This is very confusing for me to document because I have very erratic emotions about my body image issues. Having said that, I will try my best to make this as coherent as possible. As a child, I was never overweight and wasn't insecure about my body, most children aren't shy about their body anyway. But as I grew up, around the age of thirteen, I started to get chubby. Just as all fat children are bullied, I was bullied a lot at school as well. I hated my body. I hated all these seemingly extra appendages I had that weren’t a part of other 'normal' kids. But it wasn’t until I was 16 that my views about my body seemed to become somewhat extreme.
Puberty dealt me a very hairy hand. I hated the hair more than the fat. I could not deal with it. I shaved it off and it seemed to make it worse. My hairy legs were constantly pointed out, by both friends and family. I could never wear shorts because I was terrified of the attention I would get because of it. I spent hours looking at myself in the mirror hating how I looked, and how I could make myself look better. I painfully plucked the hair off which would lead to skin boils and sometimes, I would burn the hair off. I was also fat and had 'man boobs', which made me so insecure to take my shirt off. Every time I would go to a pool or to the beach, I would just wear an uncomfortable t-shirt rather than enjoying the water without a shirt on. I would get very uneasy if somebody tried to touch me on my torso because I hated it when people would point out the fat after poking me on my waist or my chest.
Eventually, I got into a relationship with this wonderful girl who helped me cope with my body image issues. She didn't mind the hair, the fat or anything else. She loved me for who I was and showed me that I was lovable. This matters a lot. Don’t get me wrong, she never lied to me. She acknowledged that I was hairy but that it didn't matter to her. She never said I was fat, because in her eyes I was just chubby and it didn't matter. Maybe I wasn’t obese, but in my eyes, my naked body was really ugly and I couldn’t fathom what she saw in it.
As I grew older, I got taller and I found my love for running. By this time, I had given up on the hair and tried as much as I could to cope with it. I trained for a 10k and lost a lot of weight in the process and this inspired me to run some more. Over the years, I gradually lost a lot of weight and my arms became skinnier but I still had a layer of fat on my torso that I hated with a vengeance. I would stand in front of a mirror without a shirt on and hate what I saw and wished it weren't true. Meanwhile, people near me began to point out how skinny I became and now, I needed to put on some weight. The irony! I wasn’t underweight or anything. The running had made my face, arms and legs thinner, which was a contrast to how I looked a few years ago. Suddenly, I realized everybody makes judgmental remarks regardless of what side of the spectrum you are on, and that I just need to work on making myself better without worrying about external perception. I got a gym membership, ran half marathons and now I am “fit”. After a year, I figured lifting weights isn’t something I’m interested in and quit my gym. I run often and do some body workouts, edging my way towards my idea of an ideal body. I won't say that I am over my issues with my body... I have a long way to go. I still hesitate before going shirtless. When I complain of getting fat sometimes, people look at me like I’ve gone crazy and assume I’m just trying to get attention. But my reality is very different.
Having said all of this, I have come a long long way. I’m far more confident and I embrace my body more than I did a couple of years ago. Thankfully, I haven't developed any eating disorders, I still eat whatever pleases my palate without worrying about the consequences. I go for a swim often without a shirt on and without a shred of worry about what people may think. I can enjoy a nice day at the beach and walk around in my home in a towel if I wanted to. I just need to work on my opinion of my own body and I am working on it. I would like to believe I have become empathetic towards other people who may be fat, hairy or any other feature that draws ridicule, because of my own issues. I have a lot of expectation about how my body should look, and I’m slowly getting there.
Koushik Ravi Kumar is a Bangalore-based IT professional.