Small acts of everyday freedom go a long way in establishing who we are as a people, and who we may want to become as a society and a nation. Ahead of Independence Day, we bring you stories of little acts of defiance, endless notes of possibilities.
Family legend has it that I was thin and frail at birth, that I only started gaining weight almost as an answer to my mother and Nani’s prayers after a life-threatening illness. Whatever it may have been, as far as I can remember and if pictures in the family album are anything to go by, I was always what people politely called “chubby” in small-town India of the ’90s.
Being overweight gave relatives and rank strangers a free pass to comment on my weight: after all, they were “concerned” about my health. I struggled to find clothes my size, having to make do with ill-fitted garments surreptitiously picked up from the men’s section in stores, pushing me to fashion myself as a tomboy because nothing feminine was ever made for girls my size.
In Class XII, I enrolled myself in a gym – a silsila that would continue for the next decade-and-half. I have had memberships of all sorts of gyms: From shady ones running out of a basement to swanky, expensive, state-of-the art setups to even the facility in the office. Let alone getting lighter in weight, the gyms never made me feel even remotely lighter mentally, except in the form of the occasional (ok, regular) aloo patties or paneer roll I would help myself to from shops invariably situated right next door to gyms.
Looking back, I realise that one reason I always struggled with my weight was due to lack of self- acceptance. I loved food, had low metabolism, and abhorred any form of physical activity. Some part of my weight was also because of the genes I had inherited. Yet, I carried my weight around like a curse, forever apologetic about it.
It was when I entered my 30s that I started caring a lot less about what others thought of me. The body positivity movement and putting myself out in the dating world helped change my own perspective. I realised that even if I were to lose weight in earnest, it would take me at least two to three years to reach my optimal body weight. Would that mean that till that time I would not seek love, dress up or wear a sari? In short, I would not live my life? I could never let that happen. So I decided to take the narrative under my control. I accepted the fact that I was never going to step into a gym ever again. It has never worked for me so far and there is no reason it ever would. I started travelling, with friends, family, a partner, strangers in a tour group, and most importantly, solo. I began walking (an activity I really enjoy) until I could, and then halting and soaking in the beauty around until I was ready to walk again. During a recent trip to Landour, I took more than an hour to cover a distance that usually takes 15 minutes. But hey, you know what, who cares how long it took?
In the dating world, instead of being someone happy to get whatever attention she thought she did not deserve, I put myself out there as an accomplished working woman, who loved books, mountains, red lipsticks, silver earrings and slapstick humour — my weight was just incidental to the story. And I was overwhelmed by the attention and compliments I received. Then, during the pandemic, I enrolled in an online dance class and found my key to instant dopamine rush. I did not lose weight because I never stopped eating, but I was certainly a happier person in my skin. Prodded by my then-boyfriend, I bought one of my first saris, a garment I thought was not meant for big girls like me. But I wore it nevertheless and was told that I look my best in it. Why had it not occurred to me, I wondered, when I was struggling to find clothes that fit? And why were the same people who had once dismissed me now using adjectives such as “pretty” and “graceful”?
It didn’t take long for me to realise that it was I who had changed. In accepting my weight and thinking of myself as pretty, graceful and beautiful, I’d convinced others to look at me the same way.
My battle with weight loss continues. I do want to be lighter, for the sake of my health and to be able to go on arduous treks. But I no longer feel apologetic about occupying space. There is no going back now.