Vinay Agarwal (He/Him) lives in Mumbai and is a writer and editor by profession. He
considers himself to be an introvert and likes to read (a lot!), travel, and watch world cinema. His Instagram handle is @ryanoffunkiness
My relationship with my body has been a roller-coaster ride, akin to that of a ‘love-hate’ relationship. There were days when I didn’t like to look at myself in the mirror. And although those days are a rare occurrence now, I still don’t like how certain parts of my body look- such as my stomach. There are also days when I like what I see. Hence, it’s a mixed bag of emotions. However, on the whole, my level of dissatisfaction with my body has gone down over the years. All these problems started when I was in standard six. As a skinny kid, I was bullied for my height and weight. And from that age, I started feeling as though something was wrong with me. The constant bullying further drew me into a shell and forced me to make unnecessary comparisons with the bodies of other boys my age. This frequent comparison pushed me into a very negative headspace.
Masculinity and body shaming In addition to my height and weight, my gender also negatively affected my relationship with my body. I identify as male and as some of you might already know, men are ‘supposed’ to have muscular bodies. And because I was skinny, I was routinely bullied. The bullying was so bad that I was also advised to put on weight while being subjected to offensive comments. This constant barrage of comments and unsolicited advice (disguised as good advice) adversely affected my psyche. And there were days when I even thought twice before stepping out. I slowly became more inattentive and started to believe that nobody wanted to be seen with me in public because of how I looked. Now that I look back at my life, I realize that my tumultuous relationship with my body was profoundly shaped by my peers- both online and offline. Initially, I used to follow a lot of gym sharks on social media and used to fall into the trap of comparing my body with theirs. But slowly, I realized that this was a vicious cycle and that I had to get out of it somehow. I honestly feel that in today’s day and age the pressure to look beautiful and desirable is much more, which is why we must find newer and more innovative ways of negotiating with such desires.
Relationship with Food As far as food is concerned, there have been phases in my life when I was a picky eater. During my college days, for instance, my relationship with food wasn’t good. I used to skip dinner because I felt bad about the comments directed at me. Skipping meals was my act of rebellion. But it wasn’t healthy. And even when I was eating, my mind was always somewhere else. But after a bout of illness, I started becoming a little more mindful about my eating habits and finally started eating healthy. Today, I’m proud to say that I don’t browse my cell phone or read books while having meals. It’s just the plate of food and I. Nothing else! Moreover, I try to relish each bite. Trust me, this is something which I never did earlier. So, if you give me a bowl of salad today, I would happily finish it. But, had you given me that five years ago, I’d have fussed over it and probably not touched it!
How these issues impacted other parts of my life All these emotions and anxieties that were pent up inside me over the years always made me feel as though I wasn’t good enough. I used to constantly fight with myself. And as I said before, there was a time when I used to think twice before stepping out. Most of us are introduced to concepts of beauty, desirability, and sexuality from birth and at home by our families. However, I was raised and surrounded by strong, independent women in my family. So, most of the challenges that I faced came from external agencies and I believe they are mostly rooted in patriarchy. To create a shift, we need to become conscious of such biases i.e. becoming aware of the problem. Sometimes people who hold such biases may not even be intentionally aware of them! As time went on, I started working, and a large part of my job involved going to snazzy events that were full of good-looking and impeccably dressed people. Initially, I used to feel awkward and a bit out of place. But slowly I started becoming comfortable. There also came a point when I sat in the front row of Lakmé Fashion Week in a grey tee, jeans, and a simple chappal. Ath-cool (Athleisure-cool), to come to think of that look! Beyond challenging patriarchy and being true to oneself, I also realized with time that it’s important to read a lot and be open to diverse concepts of beauty. For example, the idea that beauty is multilayered. One should definitely engage in dialogues and discussions (in-person and virtual) with family, friends, and peers to broaden these discourses. However, I would urge people to choose their battles wisely and self-educate themselves before they go on to educate others. Acknowledge your own internal biases and work on them. Once you do that, it becomes easier to convince other people.
The role of Mainstream Media Let’s just accept it: a huge part of mainstream media is broken and needs a course correction. It takes years to love your body – and the media can undo it in one swoop. So, follow the accounts/voices that talk about diverse body types and shapes. Surround yourself with such people and embrace body neutrality. Don’t just blindly follow any diet just because it’s a fad or because some influencer is doing it. Read more about it. Also, diversify your Instagram feed rather than just following ‘perfect figures’ or ‘chiseled bodies.’
The Way Forward Since mass media and popular culture contribute a lot in shaping people’s opinions, I believe that they must change too and usher in greater representation of body types. I would also urge people (especially men) to try not to take others’ comments about their bodies too seriously or personally. It’s your body, not theirs. Don’t starve yourself. Eat healthily. Improving your relationship with your body is mostly an inside job. Be persistent. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, and you will get there!
This story was edited by Kanav N Sahgal. Kanav Narayan Sahgal (Pronouns: He/Him) is, as of July 2021, pursuing his Masters in Development from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. He identifies as queer for personal and political reasons and is interested in researching issues surrounding social exclusion and marginality. For any questions or queries, reach out to him on LinkedIn or Instagram. You can also check out his YouTube channel.