Even though I grew up in Dubai, my upbringing was very much Indian. Be it the food we ate daily, the films we watched, the music we listened to or the company we kept, our Indian-ness was a huge and beautiful part of our identity. We coloured between the lines and for the most, it was a deeply comforting world.
However, the things that are often left out of the "I'm connected to my roots" story, are some of the ideologies that are perpetrated in everyday interactions, be they with relatives, friends of the family or your classmates. I can't think of even one summer holiday spent in Bombay where I wasn't welcomed into homes of relatives without remarks like "hie, you've become really fat in this last year!" or "how are your brother and sister so thin and you're so fat?" These comments didn't stop at weight and the unequal division of fat between siblings, they also extended to how fair or dark you were, how many boys you knew or dare I say it, were talking to, and your fashion choices. As a young Indian girl, over the summers, a couple of things that became apparent to me were the fact that you are considered lesser than a boy in every way, and the other was the unshakeable emphasis put on appearance, academia & what and only what meets the eye.
It became a harder punch in my ever-growing gut when I went to college in India. I was constantly teased by my male classmates about being "on the plumper side," reminded that I didn't have the ideal body type, and in general made to feel like I could audition for the next gremlins movie and easily land the lead role. The practice of commenting on someone's appearance is so deep-rooted that it trickles down generation after generation, turning potential friends into a jury.
I feel like we are such a result-oriented culture that what happens along the way in life, the inner workings, one's interests, one's personhood is devalued to a point where we are nothing but report cards, masters-degree-holders and marriage material. So some random chick speaking about body issues really means nothing in that world. In many ways you're kind of left to your own devices if you're interested in developing a career or passion outside of the norm. This whole aspect of my culture was only jarring to me because my parents who were considered rebels in their time, never put us on the conveyor belt of Straight As, academic excellence and striving for perfection. We kind of lived in our own little music-filled bubble where failure, big or small was a part of life, not to be swept under the carpet.
But from the stench of the scrutiny also came something I wouldn't trade for the world. Around the early 2000s, I began to notice what women on TV, music videos, movies were wearing. How they styled their hair, how they wore their makeup. Clothes, before that time, were merely picked to conceal my flaws, but suddenly they became about expressing myself. Learning how to fill in my scanty brows, creating different looks with makeup became another creative outlet. Don't get me wrong, I focused plenty on the result, still caring deeply about not having a certain type of body, but over the years, I'm happy to say that that has changed.
A famous clotheshorse once said, that "Half the fun of going out to a party is getting ready!" This has become such a truth in my life. As an artist and a person fending for myself, there is such a sense of panic to hit goals, conquer milestones and tell the tale of how you did it all. Sometimes you forget to enjoy all the amazing things that happen along the way. You stop recognizing the small victories because the light at the end of the tunnel is shining so bright, it blinds you. I definitely still feel like I have a ways to go with my career, my body, the person I want to be, but staying present in what I do everyday, looking at a photo of myself and choosing to silence my inner "judgey-aunty," understanding that my everyday actions towards those I love are more valuable than sporadic grand gestures, has been revelatory.
Photo & resulting good times by Naomi Rader