Tag Archive | beauty

Dr. Anorexia: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my body

One of those things is still integral to my life. The other has not been for nearly two years now, which is an extremely positive change.

Writing about my experience is an extremely difficult thing, and reconciling my own beliefs with the way I behaved was even more difficult. How does someone who strongly believes nobody should be defined by others by any metrics, and especially the metrics society chooses to define us by – which are often external – judge themselves by them?

I grew up being called ‘ugly’, ‘hideous’, ‘unattractive’, especially to boys at an age when that was somehow all-important, an essential part of being a true girl, woman, whatever it was. It taught me several things. First, as I was becoming a teenager, and then a young woman, I believed strongly that I was ugly, and at the time, it mattered.

It mattered that nobody looked at me a certain way, or at least I thought it did. At 13, it began to consume my life, and I was told I was also too ‘nerdy’, and with that came the F-word that would go on to haunt me a good decade afterwards.


Looking back, I don’t think I was ever fat, just a regular kid with an inherited chubby face that I hated. It was a face I would grow to hate more and more in coming years, to the point that I would put an extra towel over my bathroom mirror.

Even if I were ‘fat’, according to whatever definition of that word suited people to use, that should not have been reason for me to hate myself. But I did.

Words have a far stronger effect than the people who say them ever seem to realise, and that effect is seriously amplified with time. The nickname my bullies gave me, although neither insulting nor complimentary in and of itself (it was in fact from a chunk of my name), came from them with the connotation of being fat. Unlike its namesake, however, I felt anything but jolly and cheerful.

“Oh, he wouldn’t like you,” said one person. “Oh, that weirdo,” said a boy my 13-year-old self, who had just discovered feelings for the other sex beyond Shah Rukh Khan and Chandler Bing on the TV, had a crush on. It devastated me, and it should not have.

In looking for that body type, I, and several others, begin in search of a quest. A quest for some form of belonging to something we crave. It is the beginning of a search of acceptance, a desire to not be the outcast.

For whatever other combination of metrics, I was always the ‘weird’ one. I was what I believed, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, to be a very round peg in a too-small hole.

The lessons begin quite early, and in this case they did for me. It starts with one person telling you why you’re not ‘good enough’, and another, and another. Even if it has ‘stopped’ by then, you have begun skiing down the slippery slope of self-loathing and are headed dangerously off-piste.

I missed out, as so many others who have grown up this way do, on formative years of discovering myself, which were accelerated later and learned eventually, but missed nevertheless. Instead of being outside playing, I spent my time away from books crying. The time that was not spent drowned in mystery novels and science fiction was spent wondering why I was not ‘like the others’, why ‘he’ thought I was ‘yucky’, and other things teenagers will do.

At the halfway mark: What I looked like, and what I felt like.

At the halfway mark: What I looked like, and what I felt like.

Food began being watched, and not for anything related to my health. Lunches would be brought back home, given to the poor kid and his mother round the lane, fed to the dog, flushed down the toilet, any way to not have as much food pass my lips.

The behaviour began with not being ‘good enough’; this ‘not good enough’ applied within the home and at school. It reflected in all of those young teens in the throes of puerile adolescent romance that I seemed to want and could never have, that unattainable, unachievable ideal that eluded my grasp because of the way I ‘was’, the way I ‘looked’, who I am.

This entire attitude was then predicated on the ideal that who I was, or how much I was ‘worth’ in the world, was either defined or circumscribed by whether somebody cared for me, and how much. That that meaning, that value, lay in somebody’s desire to hold my hand, to laugh with and kiss me, and as I grew older, to have sex with.

In light of my avowed feminism, which I continue to feel strongly about to this day, how was I allowing myself to define my value, or in this case, the lack thereof, by the men I had loved not feeling anything in return?

And it may not have been all of the answer, but a big part of it lay in the desire to control, a key word for anybody who has struggled with any form of addiction, which eating disorders are. In controlling what went into my mouth, I could control the way I looked, I could control what others thought of me, how they perceived me, and be found ‘attractive’, which I had never been.

Fitness had never been a problem – long walks and jogs with the parents and being a trained swimmer had helped with that, and helped immensely. But it wasn’t enough to be fit, because looking fit mattered far, far more. The thighs and calves I had earned running were too manly, too masculine, the strong arms from benching and lifting too big and broad, the muscled shoulders too thick.

