Learning to love yourself isn’t as easy as it ought to be. We live in a society that is perpetually off balance, where expectations and reality rarely align themselves, where validation is often sought in strangers that merely exist in a virtual space. But as human beings, we tend to forget that it is our right, our natural state of being to be happy and healthy, regardless of the body types and boxes people try and squeeze us into.
It is important to create a safe space for oneself mentally, physically and emotionally, and to love the self in its entirety. And on this path to self realisation and care, loving the body is one of the most crucial aspects of growth.
Design Fabric, in collaboration with Ripe and Half Full Curve, interviewed six women coming from different worlds who love or have learnt to love their bodies, accepted their flaws, and shared their stories as part of a photoshoot with Anai Bharucha.
I’ve always felt very uncomfortable with showing any skin. I wear full sleeves in the summer and my legs are almost scarily pale because they never see the sun. For the longest time, I ignored my stretch marks because I didn’t see them very often. Being a part of this shoot made me realise that I wasn’t ignoring them as much as avoiding them. When I showed them off, I realised I quite like them. They make my skin look like river beds. I’ve always liked those.
Today, my relationship with my body is better than before. It used to be painful, fraught, and difficult for the longest time. When you grow up hating your body, you think everyone else hates you for it too, even when they don’t. My body became the focal point of all my interactions because it felt like the breach between the person I was and the person I thought I was. This went on for the longest time till it exhausted me into accepting myself. Writing helped me reconcile with so many of my fractured bits. I don’t think I ‘love’ my body. I might never. But it’s strong, it’s weathered storms it didn’t deserve, and it soldiered on when the rest of me was broken and hurt. It’s a good body, and I respect it.
I tolerate most of my body. It’s imperfect and mostly annoying, but it’s mine. And I will live with it. I do like my eyebrows though. All those years of parlour aunties telling me to thin them down and now thick, bushy eyebrows are in vogue. I feel ludicrously confident about them.
So is my body a shrine? No, shrines can be desecrated. Shrines are built by someone else and modified to please the men who create them. My body is a city. It has layers and layers of cacophony and history. They build themselves up every time they’re razed to the ground, despite the odds of the same. That’s what my body is, a city.
Sofia Thenmozhi Ashraf
I didn’t get to choose my body, but I’ve made it my own. I’ve personalised it with ink and piercings and haircuts. Somedays I hide imperfections. Somedays I flaunt flaws.
I think I’m too skinny. I know I’ll never be called sexy and I’m cool with that. There are weak moments when I do wish I was curvier. But those moments are rare and quickly fixed with some social media validation, mostly Facebook and Tinder. When I feel unsexy, I go on Tinder and feel super validated. That’s my trick!
Also, the skinny thing makes me look like a 12 year old. Sometimes, I wish I looked older so that as a professional, I could demand more respect. But, what I lack in adipose tissue, I try and make up with aptitude. I give myself a lot of tough love for what I consider faults that can be rectified. But I have never hurt myself. I was diagnosed with Lower Lumbar Scoliosis at the age of 15. Luckily, mine isn’t an extremely serious case. Extreme scoliosis can be morbidly disfiguring and become a physical limitation. I just go to bed in a bit of pain everyday, pull my back easier than most people, can’t sit or stand for long periods or carry heavy objects. Also, I walk funny and can’t do a handstand. Still, my scoliosis has been manageable. I’ve masked my duck walk with rapper swag. I use special orthopedic cushions on my chairs. I vow to do yoga each year, do it for a bit and fail to follow through.
For the shoot, I focussed on my Scoliosis for a number of reasons. Most people aren’t even aware of this condition. For those who wish to fix it, if diagnosed early, a back brace will save you from a lifetime of discomfort. My second reason was to show that having Scoliosis doesn’t make you a grotesque gargoyle. So I’m a little extra curvy on one side. I still lead an amazing life. I won’t romanticise a medical condition by calling it beautiful or something that adds character to my body. But I will say this - it is a part of who I am and if I can’t beat it, I’m going to own it.
Fashion & Lifestyle Blogger
I have always had issues with myself being photographed. I'm very concerned about my double chin, my paunch, my muffin top, and the way the fat folds over my knees. Growing up, I was always the chubby kid that would be the first one to get into the pool to hide her thick thighs. But I was told I had such a pretty face that people would just dismiss looking at my body. So I centred my attention to my face too much. But for this shoot, I decided to bare it all.
I still feel queasy when catcalled or just called fat. I'm nowhere close to comfortable to be known by just that word. But I'm learning to embrace my body even today. I stay in close knit circles, have surrounded myself with people who truly believe in me, and am constantly evolving. My family and best friend are my biggest strengths. I suffered from Bulimia in sixth grade but yoga and reiki helped me overcome it and develop better eating habits. Now, I comfortably hide behind the label of "thyroid and hormonal imbalance".
