As a woman, I was always taught since childhood to cover my nudity. I was taught to be uncomfortable and shy when I took my clothes off, because that is what a woman from a good family would do. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts till I was 13, till I rebelled against both my parents and tried to own my own body. My attempts were met by scathing remarks of what it meant to be a “suitable woman”. Soon after, they gave up when I made them realise that they couldn’t control what I wore, at least for a while. Wearing shorts made me realise that I had legs and knees too. It’s almost like I had never known that these parts of me even existed.
In most parts of India, wearing shorts and showing legs is considered to be a taboo, let alone wearing a bikini openly on a beach or roaming around freely, braless in your own house.
Watching other girls wear shorts often made me feel ugly because I did not realise that I had legs or knees. I feel strangely unaware and unprepared for my own body. Wearing shorts for the first time made me feel beautiful and it made me look at myself differently. In a way, it made me feel like I owned my body. Had my parents not been against me wearing shorts, I would never have derived the sense of pleasure that I did wearing it. Wearing shorts equated to women empowerment and an independent life to me. Having lived in a patriarchal household since birth, the 13 year old me knew the metaphorical meaning of wearing something as rebellion, to stand up for myself.
At the age of 13, as I was changing my clothes one day, I looked at myself in a full length mirror, realising how beautiful I was. It’s almost like I had not even known what my own body looked like before that. I was awed at how my body curved, and I kept glaring at myself in the mirror. Watching myself naked in the mirror was the start of my empowering journey with my body. Every morning, after I bathed, I’d rush to the full length mirror where I wore my clothes to see myself naked and feel empowered. I felt like a strong and independent woman who was ready to take over the world.
Even though my mother told me often (as many other mothers do, which does not make it okay) that I needed to work on my weight, or look better than other girls around, or cover my face with make-up, it did not make me feel any worse about myself after I started looking at myself naked in the mirror for around 5 minutes while changing everyday. My world had changed and I had learned to stand up for myself, to not believe in what others were trying to make me believe. I had found renewed self confidence in the mirror glaring right back at me, making full eye contact.
Looking at myself naked in the mirror gave me a sense of validation which came from within.
It helped me to look at the little scars and stretch marks on my body, and still appreciate myself despite anything anyone else was telling me. Looking at my own stretch marks and scars made me accept them, grow to love them and understand that they were a part of me. Once you accept and own your own vulnerabilities, there is really nothing that someone else can point out to you which will make you see yourself differently.
Now at 21, nothing has changed the one thing that I do every morning – look at myself naked in the mirror. This is something which I will never admit to someone as I sit in a cafe and sip my coffee or strike a conversation with anyone about me. What I do in the morning is no one’s business but mine. I do not owe anyone an explanation of my morning routine. But for some reason, I feel like if I share this here, it will make a difference. I feel like I owe it to other women to share with them what empowers me.
My body has changed a lot from the body of an unaware 13 year old, and looking at myself naked everyday makes me feel more comfortable in my skin everyday. As women, society is often teaching us to compare ourselves with other women. Fashion magazines are constantly telling us what we need to buy and look like. Everyday, in some way sexism is making us feel like we are inadequate, insufficient and little in this world. While I see all these things around me on a daily basis, looking at myself naked in the mirror has given me the power to know myself deeply. It has given me the power to ignore what others say about me and to make a move forward, with the knowledge that I know myself better than anyone else does.
Looking at myself naked in the mirror everyday, has taught me self love. Now, I look at my body as a plant which needs to be cherished, loved and cared for with more awareness about the different parts. I know that my butt has some stretch marks, my back is developing love handles, my abdomen is getting fatter this lockdown, the skin on the upper half of my legs is less tan than the lower half and my face is growing its own double chin. My body is by no means the picture perfect body shown in magazines, but I’m still learning to love myself more and more everyday. It all started at the age of 13, when I stumbled upon myself, and glared at the full length mirror bursting with my own beauty which I had not even known existed. [Picture Credit:Dainis Graveris]