Your body is a Wonderland

One mile to every inch of
Your skin like porcelain
One pair of candy lips and
Your bubblegum tongue 
 

Issues weighing on my mind.
I recently managed to excavate some really old pictures of mine from a relinquished photo album in my mother’s cupboard. I have latent archaeological tendencies and discoveries like these bring me unparalleled joy. The sort that allows me to detach from my inner Kafka for a good 20 minutes. Dare not smirk, you!
So, anyway, the pictures chronicle my life from the ages 5 to 16 except for two odd shots, one with my younger sister and another from an old portfolio that was shot when I was 19ish. It’s the later photograph that got me thinking off tangent(again). That, coupled with a recent shopping excursion.
Let’s start from the beginning, then.
At 19, I was waifish, a twiggy replica albeit more chocolate than vanilla. I am not tremendously tall, I stand 172 cms in ballerina flats. My height coupled with my weight(lessness?) gave me the undesirable aura of what Lagerfeld was trying so unimaginably hard to re-invent – Heroin Chic. To add insult to injury, I used to be, what some may occasionally refer to as, a “model”. I prefer my individual description of blood- and- flesh –cutouts-stomping -back -and -forth -down-wooden planks- wearing –expensive- garbage bags.
My modeling stint was short-lived since I have perpetually suffered from ADD and that coupled with my personal conflicts while negoatiating gravity and Newtonian mechanics often led me astray from the catwalk and frequently into the arms/lap of some unsuspecting corporate head honcho who probably was half way to a coronary already after the first bikini clad supernova zoomed by!

The seemingly incongruous point is that I was a reed thin model in the pre historic era of my life and there arose a conflict that has stayed with me till this day. Thinnity doesn’t please members of my family much. As a heady cocktail of part Indian and part latino being skinny is something either side of my family just doesn’t comprehend or appreciate.
You got to have the shape, no?” – my paternal aunt’s frequent bleating over the phone during my teen years. No asking after my well being, just the usual apprehension about my body fat percentage. More is merrier here. Thats a different kind of latin exchange that even South Central can’t front on. You dig?
I wasn’t raisesd on a staple diet of Vogues and Elles and till I was approached by the agency, I was led to believe that Elite was either a prep school for over-privileged nutters or a company that manufactured electrical appliances.
The dichotomous existence I lead was the most apparent when I’d scamper from one audition to another whilst throngs of skeletal girls were being instructed to “lose the extra inches”(where from? the skin of their teeth?) and then would come home to a large family(in ways more than one) and their constant shrieks of “You look emaciated”, followed by incessant stuffing of my face with everything that’s fried, baked, grilled and sauted on God’s green earth.
Fortunately I didn’t suffer from any fashionable eating disorders even though I did, with immense sadness, watch a healthy amount of girls succumb to the pressures of fitting into a pair of Chanel’s cigarette pants. Nip, tuck for good luck. That was the mantra. Surgical Santa didn’t climb down my chimney but quite a few of my acquaintances did gift themselves a little uplifting of the spirit and more during many a christmas eve. Sometimes I’d almost feel guilty coz I was naturally thin. Metabolism has been a friend of mine though I wouldn’t have felt abandoned even if it wasn’t the case. The fashion industry can be terribly insular and claustrophobic. Despite the public hossanas in the celebration of unique and diverse look, everyone looks like everyone else and if you don’t then you are ostracized. Immediately. Barely out of their cradles some of the 13 year olds already had furrows entrenched on their pretty little foreheads with the constant measuring of waists and busts.
For me, harmonizing the outside with the inside amounted to tight-rope walking…with the entire Brady Bunch balanced on my shoulders, while they played YMCA in the background. The constant refrain at home was – “ You are thin. Eat something.” As a precarious adolescent you feel suitably schizophrenic trying to comprehend how is that one set of people think of you as scrawny even as another set makes you feel as though you are the brown, female Chris farley.
Thankfully, none of it managed to break my sway. Thin or heavy, I was happy either way. I am thankful for la familia  coz I never felt the need to barf an expensive Italian meal just so I could manage perfectly for the fitting next day.
An ambition to equal Tyra’s tanginess or Naomi’s notoriety came to a screeching halt when in an unfortunate accident, a cup of black coffee ended on a particularly insolent stylist’s head. It was an accident, mind you.
Stepping into the twenties led to two important discoveries. 1) The Second Sex is an excellent book and 2) I have a butt.
Thinnity was replaced by femininity. My aunt’s countless prayers to all the patron saints of Womanly Body Parts to bless me with “real breasts” yielded results. Today, I am happily “curvaceous”. Loud yikes to that! The world I inhabit now is slightly more erudite than the one I discarded a while ago so my shape isn’t a chief determinant of my success. My self worth is not directly proportional to the size of my waist. Or so I thought.
After an important and successful client presentation, I make my way to the restroom. The time is 12 am and suddenly I hear muffled sounds of someone heaving. I am usually clueless about bathroom etiquette and so I mumble my offer of assistance from outside the door to the person in the closed booth. No response. I step out to seek the cloakroom attendant but when I come back, the said person is missing.
A couple of hours later, a colleague walks up and slyly confesses to the act.
“I told myself I wouldn’t eat but I was so nervous bout this client pitch, I overdosed on muffins/donuts/ whatyouhaves. I had to get it out of my system. I feel so large. The other girls looked so nice and slender in their suits”