But in the end, it is control that takes over. In this case, it was control over what I looked like. If I could control what went into my mouth, I could control what I looked like. If I could control what I looked like, I would not be thought of as ‘ugly’, and this would somehow enrich my life. Hindsight is always 20/20, but when you’re in the midst of a situation like that, everything seems right.

Far too many hours were spent in front of a mirror, plucking and pinching and slapping things that were ‘too big’. Far too much time was spent hurting myself over something ‘too round’, ‘not flat enough’, ‘too big’. In the quest for an unattainable, unfair, self-imagined ideal of ‘perfection’, you whittle yourself down to something you believe can be ‘loved’, or is in fact worthy of being so. In the end of the entire exercise, this quest of wanting ‘love’, ‘acceptance’, from oneself or outside, ironically makes you realise you hate yourself, and magnifies that hatred a hundredfold.

A teenage brain thought it was a good idea to eat that ‘one less paratha’ and smoke 3 cigarettes instead, because putting a nicotine stick in my mouth to suppress my appetite made more sense than cabbage and flour.

As I’ve grown older, stronger and become a more vocal feminist, I’ve come to realise how flawed it was, the very premise that the attention I may or may not have got from controlling obsessively what I ate, exercising 4 hours a day to the point where I felt lightheaded if I even stood up, was positive, was an indicator I was doing something right somehow.

That the clothes my teenage self wanted to wear but couldn’t because her breasts were ‘too big’ looked great now. That the male attention my younger self thought she wanted came with my younger self looking like she was about to snap in half as she ate two carrots and a cube of cheese for lunch because she was too afraid to eat any more.

I saw my bullies’ faces, heard their voices in the back of my head as I reached for food, laughing at me for even considering to be around them, because how dare my nerdy, lumpen self do that? How dare I think I was worthy of their male friends, or any male, really, giving me the time of day? And it mattered then, when it should not have.

Thankfully, I had a wonderful discussion with a friend last night, where he (correctly) argued that even insinuating male attention should be construed by women as flattering was ridiculous – the woman in question being a professional tennis player who was sledged on court in absentia.


Still not as thin as I wanted to be

In the years after I had spent most of my days forcefully tickling my throat and tasting bile as I downed Listerine to get rid of the repulsive aftertaste, I had begun to restrict. In the days after that, I saw change, and quickly. Lying down, I could feel my tailbone poking into me. I could feel and see my pelvis in the mirror and terrifyingly, I felt immensely proud. I could run my fingers over my ribs in the mirror, and those awful breasts had finally shrunk.

51kg. 47kg. 42kg. And finally I got down to 37, and then I thought I was happy.

It had felt then like a triumph, a victory over all the ‘ugly’ jibes, a victory over all of the rejection over the years, a victory over my own demons, when in reality it was only the beginning of a long and arduous battle, one helped only by the presence of my closest friends who had nothing but patience for me as I grated on them, breaking myself apart in the process.

Free of eating disorders or disordered behaviour for the most part, I am now nearly two years ‘clean’. Do thoughts still creep into my head, the guilt of that ‘one extra chocolate bar’? Of course they do. There are hours years later where you will look into the mirror and still see a ‘tubby’ stomach, too-big boobs, ‘man-thighs’, stretch marks and scars, and think of being that person again. Let those feelings pass.

They’re all part of your journey, a journey you need to let happen on its own.

Through nearly 5 years of disordered behaviour, the biggest lessons you take away are that the acceptance and love you need to give yourself are the most important things you will ever have in your life. Do not let anyone change who you are, and who you want to be. You don’t need to be ‘beautiful on the outside’, because that is not a way you should define either yourself or anyone else.

The next time that chocolate bar presents itself, it’s okay to eat it and not cry about it the rest of the day, or worry how much you’ve eaten. For those in recovery, your appetite will definitely shrink in the days after your recovery, and I find that a couple of years on I still cannot eat as much as I used to. But you’ll get there.

A human being is not a share on the stock market – you are not suddenly worth more if more people want you, or less if nobody does. What is most important is mattering to yourself. You can make little changes in your life that are good for it, but controlling it is impossible to do because that is just how life is. You are worth far more than the bits of your body you see.

Meanwhile, if loving yourself seems like an impossibility for now, begin with a deep, slow, gradual acceptance. Of how your body looks, how it feels, of the world around you. The most important relationship of any you will ever have in your lifetime is the one with yourself, and in the words of James Hetfield, nothing else matters.


