My piece in today's Hindu.
These days I often find myself checking on my daughter on what and how much she eats; I nag her to come with me for a run, play with her friends and move around more often. Although she is a fairly healthy child with no signs of being overweight, I still fear her getting there sooner or later. And my fear is not unfounded; after all, she is her mother’s daughter.
I was born a tiny baby to a petite, undernourished mother and as if to compensate for my size, I was overfed by everyone. The trick certainly worked, for I grew up to be a fairly plump child. At the time, however, being plump was not normal (it never is, actually); most children around me were skinny and I stood out like a sore thumb. By the time I was six or seven, I was being called a fatso by everyone — some used it out of affection, some out of contempt — and it became my identity. Initially the jokes hurt, then they became a part of my life.
If this wasn’t enough, I went on to be an early bloomer too — at 13 , when most of the other girls were still figuring out their bodies, I was already a young woman. I now had to take care of the lecherous remarks and the intrusive gaze too.
All this ensured that I grew up with several complexes and severe bitterness about the world. By the time I hit my teens, I was a rebel without a cause (something that I can see only now). Things changed only marginally when I started to work, at the age of 22. The actual reason for the change was probably not work, but my losing several kilos by starving myself for months.
It was only after I met my husband that I started to feel like a ‘normal’ girl. He made me believe that there was so much more to the world than my weight, he gave me the confidence to be myself and helped me get rid of my bitterness. Nevertheless, my complexes were too deep-rooted to go away so easily and I continued to starve myself when he was not around.
Although there were no visible signs of the starvation on my body (I never lost weight), the effects of it came into play when I lost my first child mid-term and could not nurse the ones I eventually had — both results of a severely undernourished body. But I still hadn’t learnt my lesson, and was soon back to starving myself. The result of three pregnancies, two babies and lifelong starvation had now started to show: I lost my hair, my sleep and my concentration. I felt weak and tired, sometimes unable to even complete the basic chores. A visit to the doctor confirmed that I was vitamin-deficient, anaemic and my bones had weakened. It was a wake-up call — I had to decide between being healthy and being thin.
And so, for the last few years, I have been trying to accept myself as I am. I have also been trying my best to see that my complexes don’t trickle down to my daughter.
Every now and then I suddenly find myself checking to see what she eats and telling her never to be like me. But then, I also tell her to love herself no matter what because as long as she can do that, nothing else matters.