I started as a plus size model for e-commerce and that is one place where you are literally just a mannequin for all the beautiful things to be put on. And it really bothers me how people still expect plus-size models to have the perfect hourglass figure with a curvy bum and boobs. We have seen plus-size women open up and share their stories like never before, but even then, there are standards you need to fit into to qualify as a plus-size model. What's worse is that the brands making clothes for plus-size women expect you to look a certain way to wear their garments instead of making feel-good clothing for the body type. It' doesn't work like that for half the population! A lot of closeted retailers have come up with lines for the plus-sized women today. But I honestly don't see any designers pushing their boundaries to make really edgy clothes for us in India. So I take my own fashion risks - I make my own stuff and don it in real and reel life too.
Yoga teacher and choreographer
Being into fitness, fashion, dance, and yoga, it’s absolutely necessary to have a very healthy relationship with your own body to be able to influence others to love theirs. I truly believe that I have never been fitter or healthier, and I am extremely accepting of whatever “flaws” I think I may have. I’ve had people come to me for advice on different things. My advice is to first and foremost be in absolute acceptance of your body. To be able to accept your love handles, embrace your stretch marks, dark discolored patches of skin, cellulite, cankles or an even an extremely round nose! It doesn’t really matter because that’s what makes you, YOU.
Personally, I’ve always had an extremely athletic body right since my pre-teen/teenage years, and started developing a curvier body after I turned 23. So this is pretty much what I envisioned my body to be like when I was younger - fuller, healthier, and lean with some sexy curves. I am extremely blessed to have this body in a perfectly working condition and I see it as nothing short of devotion to keep it that way. I owe myself that much.
As a fitness influencer, a lot of my work involves being on social media. I get a lot of messages from people on my various social media channels and would like to believe that I am doing something that probably inspires someone, somewhere to start taking care of their body. What is important is to fall in love with what you already have, dance in your own little space, be mindful of what you put inside your body, nourish and hydrate your body and give it all that it needs to make you feel extra good!
With that in mind, my experience at the shoot was probably slightly different from the others. Having done some shoots previously, I knew what part of the body to “show”, how to pose to make the body look better or catch the light in certain angles, and what unflattering angle to avoid and what part to ‘hide’. Nevertheless, it felt liberating to be in sort of provocative clothing (but not really) and look casual, nonchalant and candid.
There was a time when I had my own share of insecurities about how fat I thought my arms were or how I could never imagine wearing gorgeous dresses because I was too "big" for dresses. There have been points in life where I was at my lowest and was close to giving up. I have gone for almost a week without food, and if I was forced to eat, I would go throw up to ensure I had an empty stomach. As stupid as it feels now, it was only happening after listening to all the "You've become too fat, you should do something about it”. And most of it came from the closest of friends and family. It went to an extent of hating my body and life and everything about it.
But over the years, I’ve gotten myself to love my body. When I look in the mirror, I love what I see. I especially love my curves and my shapely legs - they're big and strong and take me places. I couldn't be more grateful! I wish people were also capable of normalizing all body types. It bothers me that people allow size to matter so much! There is a BIG need to inculcate values related to self-love and valuing one's body.
I’ve been diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease Lichen Planus, which is basically an inflammatory condition of the skin that leads to red and purple bumps all over the body, which eventually fade away leaving permanent black spots. I have been suffering from this condition for the last 18 months and honestly thought my modeling would have to stop because of the spots. Luckily, I have the most supportive people around me who never let it get to me. I never stopped modeling in spite of this. Now I just see them as special kinds of freckles on my body. They make me unique and I'm not ashamed to show it off or talk about it anymore.
This was probably the most comfortable shoot I've been a part of.
For me, it's always been a love-hate relationship with my body. I tend to have my odd days of complete insecurity and most days of complete acceptance and love for it. I don’t think I love anything specifically about my body. As a whole, I'm pretty okay with it. My weight fluctuates pretty often over long periods, so there are days I feel bloated, which kind of gets to me sometimes. That’s what I probably struggle with the most.
I definitely don't see my body as a shrine. I go overboard and abuse it knowing it can take it. I don't eat healthy too often nor do I sleep on time. I just like to do whatever I feel like at any given time. This is probably not the greatest way to look at it. Often, I strongly consider the need to keep myself healthy and maybe watch what I eat and get into routine and then I eat junk food or stay up late for no reason and forget I ever had the thought. To some extent, I cause myself some mental distress with regards to the fact that I don't exactly lead a very healthy lifestyle. But I try to make sure it doesn’t consume me to the point of self-harm.
I think because I'm relatively comfortable with my body and its ability to feel different to me everyday, I draw women of different shapes and sizes as an artist, without consciously trying to. When I depict women, my main focus is more on the emotion they evoke and less on the actual shape of their bodies.