(And by you, I mean me, of course.)
One of the side effects of discovering a deeper sense of myself has been the frightening reality that I enjoy dressing up and feeling pretty. It has meant allowing myself the luxury of indulging in small things I never thought I could possibly want or love. Things I didn’t even know I could love, simply because I hadn’t considered the possibility long enough to try it. All because of a fixed sense of self that didn’t fully align with things like pink lipstick, red hair, the occasional selfie on a day when I feel good, or even just looking in the mirror and acknowledging that I look and feel really good. All because of a woefully inaccurate and incomplete sense of who I am, and certain other ideologies that I had hastily picked up and imbibed, for no other reason other than that some parts of them sounded nice and aspirational.
I am now having to slowly deconstruct my false beliefs, examine how distorted my sense of self has been so far, and put it all back together in a way that is most authentic to who I am right now. So much of this has meant letting go of beliefs about being a woman I have staunchly held so far. Beliefs that I have partly because of how I was raised, some because of living through my teens and 20s believing I wasn’t cool/pretty/popular enough to every be worthy of the self-indulgence of prettiness and moments of self-assured confidence and vanity, but mostly based on the ideas of feminism that I have exposed myself to.
And so it’s been a fun time of smashing my own shaky foundations, and rebuilding what feels like and is a more wholistic self.
First and foremost, I’ve realised once again (and had it reaffirmed so many times in so many different ways recently) that the very idea of beauty is a social construct. Mostly one created to pander to the tastes and likes of the gender that sits in viewing, in judgement of the other. For far too long, one half of our kind have decided what is deemed pretty, desirable, sexy and so much of that has come at the cost of our comfort and sanity. To be constantly craving being something one is inherently not, and therefore the constant need to reach an (unhealthy) standard of what is beautiful, is taxing as fuck. And yet we wholly owned that fight and make it a large part of what we do day after day after day.
Personally, I have realised that even with a moderate-to-healthy level of self-awareness and self-assuredness, the constant exposure to a range of media and pop culture that screams messages of what is “right” and desirable, has further reinforced a lot of those shaky beliefs. I may have escaped the desire for fair skin wholeheartedly, but I fell hook line and sinker for the strong-is-the-new-skinny aspiration. And it was so easy to believe that was a healthy, even empowering aspiration to have. For over a decade this has shaped the way I viewed everything about myself — my body, my attitude to health and fitness that was ironically downright unhealthy/obsessive, the way I dress, the way I carried myself, my body language and even my sexuality.
I’ve realised how something so seemingly harmless, couched in good intentions, the right messaging has therefore shaped my notion of beauty, my self-worth, ad my notions of my self. But it was only when I realised how may choices I was making/have made are not quite my own but rather a reflection of what I have internalised as attractive, aspirational, that the cracks have become visible.
This year will go down as the year with the least amount of exercise or attention to fitness. In another time, this would have sent me down a spiral. But I wasn’t prepared for how freeing and powerful it has been to let that shit to, and instead watch myself grow. To feel my hips widen, to enjoy watch the cuts and curves of my once muscular body give way to a more curvy body, to experience with fascination, how my body is changing. And to therefore allow for changes in my wardrobe and the choices in the clothes I want to wear. Suddenly, I have found comfort in clothes that fit me, rather than the other way around. There are small joys in pink lipstick and red hair, in bright prints as much as muted staples, in shopping itself (a luxury I eschewed for a minimalism that I now know is not entirely mine).
What an absolutely liberating joy it has been to rediscover a new sense of self that is beautiful. In filling myself up with the solidity of an inner knowing, rather than the wobbly and slippery slope that is external validation. I think I am only now discovering what it means to know a self worth that is rooted in a belief system that is entirely mine, aligned with notions and attitudes that work for (rather than against) me and the person I am growing into. The most beautiful discovery is how this translates into a confidence, a positive body language, a freeing energy about myself. And this has come from building myself ground-up, rooted in a deep knowing what fills me deep in my core.
