I am too fat! I am too short! I am too dark! I am so ugly!

These are only some of the heart-wrenching cries I have heard from my young clients in my 15-year old career as a Life Skills Coach. I know my profession requires me to remain objective and not get emotionally involved, but more often than not, my heart bleeds at their deep agony and tortured suffering.

It also makes me angry. I feel rage at society for thrusting on their developing bodies, such unrealistic standards of beauty. And they, buying into it.

Neelam Kumar

We are trapped in a society in which the young are in a hurry to grow up and the old are in a hurry to look younger. Pandering to this obsession, cosmetic companies and magic cures are having a field day selling instant youth, instant weight loss, limitless happiness and endless desirability. All available in bottles, tubes, tablets, machines–at phenomenal costs, of course.

We are trapped in a society in which the young are in a hurry to grow up and the old are in a hurry to look younger.

So you go doctor-shopping to achieve what you think is society’s standard of acceptability. Your emotions and mental health go for a toss as you desperately try to get into a shape defied by seven generations of your ancestors. And to make you feel worthless, media thrusts at you a barrage of “perfect” women who are super successful, sexy and frighteningly happy.

Can one remain positive about one’s body in such a situation? I must say, it has never been more difficult to do so.

I come from an era in which women were expected to look like erwomen. Full of curves, arches and sweeps—like a river in full flood. As teenagers, we sisters lived in the adventurous State of Bihar, where both our parents were working as officers in a steel company. My mom would look at the four sticks she had produced for daughters and show us pictures of Vaijyanthimala and Meena Kumari. She would say, “How beautiful and rounded they look! When are you going to fatten up?”

While we slinked away, ashamed and guilty, other women of the neighbourhood would assure her that once we got married and the needful got done, we would become ok. In fact, when my sister was rejected by a prospective father-in-law for being too skinny, one of the women folk actually brought in a live bear to puff at us and make us appear swollen. She swore it was a time-tested method! The poor bear-handler had to leave crestfallen when his potential clients—the four sticks parading as girls–ran away with their dear lives.

In fact, when my sister was rejected by a prospective father-in-law for being too skinny, one of the women folk actually brought in a live bear to puff at us and make us appear swollen.

Finally, each one of us was given away in marriage with the reassurance that we would fatten up like all our pot-bellied maternal and paternal ancestors.

And boy! Did we keep that promise? We instantly set off on an uncontrolled expansion spree. I remember looking incredibly at my toothpick body swelling up when the first baby entered my womb.  And ah! The treatment of a queen I got as a result of this!

Accept Ageing

It was a standing joke in my in-laws place that “First her stomach enters, and only five minutes later, Neelam bahu enters the room.” They said this with so much of pride that I felt—what shall I say—Beautiful!!

With two children out of my womb and my transfer to Mumbai, something unforgivable happened. Suddenly the Universe changed its rules! From the Meena Kumari, Vaijyanthimala standard of beauty, I landed into an Alia Bhatt, Shilpa Shetty one! How unfair is that!!?

For a long time, I began giving lectures on the wisdom of Individuality versus Conformity. But, faced with a losing battle against my expanding girth and the Grand Prix race of ageing, I finally decided to take the issue of Body Positivity seriously. So here are my thoughts.

The only argument that won me over towards the weight-loss game was a desire to be healthy. Frankly, I also hurled myself into the tough battle because I felt it pandered to my female vanity.

The only argument that won me over towards the weight-loss game was a desire to be healthy.

Healthy, because as the adage goes, “A healthy mind lives inside a healthy body.” And being an author, if I did not work towards a healthy mind, imagine the trash you, dear reader would get subjected to. (I mean more than I usually write!)

But, to all the body-shamers, what I wish to say is, self-love is the weapon we will fight you with. And standards? Whose standards should I conform to? The ones that make you happy? Or me?

To all the body-shamers, I wish to say is, self-love is the weapon we will fight you with.

Besides, for those who obsess about a woman’s shape (including women) let us remind ourselves—this world needs every variety of us—thin, fat, dark, jiggly, because our cellulite-laden bodies are not the only thing we have to offer this world. We are more than just our bodies.

And when I begin losing the Yo-Yo battle yet again, I scoff at the necessity of it all. That’s the time I become more vocal about the diet culture being  brazenly patriarchal.

After all, the Queen of Tennis Serena Williams says, “I embrace me and I love how I look. I love that I am a full woman.”

So there!

Neelam Kumar has authored nine books. Having battled cancer twice, she donned the mantle of Cancer Crusader and wrote India’s first joyous book on cancer,  “To Cancer With Love-My Journey of Joy”. Her latest book is Manisha Koirala’s “Healed”. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.