“One of my earliest memories I have of realizing that I inhabit a body was when my best friend in the eighth grade spent a whole week refusing to eat because she was too ‘fat’. We were fourteen. Being a woman in India often makes me feel like my body is not my own—not in public spaces, and sometimes not in private spaces either. The length of my skirt, the complexion of my skin, the size of my thighs and the length of my hair are all up for discussion. From friendly neighborhood aunties to random strangers on the train, everyone has an opinion about what I can and can’t do with my body. If you identify as a woman, and live in India you are probably not surprised to hear this. You have probably felt that same fear, rage, and sadness at various points of your life. Have you openly discussed your experiences of living in your body with the people around you though? For me, the response was no for the first twenty-one years of my life. We spend so much of our education focused on shaping our minds, but so many of us have never actually been taught to listen to our bodies, or openly talk about the messy, embarrassing parts of our bodies that we spend so much of our time worrying about.
Almost every woman I know has felt some amount of shame in relation to her body. Shame for not being skinny enough, or fair enough, or tall enough, or curvy enough. Shame for revealing too much of your body, shame for being a prude. It’s really never-ending. For me, the shame was so normalized that I didn’t even recognize it for the longest time. I often felt ugly compared to the images I saw in my social media feed—my skin was never that clear, my boobs just weren’t that big, and my face could never look so symmetrical. I could see that these thoughts and feelings were toxic but I thought they just stemmed from my personal failure—if my skin was clearer, if my hair had less split ends then I’d feel beautiful. I’ve taken almost 100 portraits for my photo-series @browngirlgazin where I’m trying to make more honest portraits of now and every single woman that I’ve photographed for this series has changed the way I define beauty. There is no one body, or one ideal that counts as beautiful and I think it’s time for us to start recognizing how toxic and damaging the narrow beauty standards that we grew up with are.
I used to think about self-love like it was some magical lotion that would suddenly transform the way I see myself. I used to think of it as a linear path, once I reached a certain stage of acceptance I wouldn’t have days when I looked into the mirror and just hated what I saw. I wanted to be indifferent to every pimple, every rib that was sticking out, and every single annoying aunty or boy or neighbor who gave me yet another suggestion about what they thought I should do with my body. This past year has been transformative for me, I do think I learned to love myself but it just doesn’t look the way I’d imagined it to. I still care way too much about every single visible flaw, and when I get a new pimple I can’t help but feel annoyed. What has changed though is that I’m able to laugh at myself when these thoughts hit me, and fully accept them. I’ve lived in my body for twenty-two years now and the more I allow my body to just be, the more amazed I am by it. It can be flabby, it can be skeleton-like, it makes strange noises sometimes, it refuses to co-operate some days--but through it all it’s the one thing that is fully and completely mine. It is my body and it is my business.”