I booked a photoshoot for myself months ago. Knowing it was approaching I was well aware I had started the obligatory weight loss countdown I’m sure many of us are loathe to do but had not actually made any progress. The day was getting closer and I started to get anxious, what do I wear to hide my rolls? How shall I pose to look thinner? Can I ask the photographer to photoshop my chins out so I’m left with just the one? I asked friends for fashion advice and when my nerves still wouldn’t calm I turned to an incredibly supportive network of women to ask them if they had experienced the same pre-shoot nerves and how they dealt with them. I was soothed by their words and encouraged to share the results. Needless to say, the shoot went off without a hitch, once we got going I loved every minute of it, laughed all day with the photographer and was giddy with anticipation to see the results.
However when the pictures landed in my inbox instead of immediately opening them my hand froze. I could see clearly how the next scene was about to unfold. I would look at the images, see all the things the camera amplifies that I wished it wouldn’t and feel utterly broken and hateful towards myself not understanding why the mirror lied and convinced me I looked ok while the camera told me a different story. I held off on looking at the pictures, choosing to avoid carrying the ensuing dark cloud with me on the school run. When I eventually looked at the photos (with baited breath) that evening the usual self-loathing and hate reared its ugly head. Like my own personal bully that just doesn’t quit. I turned away from the computer screen and took a deep breath. And realised for once I wasn’t angry at not having lost the weight I promised myself I would lose. I was angry for not accepting myself, for being so mean to myself. And so I set about looking for inspiration, books, articles, podcasts, anything that could direct me on how to start accepting myself as I am.
Long conversations were had that night with my own personal Shewolves, a group of fierce friends who put me straight and smacked the smacktalk right out of me for putting myself down so much. I went back to the photos as if looking at a friend and was overcome with love for the girl with the plump face and the mummy tummy hiding under the billowy dress. How could I be so cruel to this girl? She doesn’t deserve that. She’s been through so much already and she’s still laughing. Why was I trying so hard to rain on her parade? I immediately shared a few over social media, doing it quickly before I changed my mind. Over the next few hours the love that poured in knocked me for six. How is it complete strangers can show us more love than we show ourselves? Why does it take a loved one to remind us of our best qualities whereas we can’t think of one, but ask me my worst and I’ll name you 3 right off the bat.
For decades I’ve struggled with my weight, have had my worth measured by it and everytime I think “ok, I can accept myself, it’s fine. I’m fine” all it takes is one tiny ignorant comment (when’s the baby due? You’re not pregnant? Are you sure? No seriously, how many months are you? Real life convo folks) to unravel it. Our culture is obsessed with looks, or should I say “One Look” and just by looking at popular culture alone it’s clear to see why the messages that are filtering into our consciousness about beauty standards and body image are so skewed. Progress is slow when it comes to the #bodypositivity movement in the South Asian Diaspora. And no, I don’t count Sabyasachi’s token gesture of including one ample-bosomed beauty in his campaigns sometimes as a concerted effort to dismantle the stereotype. It’s an uphill battle I know, reminding yourself your worth is more than your size when everything you see around you is geared to accommodate smaller sizes. Walk into a shop on Soho road or on Southall broadway and you’ll struggle to find something on the rack in a size 14/16 upwards that isn’t out of season, on sale or just plain awful. Ridiculous considering the average women's size in the UK is a size 16. But you’ll be promised over and over that it can be adjusted. That doesn’t make me feel better, a mere wish to be included and feel regular involves having to be squeezed in or making do with limited options rather than accommodated as fairly as the size 10’s are.
Why is our culture selling us an outdated version of what women should look like? whether that’s through inaccessible fashion, or Bollywood churning out clone after clone of young, fair and slim heroines or accepting lyrics describing a desirable girl as having a size 28 waist and 47 weight and then chastising her because “the fat one got married before her”. Anything that doesn’t fit the typical mould will always be seen as not quite up to par, whether that be “plus-size”. Or short. Or dark. Or those of us who wear glasses(!). The list goes on. So while the hope is that attitudes will change eventually and we will stop being dictated to as to what is favourable and what isn't, in the meantime I’m going to try to be nicer to the girl looking back at me in the mirror and remember all I am. And that it has nothing to do with my weight.
Navigating life as very Punjabi woman in a very white community, I’m a makeup artist who’s on a mission to teach people the value of authenticity and valuing themselves. Your voice is important, use it to power change, within and around you.