Every day, before going to the shower, I take a long, hard look at my naked body. I scan its every bump and roll, making a note of those that disrupt the normal flow of my curves. There are too many for my liking. I’m fat, I almost always conclude.
I always find ways to criticise my body. Call it a default setting; I’m so used to doing it that’s it become my norm.
As a kid of three years, I was a chubby girl who had no concept of body image. All I knew was that pork fat was to meal to be savoured, and rice was a life-sustaining staple. Everyone pinched my cheeks and call me tabachingching – a way of saying someone was fat, adorably so.
A few years later I would still get teased, mostly by my well-meaning extended family, and they would do so on a regular basis. They no longer called me tabachingching, but just taba, fat. It made me embarrassed. It was then that my initial image of my physical self began taking shape – I was fat, and fat wasn’t desirable. It resulted to me being teased for the sake of entertainment. I stopped eating pork fat then.
As time passed my weight would yo-yo between normal and overweight. I observed that, if I was the former, I wouldn’t receive any comments about how I looked. If it was the latter, though, people made sure that I was aware of it. High school came and I saw girls my age with svelte bodies. Teen magazines showed slender models pulling off the trendiest outfits. A thin body became something to aspire for, and dieting became the norm.
I remember cutting out the bodies of the Candy girls and Cosmo models, sticking them all over my room and replacing their face with mine.
Now, a bigger form of insidiousness is taking place. The ideal is no longer directly advertised, but is seeped and ingrained into the public space. Women with ridiculously curvy bodies, faces blessed with chiselled jawlines, luscious lips, anime-esque eyes and thick lashes: these images define “the norm.” I feel pressured to conform, and I’m certain that millions of girls and women are, too. Our bodies are just not enough.
And so my default setting is to criticise my body. Pointing out my flaws is something I’ve lived with since I was a kid. I look at my frame in the mirror, looking at every curve that isn’t supposed to be there. It’s a few curves too much.
But to be honest, I’m confused.
I’m confused because the desire to look better is not 100% there; there is a disconnect with what I think versus what I feel. Could it be that I am, for once, actually satisfied with my body?
I try to understand what could lead to this satisfaction. There is the lifestyle change: I exercise regularly and try my best to eat well. There, too, is the social influence: my friends and my family, and all the other people I surround myself with, seem satisfied with themselves and their bodies. How we take care of ourselves, and the people we surround ourselves with, look to be great contributors to our self-perception.
But I’ve noticed another thing, as well: I’ve never heard, in a long time, my loved ones berating themselves or others over how fat they are. The people I am with – my colleagues, my friends, my partner – they don’t comment about looks. It’s as if they couldn’t care less about it. I didn’t know how freeing it could be, to not care so much.
The final thing about this satisfaction probably has to do with growing up. As I grow old, I’ve become more accepting of who I am. I understand that all the images around me – all the Instagrammable bodies, the latest diets, and the societal expectations – are all a big consumerist ploy. I know now that I should put behind all the teasing from my childhood and teenage years, because they’re too shallow to take to heart. They’re definitely too trivial to construct my self-image around.
I’ve still got a long way to go. Whenever I look at my naked body in the mirror, I still feel a twinge of frustration. I still berate myself over how much I’ve eaten and makes notes about how much cardio I should do. It’s an in-built system that I’ve followed for a long time.
I’m glad of the progress I’ve made, though. Many times, I see that I am, in fact, fine. The road to acceptance is a long, looping, and loopy (!) one. Does it have a final destination, I wonder, or is it a never-ending road full of pit stops? Whatever the case is, I’m happy I’m further into it now than I ever was before.