Infomercials: A Subjective Analysis

I have severe insomnia, and sleep less than the bullfrog (which Google tells me is the one animal that does not sleep. At all, ever), which means that I spend my time with a book, in front of the computer (which, obviously, I am doing right now) and in front of the television, which I only do as a last resort because there really is nothing even half-decent on there anymore.

So when it’s nearly 6 a.m, and I’m still struggling to fall asleep as my mum wakes up, I switch on the TV to see what’s on there, which is never, never anything but infomercials for all sorts of things. I always wondered who in their right minds would watch the shit that was on the telly, then I yelled ‘mea culpa!’ ‘mea culpa!’ and resigned myself to being one of those people:

a) too lazy to get off their behinds to get the remote and change the channel

b) Have serious insomnia and cannot sleep a wink, not even if they wanted to (which they rarely/never do)


c) You, dear reader, because let’s face it – at some point or the other in your life, no matter where you’re from, what you do, or how old you are, you’ve watched that stuff. Without flipping channels. And watched the infomercial from start to finish – sometimes even multiple times. (Don’t be embarrassed. We all do it.)

You see all kinds of stuff being sold on television. Everything from stain removers, newfangled vaccum cleaners, smoothie makers, blenders (and about 3021452 other kitchen appliances) and exercise equipment to body shapers, cosmetics, face washes, hair-removers (more on this one later) to the most disgusting of all, women’s underwear. ( I do NOT mean women’s underwear is disgusting, far from it, but in my humble opinion, wanting to buy it off the telly/internet is. Extremely so.)

While a lot of the infomercials are for products designed in the United States or United Kingdom, the funniest are the local ones, all of which have people peddling religious stuff to ‘protect you from the evil eye’ – they even show bright red laser beams coming out of the person’s eyes, and shooting into somebody else’s, like some sort of alien mating ritual, or something straight out of The Man Who Fell to Earth (although that’s paying the idiots who make these ads a compliment they really, really do not deserve.)

I’m going to discuss the global infomercials first, the ones with obscure products from the United Kingdom/Germany/China/you name it.

These guys seem to have some rule of thumb they go by while making their little ‘movies’.  Most of them are for cosmetics/cosmetic related products, and control underwear seems to be extremely popular.

First, you find a diverse group of women (tall, short, fat, thin, old, young and all different races) because we have to show how they’re all the same.  Before you say ‘of course all people are the same, no matter where they’re from’, that’s not what I mean at all. By the same, I mean all of them seem to have that same haven’t-taken-a-shit-in-three-weeks look on their faces when they look in the mirror, and they all have the same problem – husbands/boyfriends that have issues with their wobbly bits, and the degree of constipation seen on their faces is directly proportional to their general dissatisfaction. All-female audience (again, all diverse) nod their heads and cluck sympathetically.

Enter knockout, quasi-celebrity,super-fit hostess who really doesn’t need slimming ANYTHING at all, dressed in such a way as to show her flat stomach, breasts (if she has big ones, and they all always do), and her perfect bum, which is the result of exercise/dieting/starvation/surgery or some permutation or combination of the above, claiming that it isn’t her, but the undies.

The hostess then introduces another semi-celebrity — a makeup artist, washed-out soap opera star, or something in that milieu, with a 5-minute soliloquy on how difficult like this, with all the conviction of Meryl Streep.

Out come two models, who like the hostess are ridiculously skinny, modelling the shapewear, followed by someone we’ll call ‘lumpy-bumpy’. [She isn’t, really, but from her behaviour (and that of the audience/hostess/celebrity guest etc.) you’d think she weighed 300 kilograms.]

Lumpy-bumpy is wearing a dress two sizes too small, and pinching at its clinginess. (Even if you’re a size two, you’ll feel suffocated and idiotic in a size 1 dress. Common sense. Which none of these people seem to possess, or aspire to.)

Cue constipated faces, apparent unsuccessful struggle to get gigantic turd out of system, and sympathetic head nods and clucks from the women in the stands. Suddenly, out comes the Hot-ess (that was intentional) with the miracle shapewear, getting an already normal sized, even petite woman into it.

A moment of suspense before new,made-over lumpy-bumpy walks out, to gasps, wide eyes, applause, amazed head nodding, and ‘Oh my GAWWWD!’   followed by much stomach-patting, nodding at self in the mirror, and, finally, the pièce de résistance – Lumpy’s husband, sitting in the stands or hidden somewhere, coming forth with a hug and a kiss and an ‘Oh my god, honey, you look GORGEOUS!’ – and Lumpy’s life-mission has now been achieved! You can have it too, if you order this crap:

Bad dubbing is something I won’t go into, simply because it’s far too commonplace.