It has been like meeting myself for the very first time. And what a beautiful meeting it has been.
Two years ago: Day 229: Into the blue
It’s not a random occurrence that there is so much talk of food and a more than normal preoccupation with eating well around here. Of late — all through this year actually — food (and my relationship with it) has emerged as a big piece in my story. The need to look at why I was compelled to eat a certain way, or not eat certain things to be more precise, was entirely spurred by a year of shedding so much weight and still feeling a sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness deep down, with regard to the way my body looked and felt. As much as I celebrated how much my body had coped with what I was putting it through, and marvelled at the body’s capacity to transform in such a dramatic way, I was also appalled at how unrealistic my ideals were and how harsh I was being towards my body.
Somewhere in there was also some guilt about even admitting to struggling with this. Because I have never been typically “fat”. And right there was proof. Of my selective blindness, of my denial of the truth, of these wholly unrealistic ideals I was holding myself up to, even as my fitness mantra was one of fitness and not slimness. And a wild discomfort that my newfound thinness had actually given me a license to own by body some. The selfies I was never able to take, were suddenly so easy. Sharing pictures of myself became comfortable. And let’s not even go into how my dressing changed.
I wondered, did it mean I had an inherent need to conform to an accepted standard of shape and size? Did I not feel as kindly towards my body anyway? It was a harsh reality check to wake up to my own double standards and the effect it had on me, my sense of worth and the truth about how how I really felt about my body.
Today, approximately eight months on from when I started to question and examine these aspects of what I hitherto assumed was just a “fitness obsession”, I find myself coming back to me. Regaining parts I’d ignored and shut away. Finding form where there was none. Regaining that sweet spot of a healthy balanced relationship other everything that I put in my mouth. Feeling whole again. Literally and figuratively. Yes my pants are much tighter than they were last year and yes I know how good getting off sugar and rice was — for my skin, for my energy levels more than anything else. But I will not terrorise my body to conform anymore. I have a long way to go, but today I felt like I was in my body again. Wholly, completely myself. No parts missing, no parts feeling heavy or like a burden, nothing I wanted to change. And I want to remember it. For good.
Two years ago: Day 221: On the road
I had to get to a 6 am yoga class this morning, in order to be home in time to get ready and get to my course in time. But when I had informed my teacher that I’d be swapping my Friday yoga class for an earlier slot, for just this week and the next, my inner self had a hearty laugh. When I realised that Id have to wake up at 5.30 to make it, I too laughed at my optimism, given that waking up (period) has been challenging of late. Waking up early, much earlier than usual, out of the question.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
I made it to class. Both of them. On time and not dragging myself out half asleep.
It’s a small improvement, but a significant step one nonetheless. And because I know it is as much to do with the right thing at the right time, as it is a pleasant surprise, I want to acknowledge it.
The truth is I woke up at 5.15 am and after ten minutes of groggily pottering about at home, I decided that my body was just not up for it and actually went back to bed, blanket and all. But just as I was settling back into sleep mode, in an instant I decided I just didn’t want to skip the yoga session. I was drawn by the promise of how good it feels when I’m done.
I sprang out and took myself to class. And I’m just so glad that I did.
I had a blissful hour on a classic, cloudy 22 degree Bangalore morning, by the pool. Gentle gusts of wind occasionally challenging my balance, the woooshing trees begging me to gaze around, the pool splashing ever subtly, a sparsely populated class where I knew nobody, a little early morning stiffness and resistance, just that little willingness to push and find a little give.
And sure enough, I felt as good as new by the time I was done.
Gratitude for yoga today. Gratitude for my body for showing me the way — for demanding the rest when I needed it, and for pushing me out of bed today when I needed it. Gratitude for the monsoon and the beautiful mornings we’ve been having. Gratitude for the sense to just give in to this right now. Gratitude for the energy and the flow that goes into an hour of yoga feeling so fruitful. Gratitude for the pleasant surprise that was today, really.
