I got called healthy today. The friend who said this was commenting on my Facebook picture taken with my dad two years ago. Although she hastened to add that ‘she meant it in a positive way’ I knew better. In my perception being told that you look healthy is not a compliment. Tall, big bosomed/bellied and wide cheeked girls, who guzzled creamy buttermilk with breakfast and lunch in Punjab, are what I consider ‘healthy looking’. Since I have a fair amount of Punjabi blood in me, I am aware of just how short the road is from being like me to becoming like them. Before someone pounces at me and calls me a size-ist for saying this, I need to offer my disclaimer that I have nothing against ‘healthy looking’ girls personally, it’s just that I don’t want to be them. The same way that some people don’t want to wear their hair short or perm their hair. It is a matter of personal choice.
I asked my friend, who incidentally thinks she was paying me a compliment, if she thought Nigella Lawson was healthy looking and she answered in the affirmative. For a few seconds that made me feel better.
For some inexplicable reason, Nigella has been on my mind a lot lately. I keep some of her cookbooks at home and skim through them on rare days when I am feeling domestic. On such days, I usually pull out ‘Nigella Bites – from family meals to elegant dinners’ or ‘How to be a domestic goddess – by Nigella Lawson’ and flip through them till the feeling passes, which it does usually. On the rare occasion when it doesn’t, I fix my hair, put on my pink Mac lipper that, reflectively enough, goes by the name of ‘Satiate’. Once I am feeling sufficiently glamorous, I enter the kitchen to bake. This is the reason I like Nigella, because she makes cooking and eating full fat food look glamorous and desirable.
It cannot be denied that while women think that Nigella Lawson is a bit too broad in the beam, most men find her ample proportions toothsome. Men, the world over, watch her show with decided enthusiasm, not so much for her flair in the kitchen, but for the flare around her other vital parts.
Let’s face it, Nigella gives food porn a whole new meaning when she seductively tucks into that cheese soufflé or devours that gooey chocolate pudding with her signature elan. You can tell that she loves her food and wine and unlike most of us, is absolutely unapologetic about it.
I wish I could be like that. I wish the world wasn’t full of skinny icons. I wish models on the runways of Paris and Milan were more filled out. I wish one would not feel lesser just because one was more.
If only, the standard concepts of physical beauty were not so unforgiving when it came to ones body weight. Isn’t it a pity that we are raised to believe that thin is beautiful, not by our parents mostly, but by the media that portrays girls and women in an unrealistic manner?
During my childhood, even though there wasn’t as much exposure to fashion and beauty as it is for kids today, the little we had, was enough to communicate that being thin was one of the key aspects of physical beautiful. It started with the skinny Barbie and progressed to Betty and Veronica, both of who were very thin and very fashionable. So were the Hollywood stars like Olivia Newton John and Audrey Hepburn, whose movies I was occasionally allowed to watch with my mother. I was too young, however, to comprehend, that I was not thin like them. Maybe I did not give my physical appearance too much thought back then. Be that as it may, I knew that there was this time in her life when suddenly, my full-figured mother wanted to be thin. Very thin. She began putting artificial sweetener in her tea and walked several miles a day and sustained herself on meager portions of food to keep her weight off. No matter how gaunt she became, my mother never truly believed that she was thin. Little did I know then, that not only had I received her healthy and wholesome genes, I was to also inherit this way of thinking from her in my later years.
I was and am, by virtue of genealogy, related to an exceptionally skinny person who I call my (kid) sister. Everywhere the two of us went, in our identical clothes, aunties would comment, “Oh your little sister is so thin. But it is good that you are so healthy.” I had not yet come to the conclusion that healthy was the opposite of thin and that being thin was important and so at that time, this felt like a compliment to me. When I was well into my teens, I retained my chubbiness, but my mother never let me feel like I needed to be any other way. As far as she was concerned, I was the most gorgeous thing around town and a possible doppelganger of Princess Diana. And so I continued to smile through all the ‘You are very healthy looking’ comments that came my way. Thanks to mother I was on the other end of the ‘distorted views of self’ spectrum where I believed that I was perfect the way I was and that it was my lissome sister who, in fact, needed to gain a few pounds.
So far removed was I from reality that it wasn’t until I was in my twenties and around the time that the Spice Girls had made their way onto my cultural landscape, that I realized that I was but a chubby girl. This realization too, came by happenstance when I lost a lot of weight due to the jaundice virus, god bless it. Lo and behold, I looked like a new person without my padding.
Today I shudder with disbelief when I look at my old, pre hepatitis pictures. I look like the human equivalent of corn fed chicken in them. How could I not have known that I was so well upholstered back then? How did I feel so amazing and so awesome back then? How did I ever think the H word was meant to flatter me? I spent the rest of my twenties basking in my new form but living in mortal fear of lapsing into my old size. I continue to do so, to date.
By calling me the H word, my friend had unintentionally touched a raw nerve and if it wasn’t for Nigella’s luscious image that popped into my head at the right time to rescue me, I might have been feeling awfully sorry for myself and living off celery sticks and horse fodder for the rest of the month.
I hate to admit but I feel happier when I am feeling awfully thin. When my clothes don’t fit me anymore and I feel the need to buy a wardrobe a size smaller.
My friend and designer Gavin Miguel looked at me incredulously when I recently told him that I needed new clothes because I felt I had piled on a few pounds. “What is with you women? All of you come to me complaining about your size and then when I measure you, you are more or less your old size. I was beginning to wonder if there is something wrong in the way I measure, but after looking at you I am certain, there is something wrong with all of you.”
Gavin is straight, so he was not going to be able to understand why women felt this way.
“But Gavin,” I told him unhappily, pointing at a dress that I had wanted to alter after it was falling off me “this dress you had made for me two years ago, it had become too loose on me and was falling off me, but now it fits,” .
“But it fits you so well,” he exclaimed when I wore it on for him.
“But that is the problem, I want it to fall off me like before,” I told him feeling woebegone.
As I said this to him, his expression was all that was needed for me to fully understand the degree of my insanity. I know how crazy any normal man must think women like me are. We are happy when our expensive clothes don’t fit us anymore on account of weight loss.
But it is too late for us to change now. Maybe we can be more careful with our daughters by exposing them to full sized, confident and happy women who eat all they want and do not feel guilty if they gain a few pounds because to them being healthy is important, being thin isn’t.
I have decided that I am going to be that woman, as long as my dress size does not change. I can always invest in clothing that has more spandex than silk in it and learn to suck in my breath and hold it in for an entire evening.
That, and I will have to stop hanging out with my sister.