. I secretly adored the beauty of my body with its stretch marks and tan. Complexities such as these come in the way of when the world talks of beauty without scars. Time passed faster this time, but I remained insecure on the inside, while putting on a brave face.
I did not get good grades in class 12, so; I changed my stream to arts and took history as my major. During this graduation time, I fell in love with someone who then was in Australia, and the relationship happened mostly over the net. If I remember correctly, we used to be on call for 12 hours at a stretch while simultaneously doing our daily chores. After 6 months he visited Guwahati, where I live. I fell in love with him immediately. On our first night together, I was still reluctant to open up or take off my clothes. My insecurities about having stretch marks on my body were not gone yet. It took me months to level up and become open, but I realized that time does wonders. By the end of graduation, I became this person that I always wanted to be, the unapologetic me. No slut-shaming or hypocrisy would stop me. Things did not happen overnight. I clearly remember asking myself: Why dress up for somebody else, if not for oneself. Why put on make-up before meeting somebody, if that make-up is to try and impress somebody else. Why wear fancy clothes or put on fancy perfumes, if I already know that for some, my body odour would be heaven. Will they like me without all of this? If yes, then it is fine, and if not, then also it’s fine. I promised myself that I would not hide what I am even if people call me loud or opinionated. Their definition of me is not the truth, it is just a perception and the beauty of perception is that it changes with time.
My evolution affected my relationship; the dynamics changed with my partner and we broke up. Soon, I was about to be a PG student at Gauhati University. I was far more confident and hardly tried to impress people. I also observed that the first impression is never the last, but that it is the lasting impression.
I do not stand with people who body shame others, nor did I support such actions. I was called a bitch or an ‘attitude master’ because I never supported rampant misogyny and body shaming. I am currently about to finish my post graduate studies and I now understand that beauty and its meaning changes over time. What stays is you, your morals and values! I often tell my friends: “Speak to yourself, resort to the truth and imprint all lies, let this darkness sink in and the sun rise. Wait! Until the reality sets in.” By now, I had absorbed that beauty is subjective and it was a hard-won realization that I should accept myself. This acceptance takes time.
Today, I am no longer afraid to post bare upper body photographs of me. I don’t feel shy about taking my clothes off. I am not bothered when there are marks on my face. After all, none of these are alien to me or anybody else. I realized that beauty cannot be appreciated if personality fails to impress. I don’t look for temporary compliments anymore because I now realize that my mind and body are my universes. And, they need no compliments. Falling in love is a slow process and I am still exploring other ways of falling in love with myself.
So, yes, I can now firmly say that I love my body. I love my mind. I love me.