Two years ago: Day 159: What I watched
One way of looking at patience is the acceptance with utmost calm, that most times things happen in a pace, manner and an order quite different from the one I have in mind.
Beginning yoga (yet again) really affirmed this for me. That the right thing only makes perfect sense when it is the right time. At that right time, the outcome is sometimes entirely different from the one I might have imagined. And yet, it will fall into place and feel perfect, like a misplaced jigsaw piece that has surfaced unexpectedly and clicked into slot making everything shiny, whole and complete.
I’ve given yoga a shot many times before. Usually spurred by short bursts of enthusiasm to try something new, or when I have wanted to take a break but not go off movement completely. You see, I’ve always stupidly considered yoga to be too low-key for me. I know and acknowledge it’s power and place in the world of fitness and exercise, but personally, with my love for high intensity, cardio-based training and my experience with weightlifting, I just never felt that yoga would do it for me. It hadn’t really ever hit the spot like running or lifting weights or going to the gym or kickboxing did.
I’ve always deemed exercise “effective” when it has me breaking into a sweat, or it leaves me breathless, feeling sore the next day. My idea of progress too, was about pursuing that sweet pain that exercise usually gives. Bolstered adequately by messages that made me feel anything less than sweating bullets or having my heart race was not cutting it.
“If it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working,” “Your stomach should be on fire,” and “Always listen to your body, unless your body says don’t squat today. Stupid body!” and the like.
All very well and true. But because most things happen at a pace and manner quite opposite to what I usually have in mind, or the way in which I would imagine a spring back, it was no different with the downward spiral I took on the fitness front.
Several fits and starts in the first five months of this year made me realise I’m also utterly bored with a gym set up (even though I do enjoy some of the individual bits, like weight training, in isolation).
Even as I was allowing myself the time off, patiently waiting for the return to come in it’s own time, I always it would lead me straight back to the gym. I even contacted a couple of personal trainers, assuming that what I needed was a change of pace, some guidance and direction.
But, more often than I’d like to admit, things happen in a pace and manner quite unlike the way I imagine. And much like the attempt to hurry along change in my life, jump small steps to get to the bigger milestones faster, has proven futile, with exercise too, I realised that there is no fighting the natural order or energy of what my body has been telling me.
I’ve known my body hitting a plateau, but this was the first time my mind has.
It was no longer a matter of mere motivation alone, but one of actually tuning into the resistance, feeling it, noticing which part of my body it surfaces in, and just quietly listening. Without fighting it, without being in denial, and accepting that that too, has changed.
There was a time for a high-impact, sweat-it-out-and-get-breathless kind of exercise regimen. And boy it was glorious while it lasted. However, after nearly two decades of enjoying that, it would not be so wrong to accept that maybe that time is done. And I’m actually ready for something a little more low-key. Something a little gentler, less aggressive and up-tempo, more in keeping with the general slow-living kind of energy that has permeated the rest my life.
Which then made another lightbulb go off in my head: this is no longer just about fitness, but about the energy I am bringing to the rest of my life. If my life is a system, with several aspects and parts working in tandem, my goal these days has been to bring about as much synergy in getting these aspects to synchronise and flow. This has been about embracing and nurturing that synergy. And allowing the natural rhythm to take over, so all aspects of my life can be swept with that same Flow.
Life has been gently nudging me on to really lean in to the beauty in relaxing, in not being always wound up or rushing around, and I am only now beginning to see how that actually invites life to Flow — creatively, serendipitously, abundantly.
All I had to do was present myself and stop fighting it as it has engulfed me.
I’m almost too shy to admit that this has happened in the realm of fitness, as I least expected it. With how I suddenly decided it was going to be Yoga (after years of dismissing it as too low-key), how I actually woke up in time for class (after months of trying). And how I enjoyed last week’s lessons in a deeper, more internal sort of way, more than what it did for my body.
