Hello! I hope you are finding new ways to be happy.
(Note: This newsletter has illustrations of the naked body.)
I recently pitched a column on love and belonging for a children’s magazine. Haven’t yet heard back from them but here it is.
As a scrawny, dark child, I was often called Miss Somalia, Kaadi (Marathi for stick), skeleton among other things. My elbow jut out even into my early twenties, my ribs were like one of those anorexic models. My pelvic bone looked like it was another person. People would say, “don’t walk close to me, your bones hurt.”
In the little sex-ed that was available to me, I knew that with puberty boys were to be leaner, while girls were to have rounded chests, rounded bums and small waists. The small waist was there but the rest had evaded me. Even in early 20s, I was what boys would call "carrom board". Flat chested with a missable butt.
As a child I’d wonder if I would be chosen as a dwarf when we played Snow White and the seven dwarfs. Snow White was out of reach given our skin tone and personality, we had to worry if we’d be picked at all. Much like that, I knew I wouldn’t be anyone’s crush. All the well endowed girls had takers. The fairer ones more than the darker ones. With a body of a young boy, who was I to dream?
In junior college, I remember my friend got a rose card that read, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, without you, my dick would rust.” My cards came from my friends and my relationships from the internet. It was a place where I could form relationships without being rejected for the body I owned, for not being the coolest, for being dark, for being who I was - average, skinny, overenthusiastic. They were deemed unreal but then I wasn’t too real either.
As I continued to seek connections online, I also tried very hard to rectify my body because I really wanted to fit in. People IRL (old and young) categorically told me that I didn’t have the main ingredients to please men - bust or a butt. I thought eating would help but nothing changed. I tried exercise but I remained a stick figure throughout my 20s. Every time, a lover who I had charmed with my words tried to undress me, I was so nervous, nervous about the disappointment that awaited them. If someone appreciated me, I just never accepted it because I knew it wasn’t true.
So in romantic relationships, when you know you don’t have anything special to offer, you take what you get, you have no say. I could never tell them that I wanted anything long term, I learned to be happy with what came my way. You know what they say about certain people not be choosers, I had taken that to heart. It was outside of my aukaad to ask for more. I had to be cool, I had to over extend, I had to learn new tricks to keep them because I wasn’t worth, body-wise or otherwise.
In my 30s, I found love. My young boyfriend often told me how beautiful my body was. The sex was a great validation too but I thought he was just being nice. I never believed him. My bust wasn’t big enough, I was still worried about lying on my back, because my chest would be flat. My legs were sticks, my butt was not fleshy, my waist was okay. My body was more or less like what I wanted my teenage body to be. I felt a little confident but I was still worried that there were others who had that perfect body, one that I could be abandoned for and that always played out. Though I felt mildly better about my body, I was scared of relationships and I was 35 when I knew these things were not even a possibility. I don’t know if young women hear this but when in my late 20s I heard women say, “Once you turn 30, men don’t want you.” Sigh they didn’t in my 20s too.
But then that was challenged in my mid 30s. When I thought I had missed the bus, I found myself in Vienna where there were many takers for my skin, my charm, my exoticness, my masala and whatever I had on offer. It made me feel good. I had to make zero effort, just exist and people would come and tell me how beautiful I was. My neighbour would tell me, “I am sure the women here are jealous of you.” My flatmate would say, “You are turning these European men into Asian, these men are not to walk behind you but they are.” Another said, I was Barbie-like, like she discarded clothes, I discarded men. I didn’t do any of that but it was some serious ego massage, especially for a person who had never known sexual power in their life. If the sun was out for a bit, I would go out, dressed in my come-hither dress and it never failed to get attention and adulation. Though I did a shoddy job of what I went to do in Vienna, Vienna changed my life. It gave me hope and confidence and a lot of body fat.
A photographer I dated while in Vienna clicked artistic nudes of me. I still use it when I want them to stand for me and show me some respect. :) When I came back, I dated not to find the one but for attention, love, connection and companionship. I was scared of relationships and what they could do to you. I mostly had a lot of work, a solitary life and people flitting in and out of my life when I wanted. I can’t say it was devoid of pain but that isn’t the story. The story is that Europe, my work and growing old gave me some confidence, wisdom and boobage I was happy about. It even had a cleavage. It meant every time I opened my blouse I could see lust in the eyes of the men who saw my body. My body and my confidence gave me a certain amount of power to negotiate things I wanted. Things I didn’t think I couldn’t ask for otherwise. It made me a little assertive.
With the power I still negotiated for things that I didn’t think I was otherwise worthy of. Basic things like respect, my sexual needs, my pleasure and still in ways that didn't upset others. Though there has been power, I was / am still filled with inadequacy. And that always leads to power games. You look for someone who can fit in your power and then you both can’t be honest about what you want. You will hold back affection, you will hold back connection because that’s the only power you can have.
The power hasn’t made me feel like an equal, I could ask for things but I couldn’t earlier but it didn’t make me feel secure. And I worry about what will happen when the power slips away? I don’t know how this will change for me, how it will be more equal but I am hoping all our bids for intimacy are met with a resounding yes! I am also allowing myself pleasure, pleasure of doing things I enjoy though I suck at it like dancing, allowing myself to be and not produce all the time or be of use, allowing myself massages, searching for a good vibrator, looking at sexual affirmations, reading about sexual healing among other things. I don’t know if it will change the equations but if I don’t tend to myself, how can I expect anyone else to.
Okay, that’s it!
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