I grew up hating my body. My waist wasn’t slender enough, my bust wasn’t petite enough, my thighs weren’t toned and my legs weren’t long. I vividly remember calling myself “soup can-shaped” in a fit of frustration. Once I entered my teens, the feeling of not being enough was overwhelming. Classmates around me were already discussing how painful waxing had been for them. Facebook was filled with their pictures in jean shorts and tank tops. Everyone simply looked better. The problem didn’t lie in their choice of fashion, it lay within me. I had never considered body hair to be an issue but now, the mere sight of fuzzy hair on my skin was nauseating to teen-me. Puberty had unleashed a carnival of hormones in my body, bringing with it the less than enjoyable circus of zits, acne, pimples, and a faint moustache that crept up ever so discreetly and then all at once. Teachers, relatives, strangers wouldn’t leave a single opportunity to remind me to at least act like a woman, if I was going to continue not looking like one. I felt disgusted by myself. I felt like I was failing at being a woman.
So far, the men I had dated had contributed to this as much as anyone would expect from adolescent boys. The nicer ones tried reminding me that I looked ‘special’ (to me, it was a codeword for ‘ugly’), and the more selfish ones didn’t bother.
Despite my inner turmoil and dwindling self-confidence however, for the first time in my life, I fostered valuable female friendships. I learnt that they were struggling with the same difficulties I was dealing with and yet, I couldn’t understand why they would consider themselves unattractive. As cheesy as it sounds, to me, they were stunning. Unfortunately, I was hell-bent on not putting two and two together and treating myself with the same kindness. I’d skipped the ‘practice what you preach’ chapter in moral education class. It is, of course, easier to be compassionate toward loved ones than towards oneself. There was no way I could stop feeling inadequate and undignified; I disguised my shame as playful modesty.
Amidst my newfound group of friends, I grew particularly closer to one of them. Eventually, when we started dating, none of our friends would believe it. It was a welcome change of pace despite the ghoulish stares, constant whispers and mindless gossip being passed around. When I dated a woman, she and I were enveloped by society’s disapproval. The most wonderful thing about the relationship, however and in spite of that disapproval, was the sweeping changes my life underwent. A conversation I had with her much after our break up, summarises it the best.
Digressing from a much more serious conversation I’d said, “I was so comfortable even when it came to sending selfies to you. Obviously you’d already seen what you had to see very closely because you’d practically lived with me but I didn’t care about how terrible my skin looked in photos or if I looked bulky.” Surprisingly, she concurred: “Exactlyyy!
But when it came to ex-boyfriends and all I took like 5 selfies and sent only 2 of them. I didn’t really feel that way with you, I sent everything.” The conversation meandered elsewhere as fleeting conversations do, but I was left wondering how a few months of being in a woman-loving-woman relationship had begun dismantling my deep set conditioning.
Even though I had learnt that there is no single idea of beauty, in my relationship, I was coming to terms with how my partner didn’t have to be 36-24-36 for me to call her ‘beautiful’. There is something truly unique in loving a woman and having a woman love you back. For as long as I can recall, queerness had felt perverse and filthy. But in being loved by a woman, the fundamental nature of love changed for me. Love, all of a sudden, felt delicate and dreamy. A new bisexual consciousness had manifested in me like a second puberty – euphoric and spontaneous. I realised, when the world is untethered from you, it is easier to live fully.
If I had put on a few kilos or missed a waxing appointment, more disapproval didn’t mean anything to me. In my growing appreciation for what is usually dismissed, I started developing a positive relationship with myself. I saw in her what I should have seen in myself. The process of unlearning didn’t happen overnight but there was something natural in the way I harvested newness out of what I thought was infertile soil. The relationship left me pregnant with perspective.
My tryst with frizzy hair, an oily t-zone and occasional panic-induced breakdowns about weight continues to date, but I spend more and more time feeling good about myself. It took me a trip to the margins to sift through misunderstandings I had been fed. It is impossible to walk on eggshells throughout your life but the consequences of internalising media marketed standards are harrowing. The change in my attitude towards my appearance didn’t occur because of the quality or length of the relationship we shared; the change occurred simply because I was dating a woman. I stood on the periphery of a heteronormative structure that dictated my life and decisions until I decided it wouldn’t.
The journey so far has been messy and turbulent. It has seen periods of excruciating stagnation and rapid growth. The relationship between my ex lasted for the good part of a year but what I have been able to unearth from it, has been invaluable. I applied the fundamentals of my newfound consciousness to my current relationship with a boy and I have never felt more fulfilled. There is a certain thrill in being honest and fearless. I almost feel like a fully realised character of a bildungsroman novel these days.
The takeaway, however, is that the more I claw down the walls of ‘normalcy’, the more I discover and unlearn about myself. Discovery is unearthing what I have been asked to believe. Therefore, for me, discovery has often been unsettling and unkind. But I have learnt to accept it, for it a part of my existence. Regardless of what I discover in my life, I must treat myself with kindness – always.