The messages I got, the same messages you’ll hear any yoga teacher say, hit a spot so deep inside me. Because clearly, it was all about much more than just my body.
And then, there was the clincher yesterday, that had me nearly choke up and blink back tears, mid-Ardha-Chandra.
It’s not important to do everything all the way. Go only as far as you can. But it is important to find a safe way to get there.
In an older time, I casually used the term “Go with the Flow” and in my life that meant actively doing things keeping in the natural direction in which I am moving.
That too, has changed.
Now, going with the Flow has come to mean surrendering, doing little, but being patient and allowing life to unfold. Being open to being surprised, and allowing the mysterious, cosmic ways of the Flow to direct me, lift me up and keep me afloat in ways that I have accepted I cannot (and need not) fully understand, but feeling immense gratitude for how much I benefit from it.
So it’s no wonder that I have felt more spiritual in these weeks and months, than ever before. Words like surrender, patience, stillness have come to take new meaning — and they’ve become beacons guiding me along seeking more.
I’ve been talking about letting go, in so many different context, for yonks now. But only now, am I understanding what it means to let go of the urge to force life in the direction I want or imagine, based on my whims, my unquenchable ego and all it’s mind tricks. And instead develop an inner knowing, a trust that the universe has my back. To focus instead on getting my mental desires to meet my those within the depths of my heart, so that when they are completely in tune, that Flow happens effortlessly.
Title inspired by one of my favourite songs.
Postcard from Thailand 3.
Being around VCs family long enough invariably makes me feel like I’m on an entirely different planet as far as attitudes towards bodies in general go. My own, as well as every and any body around. We’re on an island, on a beach holiday, so obviously there’s a lot of those around in full view. A great variety and diversity in shape, size, form and colour, no less.
I’m super thankful for the confidence and appreciation I have for my body, as is. For the ability to wear what I want, sans any shame — my own or asserted on me. But not merely restricted to clothes alone, I’ve come to realise the agency that has been encouraged and inculcated in me for as long as I remember, is not the norm. Even amidst educated, otherwise liberated folks, as close in proximity as the family I’ve married into, this is absolutely missing. A deep-rooted shame about our skin, shape, body type and the default need to constantly cover up, and thereby the expectation that others must too, is the norm.
I’ve realised once again, that it comes down to values. And I’m grateful for having been taught early not to peg anything on appearances. And to own my body and my choice to carry it, wear it and do with it as I please, as the norm. Or I’d too be spending my holiday judging bodies left, right and centre.
Two years ago: Day 144: Monday, this week
Two days ago, I stepped into LifeStyle after nearly a decade. And I needed to scarf down an entire donut when I stepped out, to rid myself of the horrible taste the entire visit had left in my mouth.
First, I didn’t find a single regular, well-fitting tee-shirt that 1) wasn’t trying hard to be clever with a stupid caption printed across the front 2) didn’t cost an arm and a leg for something as regular as a basic tee. Why is it so hard to find basic tees that fit well, are made in good quality cotton and that don’t have stupid slogans/captions/prints/embellishments splattered all over them? An no, there ought to be regular brands that make these without having to rush off to the sports/athleisure brands of the world.
Minor displeasures aside, the visit was a frightening reminder of just how boxy fashion trends are, no matter what the year or season. The level to which the fashion industry perpetuates truly regressive stereotypes and women and their bodies, even in this day and age, is shocking.
Is it just me or do each of those “fits” look nearly identical?
It didn’t help that I was there with my MIL and SIL, who are far more avid shoppers than I ever will be, and do more to keep abreast with fashion trends than I ever will. I used to think of them as my pathway to knowing what’s in and what’s not, even though I have never really dressed in keeping with a trend. But something has clearly snapped inside of me, in these weeks of re-looking at and re-examining the way I look at my body.