She is, by no stretch of my imagination (and I have a fairly elastic mind), large. She has a lovely, girly sorta figure.
I sit down with an undisguised smirk on my face even as I mutter something akin to – “Take care of yourself, its unhealthy..”. This unsettles me, enormously. An overt, almost rancorous version of me takes over my psyche for a minute or maybe more.
Here I am, a whole 5 years down the line, in the posh environs of a well-heeled corporate establishment working with a team that prides itself as the brain-station for the intellectually sentient and one of the brightest stars on this horizon is essentially a 13 year old anorexic girl from my yesteryears.

It causes serious grief to be informed by every magazine on the stall that I need to “Say no to carbs”. I wonder if they asked for Mz Reagan’s permission before putting their own spin on her 80s campaign catch-phrase. You can’t and shouldn’t eat wheat, rice, pulses, egg white, citrus fruits, egg yolk, zucchini, tomatoes, potato, onions, red food, white food, brown food. To make this a lot simpler just staple your mouth and go live under a rock. You ain’t hot till your ribcage threatens to pierce through your epidermis and you essentially need a license for your pelvic bones, jutting out perilously, coz they are sharp enough to cause serious damage. 6 feet Russian runway queens with sunken eyes, promoted so eagerly by Wintour and co don’t help the trend either. Then again, they are the fashion trailbazers and “regular” was never chic.
Fashion pundits allege that they promote a certain body image coz women like watching and men like fantasizing about these stick insects on display and they are in the business of selling so they have to employ tactics to ensure sales.
 Patriarchy is a solid enough reason to comply with, isn’t it?
I see women of all shapes and sizes, sometimes even the ridiculously thin craving for, yes, a still thinner body.
In the Apple age of re-invention, you can never be thin enough, iFat is the slogan every woman is left screaming despite whatever her weight may be. Its as though body dysmorphia is no more a tormenting psychiatric disorder but an indication of the hip quotient(pun intended)and hot water(and nothing else) has replaced Vietnamese food(or whatever else were we chewing last time) as the latest culinary trend.
Malfunctions galore.

Oh.. about that retail adventure I mentioned earlier.
I walked into a store, a fairly upmarket joint, the kind that caters to cretins with designer-collared Chihuahuas and reeks of offensive smelling incense to make believable the New Age Buddha Bar decor. Upon my arrival, the raucous salesgirl, with the entire supply of Riplon circa 1997 caking her visage, caustically remarks that the sections in front don’t stock anything in my size.
My size ‘eh?
Whats that?
Regular?
“Do you think am fat or stupid? And you can only pick one?” – I pose my question while thumbing their garish brouchure.
“Err…no ..madam.” She brays
“Quickly, Betty. Which one is it going to be?” I wink.
“ Sorry ..madam” Words barely make their way out of her mouth.
“Don’t be. You and I walk the same path in our size 8 chinos.” I smile.

I am 5’8’’ and I weigh 56 Kgs as of now. I was 66 kgs till about two months ago and I have also been 43 kgs at one point in time. No, I’ve never had to establish kinship with nausea to feel better about my body. I like myself just fine. I kickbox everyday and I practice pilates twice a week. I don’t do these things to make or keep myself hideously wiry. I do these things to keep myself fit and also to be ready for any street side scuffles I might get into thanks to my nonstop activism sprees or alternatively just coz I enjoy streetside scuffles. I also binge on curly fries every fortnight and though none of my parts are yet wobbly, however, if there were to be, I’d love them all the same. And I am now reaching for a bowl of toffee pudding ice cream. You should too, once in a while.

p.s.: Any comments about my descent from Leonard Cohen and ilk to Mayer’s boyish tunes will not be taken to kindly. You have been warned!

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~ by iconoplastic on November 2, 2007.

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