Slimming products are exceptionally popular, no matter what they’re made of. To sell them in India (or to hippies elsewhere), all you have to do is attach the word ‘ayurvedic’ (even though their contents are extremely questionable) to them, and voila, you’ve got yourself wads of cash. For instance ‘ayurvedic’ Slimming tea, for people who ‘exercise and eat perfectly healthy food but are still obese’ (there’s a term for them, and it begins with B and ends with S).   [This does not include people with genuine medical issues – but then again, they should be in a doctor’s office, and not watching an infomercial, for a solution.] Slimming tea ads, however, are especially terrifying – one showed  a ‘homemaker whose husband had had an affair because she had put on weight after having a baby’ – that is, of course, the most unnatural, abhorrent thing in the world.

There’s also slimming oil – they even show a VERY badly photoshopped obese man, complete with a terribly-edited, fake paunch that would make Santa Claus envious.  If you have a busy lifestyle (and seemingly can only take in food that has been fried a trillion times in enough oil to give the world’s entire population enough cholestrol issues to last three lifetimes), it’s simple – all you have to do (and this is paraphrased from the infomercial) is spread the oil across your belly, and as the fake doctor on the TV tells you, oil attacks cellulite, then attacks fat, and then gives you an ‘even, toned body’, and in the case of the slimming tea  “a new, great personality and many, many friends!” <—- Quoted verbatim.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the only way you can get one of those is eating right and exercising, unless you’re genetically predisposed to it, in which case, you’re extremely lucky. Here is a link to an article explaining what cellulite is (and how advertisers mislead everyone).

THIS is my favourite type of Indian Infomercial – the kind that preys on the rabidly religious and superstitious (most of whom deserve it) .

You are warned of how, if you are successful, you will necessarily attract jealousy (sure, okay, natural human emotion).

But with jealousy comes the evil eye, of course, and with the evil eye comes your downfall, the end of everything you hold dear.


Your factory will burn down (sure, evil eye, not arsonist, because THAT is logical), your baby will fall ill and/or cry (because that can’t be colic, or the fact that its immune system isn’t as strong as a full-grown adult’s), your business will fail, and of course, a hot favourite – ‘marriage proposals’ or ‘rishtas’ will fall through.


What does the evil eye look like, you ask? And I oblige. (And apologise in advance for bad sound/video, but this is exactly the bit being referred to, and brilliant it is.)

Miracle remedy to all these problems? The Evil Eye Bracelet/Necklace/Ring/whatever else you wear as jewellery.

The sheer volume of evil-eye related crap on TV (and apparent evil in these ‘characters’) is astounding, and makes me wonder, sometimes – are all these doddering, plump, supremely rancorous women really from Frodo’s visions in the Mirror of Galadriel, dressed in saris, trying to fool us all?

So I came up with my own little illustration of what I think REALLY happens in these infomercials.

And as I let  the hilarity of random ‘foreigners’ and token white guys talking about how much the evil eye charm helped them, and housewives who used a singularly effective combination of slimming tea and charms to bring their straying husbands back to them play in the background and wash over me, I am lulled into a mindless, relaxed sleep.

The Fair and the not-so-Lovely.

This is a post that’s been in the works for a while now. It’s about an issue that is extremely, extremely important to me. Important enough to get me absolutely livid when it’s even mentioned.

I’m referring to those absolutely lovely advertisements on the television every hour of every day, on absolutely every channel. This lovely Indian product called ‘Fair and Lovely‘. The title itself seems to imply that you can’t be lovely unless you’re fair.

I’m utterly offended by the very premise of the product.

I haven’t even BEGUN to discuss the actual advert.

I suppose it isn’t prevalent anymore, but it is definitely still present.The entire idea that being fair-skinned somehow makes you automatically attractive.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that this entire phenomenon is concentrated among those sub-cultures and areas of the country where the priority in a family seems to be to have the daughter married off, because that is when she ‘truly begins her life’, apparently, and if she is ‘unattractive’, nobody will want to marry her.

They use that terribly redundant system  now used in villages- showing the potential bride’s and groom’s sides of the family pictures to decide whom they want to marry.