While my in-laws samples this and that, trying on and rejecting a pile of clothes because, too boyish, too dowdy, too transparent (“I’ll need a skin coloured bra”), shapeless, too short, too long, my husband won’t like this, I spent my time trying to will my eyeballs back from the place they were wedged in at the back of my skull, because of the constant eye-rolling.
And then I had an epiphany. That perhaps my subtle, but unconscious slip into pressuring myself to change my body in the last one year is a result of hanging around with this family. All said and done they’re deeply entrenched in patriarchal notions of what’s beautiful and attractive. There’s literally just one body type that they find acceptable or desirable, which means they’re always feeling flawed, insecure, ugly and inadequate about something or another.
I think some of it has subliminally rubbed-off on to me.
The beauty and fashion industry is always peddling a new thing every few months, and in the process instilling the idea that we are always somewhat flawed. The promise of the newest trend, product, attire to fix that flaw is strong. And more than enough women will believe what they are told and what they see in stores, in advertisements, in popular culture, movies, TV shows and drawing room conversation, without a second thought.
My discomfort with arbitrary body trends was always high, but it is fast bubbling over into a tremendous discomfort, unease and rage towards the fashion industry, and how much of it is about adhering to a certain type. So much of it perpetuates fixed, rigid ideas of gender. Tom-boy, androgynous, girly, boyfriend-this, girlfriend-that, so on and so forth.
Most bodies remain largely unchanged through the lifetime of a person. Sure, I may lose or gain a lot of weight, but my bone structure and body type underneath it all will remain the same — for good. I have a typically Indian wide-hipped body, for example. Even at my leanest, my hips were always the widest part of my body. So it would be really stupid to attempt to fit into straight-cut jeans or pants that don’t have enough room to accommodate my ample backside.
I cannot possibly aspire to make every new trend work for me, because it will mean requiring a new body every few months. I can either embrace my body as is, wear whatever I want that makes me feel comfortable and look nice, or I can believe a fashion trend and give up the idea of ever wearing an entire set of clothes that I’m told aren’t for “my body type”.
That’s one thing. Another aspect is how everything about the way we dress, and how we choose to look, is done keeping men and their desires in mind. The extent to which how we view ourselves is linked to how we think other people think of our looks/appearance is appalling when we stop to examine it. (This realisation was one of the first wake up calls in my own life. I was disgusted with why I was so interested in fitting into certain kinds of clothes because certain kinds of people would be seeing me, more than I was interested in being comfortable and myself.)
And so here’s the thing; not everything I do to my body, my face, my skin, not every piece of clothing I put on or take off, is done to be beautiful. Sometimes I just like a piece of clothing, or a fabric, or a style or cut. Sometimes it’s too hot for one thing, and perfect weather for another. Sometimes it’s practical to wear shorts, sometimes it just makes sense to be layered. Some days I feel like making the effort to look nice, some days I don’t really care. I really value the freedom I have to dress and carry myself the way I see fit, regardless of who is going to view me. My choice to wear shorts even with unwaxed legs, to not give a shit about my bra straps showing from beneath a sleeveless tank-top comes from the same place.
The flipside of this privilege is also that I don’t always think I’m pretty. And that’s okay. Some days of the month, my acne flares up and it doesn’t make me happy or feel gorgeous to see it. I have stretch marks that I live with, but don’t love or hate. My teeth aren’t perfectly aligned despite the ridiculously tedious orthodontic treatment I’ve been through. My jaw and smile is a bit lopsided some times, in some angles. I don’t necessarily find any of this to be pretty all of the time. Some days I live with it some days I think it makes no difference. Most days it’s just the part of the human being I am. I don’t have to always look and feel pretty in order to be worthy of going about a day in full view of people around me.
I feel the same way about clothes. Sure, it is important to want to look nice and presentable, wear all the clothes I wish to, yada yada. But it’s just clothes. I don’t need to be beautiful and presentable all of the time, in the way the world needs me to be, for me to feel worthy. Not every little detail about my appearance, whether physiological or sartorial, needs to adhere to an acceptable kind of prettiness suited to the male eye.
