It is that time of the year when I am running out of supportive underwear and things are starting to feel a little too… free. I head to one of those little shops where women pull out boxed bras and underwear from stacks behind them. A frizzy-haired lady asks for my cup size and within a minute, I have ten types of bras shoved in my hands. I look at some of them and tell her, “These won’t fit. They’re too small.” It does not bother me that there is a man just two feet away who is trying his best to seem busy. She assures me, “They are a different brand from what you are using now, just try them.”
In the changing room, I realize I was right. Most of them don’t fit me. I am annoyed by my obedience to this saleswoman and that I have wasted time squeezing and shoving my girls into studios when they clearly need a two-bed.
I return and plonk the pile in front of her eager face and say ‘No’. I am grumpy and sweaty and take vengeance by snapping at her. She offers other sizes and apologizes but by now I am too proud and embarrassed, so I leave empty-handed. Bra shopping is hard enough for me, someone who is politely referred to as ‘busty’ or ‘well-padded’. My boobs give me hell and I refuse to let others add on to their drama. The saleswoman is crestfallen at the loss of her commission when I leave empty-handed.
This battle of sizes with strangers isn’t new to me. A year after I’d had a baby, I went to an expensive tailor to get a dress stitched. My arms and belly had exploded into new dimensions and I decided to pay a premium for a craftsman to stitch an outfit that would disguise the excess fat. I had to call him Masterji and agree with all his suggestions on the style and shape.
When I went for the first fitting and stepped out to tell him to loosen the fabric at the bust because it was a tad tight, he stared at my chest and told me arrogantly that he never made mistakes and I’d put on weight in the past two weeks. “Aap thoda walking karlo, theek ho jayega.”. I should have strangled him with the measuring tape or shoved his head under the glossy back sewing machine to seal his lips shut.
But I was going through the roughest patch in the relationship with my body and was so darn ashamed of it. All I could do was slink back into the changing room with a timid ‘Ok ji’. I had relinquished the right to defend it every day, when I stared at it resentfully, wishing it were something else. How could I be mad at someone else who pointed its aberrations?
I have no right to whine. In fact, I should be driving on the highway in a convertible with the top down singing Kylie Minogue’s ‘I should be so lucky’. I do not know about love, but I do know that body positivity is all around me. From the spurt in plus-size models to the dwindling tolerance towards those who publicly shame people for being too thin or fat, this is a good time to exist. It is now okay, and even cool, to flaunt stretch marks, love handles, or stick legs.
Yet I cannot help wondering if this is all too much. Why do I have to expend so much effort into building a relationship with my body? Can’t I just feed it, bathe it, and let it be? Why am I listening to a world that insists that Adele and Rebel Wilson looked better when they were ‘fat’ and why Aishwarya Rai took so long to shed her baby weight? Why must this hullabaloo confuse all of us just so that some industries can profit off this trend?
I think it’s easier to navigate this puzzle of how to see my physical self once I accept that my body isn’t entirely mine. Size charts, fashion trends, the gaze of passersby – all remind me that I am shared. By opinions, standards, industries that thrive on coaxing people to look better to feel better or to accept themselves the way they are.
Between trying to balance pumping my self-worth based on my appearance and managing my mental health and feeding my soul some purpose, I am going nuts. I want to cancel this democracy on the notion of the human body. My body is not for the people, of the people, and by the people. It is mine goddammit! I don’t want to devote any more energy to embracing my looks. I want it all simpler, so I don’t have to feel envious or inspired by others.
I was chatting with two of my closest friends and the subject of plastic surgery came up. We pondered over what changes we would make to our bodies if we had the money for safe cosmetic surgery. Each of us had our own insecurities and agendas – changing boob sizes, making butts firmer, erasing lines, trimming noses. We were ready to surrender to a surgeon’s knife and hope that these nagging burdens carried for so long would get sliced off or re-moulded. We could be both – love ourselves and choose improvement. No doubt this would make us happier.
Till we met the next tailor or bra saleswoman.
(Cover image credit: Anonymous, Posed Figures by artist Hanna Lee Joshi)