“I like my girls like my roti, round & brown”

Recently I came across a T-shirt by DesignerSingh that attracted my attention – I like my girls like my roti, round and brown. It caught my eyes because it was one of the rare slogans that made being “round” and “brown” a positive thing; it encouraged the breaking down of stereotypes that being skinny and fair was considered beautiful.

I’ve always been considered a meaty punjabi girl. I remember during my growing up days, people used to come up to me and call my cheeks “gol (round) like ladoos (indian sweets)”. When I smiled, my cheeks would turn into big round balls and I had a little double chin that cheekily sneaked out when I would look down. Although I lost most of my baby fat as I grew older, the thought of me being “fat” has always stuck; like an ingrained stigma. I look in the mirror and notice my flabby arms. My thighs still touch as I walk; leaving painful and burning abrasions after a long walk.

My body is a pendulum; fluctuating from gaining weight to losing weight. That leaves me terrible stretch marks, amongst other things. However, the thing that annoyed me the most was the judgmental stares and overt remarks in gurudwaras (sikh temples) by ladies calling me out (as if they hadn’t seen me in a million years) to tell me that

     Oh my, you’ve become so sukhardi (dried up and stick-thin), are you being starved? 

These statements always made me laugh; compared to my non-punjabi friends, I was always one of the chubbiest girls in the group. It gave me an epiphany, in fact – in our Punjabi culture, being fat was always a good thing – it was a sign of wealth and health; it signified beauty and opulent fertility. So when girls lost weight, it was a sign that there was something wrong; that they were not being fed, that they were unhappy and not eating to their satisfaction. It made old women worried. My nani (maternal grandmother) would get so worried whenever she noticed a drastic drop in my weight and would immediately start feeding me (and stuffing me) with all sorts of foods – from her famous kheer to ladoos and parothey; all in an effort to make me look “healthy” again. Skinny was just not in their dictionary. You were either “healthy-sized” or “unhealthy”; there was no in-between. In the same line, the people in Punjab ate comparably much more food than us – they drank fresh lassi and milk from cows, they could eat at least 5 rotis laden with ghee and vegetables fit for a family of four. And they were healthy – muscular, strong and sickness-free, working in the fields all day.

Contrast this with the modern punjabi home, outside of Punjab (non-resident indians). We eat minuscule amounts – I eat a maximum of 1.5 rotis a day, drink only water and not milk, eat only one small bowl of lentils / vegetables and I would be at my fullest. I stay home all day or go to school and do little or no labour work and am still sickly and tired most of the time (going to doctors at least once a month). I’m considered “fat” for an average size 8 skinny-built woman due to my lack of a thigh gap and flat stomach and a body shape that of an inverted triangle rather than an hourglass, and yet, I’m considered “unhealthily skinny” for a Punjabi family (size 10 – 12). Why the paradox?

Ultimately, what I’m saying is, is that society defines what the “norm” is and what “beautiful” is. The notion of beauty is a man-made construct that forces us to feel inadequate and constricts us in our everyday lives. We adapt the way we eat, the way we dress and most importantly, the way we feel for society. We feel ugly and perceive ourselves as less attractive, we eat less and feel guilty for indulging in our favourite foods because of what society says we should look like; heck, we (most people) exercise merely because we want to look good and have better bodies for society rather than to stay healthy for ourselves. We are the slaves of beauty. We are living our lives trying to be something we already are. We are already inherently beautiful. Yet, we go through our everyday lives feeling insecure and undesirable.

I wish someone told me this sooner but – It does not matter if the crop top you like reveals your flabby stomach; wear it. It does not matter if the sleeveless dress you bought shows off your thicker arms; adorn it. It does not matter if the shorts you’re wearing exposes your big thighs; keep them on. It does not matter if the bikini you’ve always wanted to buy makes your butt look huge; buy it. I don’t know about you, but for me, I love being round and brown, I love not having to live my life for the world. I live it for me. I love having the comforting feeling that no matter how fat I may look like in a modern western society, in gurudwaras and in my punjabi home, I will always be considered “healthy” sized and beautiful, the ladies will always come up to me (annoyingly) and tell me how skinny I’ve become and i’ll always be fed with more food and told never to stop eating.

That is all that matters.

Anything, or anyone, that tells you otherwise, that tells you that you should eat less and cover up because you’re fat should be reminded beauty is just an intangible concept. What really matters, is how you feel about yourself inside.

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