They all knew I didn't exercise, but they didn't know why

They all knew I didn't exercise, but they didn't know why

It’s interesting how our mental make-up is contingent on various life experiences. Some, decades old, and some, as fresh as yesterday. But however strange it may sound, this realization sets in once you start to acknowledge, accept and validate your past experiences and their roles in your current life. This insight came to me in psychotherapy. It has been a process of excavating temporally dead hurt, but one which is still very much real for me, and in how I look at and talk to myself. One major part of my psyche, I have come to realize, is closely tied to my body.

I have had a strained relationship with my body for as long as I can recall and it continues till date. As a skinny child, various "harmless" words were thrown at me quite often—"haddi," "hanger," "skeleton," "tilli," "chhipkali,"—and so on. I was taken to different doctors multiple times and given medicine for stomach worms, but nothing changed. Because of how my body looked, I was laughed at whenever I did something that involved swift and synced bodily movements; one time I was preparing for a cousin’s wedding function and everybody kept laughing looking at me because I wasn’t ‘flexible enough’ and looked like a 'bundle of bones'. It became a ritual where my cousins got together, looked at my dance videos and laughed at me; and then of course call me a "crybaby" whenever I broke down because I felt hurt about this. Other times, I was told that my clothes merely "hung" on my body, and didn’t take any "shape", because, "no curves!"

As a result, I never felt confident enough to do anything that involved a lot of bodily movements; dancing, outdoor sports, working out, etc. I love brisk walking, but I took my own time to be confident enough to go out there and make it my own.

There was also the judgment people would make based on how my body looked. While some probed if my mother gave me any food to eat, others joked that my "husband" (in quotes because I was a teenager then) would have a miserable life because I was "flat" and didn’t have any "boobs." There was unsolicited advice too. Of the many, I vividly remember one that is extremely amusing: “Adishi, you look really good. You should just start wearing padded bras so you’ll look sexy too.”

All of this, coupled with other self-worth issues, led me to be under-confident about myself and my body. Then came the experiences of sexual violence and things got worse. Because of an absolute lack of understanding of my body and a resultant inability to make sense of and reaffirm my boundaries, I found myself vulnerable to violence. This was taxing, and took a toll on my mind and body over time.

Post school, my weight shot up substantially. I strongly suspect that one of the biggest reasons for this was the fact that I was out of an extremely unhappy (with instances of minor bullying) and an unnecessarily burdened school life. Suddenly, most of my otherwise recurrent health concerns (chronic stomach and body aches, mild body temperature, weakness, convulsions, etc.) seemed to have disappeared.

But all those years of stress added up and I realized that I had been living with or had developed (over the years) unstable mental health. When it was at an all time low in 2015, I was often advised by various people to ensure that my body needed some kind of exertion for at least an hour every day. They all knew I didn't exercise, but they didn't know why. I tried going on walks every day, but some days the experience was too difficult, and I could do nothing to make it better.

Cut to 2017, I am now laughed at for putting on too much weight suddenly and advised to start working on it so it isn’t "too late." Again, like most things that were said to me when I was skinny, there are some amusing things that are said to me now as well: “it seems like someone pumped in a lot of air in your body.” The reminders to workout are constant. Thankfully, most of my family members now know my discomfort with being told this, so they refrain and let me be (Ha!). But I do understand the importance of exercise for my mental health. I'm constantly railing against it because of people’s warped sense of perfect bodies, the fact that it is important for my health goes out the window like collateral damage and I live in this constant conflict, which is frustrating to say the least.

It's a constant struggle and I believe it will continue to be one. But just like there are things that break you, there are also some that help you make sense of the wreckage, hug it and carry it proudly. Feminism, online friends filled with empathy, and psychotherapy constitute my survival kit; who never forget to remind me that self-care is in fact above all else.

This narrative is a part of a series on body image and mental health. You can follow the conversation through #ReclaimOurselves on Twitter and on Facebook.

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