Chubby cheeks, dimple chin
Rosy lips, teeth within
Curly hair, very fair
Eyes are blue – lovely too.
Teachers pet, is that you?
Yes, Yes, Yes!
I remember reading this poem aloud with my kindergarten classmates on hot sticky afternoons, when the fans moved in slow motion and after lunch exhaustion hung over the classroom.
The illustration of the little girl next to poem was not surprisingly different from anyone I saw around me. She looked, like the poem instantly paints a picture in the head – a full-blown firangi child we only saw in English movies. We sang the poem anyway as per expectation, and took in the first dogmas of socially likeable features. Fair skinned, rose bud lips, light eyes, golden hair, the works.
Apart from the lurking thought that I wasn’t fair enough, I didn’t have a problem with my physical appearance until I hit my teens. My family shifted to a tribal region in the North East of India, a place where people are genetically blessed with the beautiful hair and skin, and kids could be mistaken for porcelain dolls. This was the time my body chose to show its puberty changes and boy o boy did my confidence go spiralling down! My light coloured body hair turned darker (also on the face, and I saw myself as a hairy monster that had been in hibernation all this while), I put on weight, got even darker (did not go unnoticed by my relatives), and added to all these life threatening changes was the omnipresent problem with my short height.
I fretted posing for the camera, ate as little as possible, perennially covered my face with a handkerchief, and sometimes at night stared in the mirror wondering what the devil went wrong here. When you are at the doorstep to the world of boys and the other girls already went on dates, these glitches were certainly not how I aimed to build my social life.
All I wanted was to be as fair skinned and thin like the other girls at school, to have silky hair that would bounce as I walked. It was my silent agony that I couldn’t be one of the girls who middle parted her hair and wore tweety bird clips on each side for soon my wavy hair would reconstruct into Marilyn Monroe’s billowing skirt. I wasn’t one of those who wore overalls without having it hug the body at the wrong places. I never smiled at the camera without worrying if my bushy eyebrows overpowered my face.
What I did instead was wear loose fitting clothes to hide my weight, flattened my boobs with tricks learned from the movie Now and Then, dived into height enhancing potions, depended on fairness creams and battled with poor body image. But I was still I, and love letters declaring true love never came. What did come were sniggers from friends that I took as something I deserved. Who knew what constituted bullying and body shaming 15 summers back?
After a point I gave up (I could say ‘accepted myself’ to sound wiser, but no, I surrendered). And then time happened. As years wore off I noticed these ‘glitches’ resolve on their own. I developed into what I will look like for the rest of my life, for better or for worse.
Struggling with poor body image, especially during teenage years is not uncommon. We are fed with stereotypes of beauty since we can remember, which is then compounded by the pressure of fitting in at high school. I was teased about my developing breasts and facial hair but looking back I realize that the root of my problem was I. I was my worst enemy who nit picked every small detail that was different from the rest. This is the worst kind of body shaming and I did not deserve that from myself. Nor does anyone else.
If I met my 14 year old again I would tell her that time will make it all ok, and while we are waiting why not play a game of badminton?