Yes,that’s the way to do it, instead of actually finding out what the other person is like, getting to know them, deciding whether or not you want to be with them long-term, which is actually what happens in the system known as ‘arranged marriages’.

Though I am completely against the very idea of ‘arranging’ a marriage, I must admit that it has become nothing more than families setting their children/siblings/cousins up with potential suitors. I find the whole idea horrendous, though. If at some point in my life, I am looking for love, I’d rather find it by myself.

Back to the Fair and Lovely advert.

They’ve been getting progressively worse over the years, but I saw about the worst one I’ve seen just two weeks ago, while I was watching an India-Australia test series.

It depicted this young girl, perhaps only a few years older than I, riding a bicycle. Funnily enough, Queen’s Bicycle Race immediately came to mind. The girl then sat down at the edge of her little brother’s bed, and pointing out the window at the huge mansion across the road from their own (decently-sized, and by no means spartan) lodgings, said “Someday, I will buy us a house that’s THAT big.”

The little boy looked at her, makes a face, and said that since there was  ‘no money in cycling, she should try tennis instead’. When he said that, two things came to mind. First, I wanted to go up to the inane writer and ask him if he knew who Lance Armstrong was. ‘No money in cycling’ indeed.

My second issue was that I found it absolutely stupid that he was suggesting she take up tennis, considering Sania Mirza‘s worldwide show of ‘talent’. She played about 5 games decently, and then decided she wanted to focus on doing advertisements and promotions instead, thus forgetting all about this lovely thing known as practice.

A couple of years into her career, all she was famous for was for her personal life and endorsements, which is pitiful,really, because she was talented, beyond a doubt.

She just needed to nurture it, which she forgot about somewhere down the line. Perhaps she could’ve taken pointers on how to balance her career and endorsements from the Williams sisters, but I suppose that’d be like asking a random intelligent person to emulate Albert Einstein. Quite unfair.

The girl in the advertisement then proceeded to continue with her bicycling career (shock, horror!) but this time,  something’s different. What is ‘different’ this time, you ask?

This time round, you see, she uses a ‘fairness cream’, one that shows you how fair you’re getting. The girl gets progressively fairer (and, I’m supposed to assume, as a result, more beautiful). She’s offered a multitude of endorsement contracts- perfumes and fragrances, cars, books, airlines, food, you name it, and of course, she gets rich.

They then (mercifully) cut to the end of the advertisement, which is even worse.

Miss Fair-and now-Lovely reaches the finish line of an important bicycle race (in first place,of course) and pulls off her helmet and shakes her hair in a manner befitting the actresses of the 50s that pulled off their scarves and let their hair blow in the wind, all the while seated in their huge convertibles, driven by a Cary Grant, or a Humphrey Bogart.

As her long hair cascades down her back, she poses for the paparazzi and then, putting an arm around her mother, walking down a road full of massive bungalows , says “pick one,I’ll buy it for you.”

So, what we, (you and I, dear reader, and the rest of the nation watching this stupidity) are supposed to infer, is that even if you are a brilliant sportsperson- cyclist, javelin thrower, tennis player, chess player, or successful at what you do, it all comes to naught if you aren’t conventionally good-looking.

You’re also supposed to infer that you CANNOT be considered conventionally beautiful unless you’re fair, which is terrible, considering some of the most beautiful, good-looking women ( and men) in the world are dark-skinned, like Tyra Banks, or Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Why, then, do we wonder why the young girls of today are becoming anorexic and bulimic, obsessed with their appearances and cosmetic surgery, rather than what is inside? Our ideals of beauty have become completely warped, and people have ceased to realise that beauty is a very, very relative term, and will always remain in the eye of the beholder. Thanks to this, anyone who is not absolutely skinny is labelled ‘plus-size’,’fat’, or obese.

I am completely in favour of eating healthy , but the pressure on young girls to be thin is, sadly, tremendous, and most of them bow down to it.

While it disgusts me, I am sure that the executives at Hindustan Unilever, the manufacturer of Fair and Lovely, are completely aware that their product only sells by feeding off the insecurities of millions of young girls who are just forming their opinions about the real world, have just hit puberty,  and, perhaps, for the first time, have begun to care about relationships and appearances.

Since our country’s censor board is absolutely obsessive about ‘censorship’ on television, perhaps they should be fully aware of what truly needs to be ‘censored’.


Fair is foul, and foul is fairness creams.

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