Far too much of how we dress is about making various factions of society feel safe and comfortable, and not enough of it is about how we feel and the choices we want to make. I’ve seen this happen — random uncles appreciating me in a saree, not because I just look nice but because “it’s nice to see you looking womanly”, well-meaning relatives telling me my short hair is taking away from “feminine face-cut”, enough members of my husband’s family who won’t think twice before telling me I’m “too thin” when they’re simultaneously commenting on all and sundry being “too fat”.
It’s on days like this that I wonder what it will take to really get more women to feel better about ourselves and our bodies. And how we can extend that to our clothes — sometimes the ability to wear whatever we want with confidence, sometimes to realise that there isn’t any one kind of “fashionable”, and most of all to be okay and as accepting of our bodies as with our means to clothe ourselves. Because, let’s be honest “fashion” doesn’t come cheap or easy to everyone alike.
We’ve got to take the focus off of appearances in general.
People are going to have opinions one way or another. Body trends will continue to be unhealthy and brutal to our mental health and general well-being. Fashion is going to always peddle a new normal to make us feel inadequate. But historically, and evolutionarily, human beings have been about diversity. We come in a massive range of shapes and sizes. Add to that our personal preferences, the sheer subjective nature of aesthetics, our genetic make up and predisposition, cultural backgrounds and what have you, and there’s literally a million ways in which we’ll want to dress or look.
How on earth can all of that be slotted into a handful of looks, trends, types for us to adhere to?
The mind boggles. Gimme that donut.
Two years ago: Day 110: Go far, they said
For two weeks now, I’ve been back at the gym. I hesitate to say I’ve bounced back. Because, I haven’t. I’ve allowed myself to ease back into it. Pushing myself just enough to get going on most days, yet giving in to sleeping in or taking a rest day when I’m sore, lazy or just plain not up to it.
I’m making this attempt to take the focus off changing my body, and putting it instead on changing how I think and feel about it. So far, so good.
Reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger really hit very very close to home. The book couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. As a predominantly thin (and I cringe to even use these words anymore, so please take this as a mere descriptor and nothing else) person who has had the privilege of consistently pursuing an above-average fitness regimen for the greater part of the last fifteen years, reading the book made me realise how immensely superficial and ridiculous the rather unconscious shift in my focus has been this past year. I became acutely aware of my privilege, not just in what I am able to do to my body, but the sheer number of things I get away with because of my size and physical stature. It made me much more aware of what “big” people have to deal with, and how incredibly fortunate I am to have none of those issues. Consequently, it put all my fitness “concerns” into perspective, and really made most of them seem so ridiculous.
But all of this has got me thinking a lot about where the pursuit of feeling good about myself (as I am, as things stand) blurs into self-love. Doesn’t self-acceptance inherently come with a requisite amount of vanity? Doesn’t self-confidence dictate that I feel really happy, fulfilled and wonderful about myself more times than not?
I’m trying more and more to drop my disdain around vanity (mine or others’) and instead recognise where it is coming from. Because a healthy level of self-acceptance requires a healthy amount of vanity. A comfort with oneself, thinking and believing that I’m absolutely gorgeous just the way I am.
And so, if I was working desperately hard to alter parts of my physical self to meet some arbitrary standards (mostly self-created, but largely influenced by culture), under the pretext of loving my body and wanting to make it stronger, better, faster, how much of that love is real at all?
It has been interesting to admit how despite feeling the best I have physically (when I was on the food plan and working out harder than I have in years), my motivation was fuelled by a very distinct dissatisfaction. With my shape, my size, my ability. It’s like nothing I had achieved was enough. If I’d come this far, I must go farther, was the predominant motivation.
Unlike all the years before, when I have mostly felt gorgeous, beautiful, amazing, fit, fabulous, fine, and strong, despite being “larger” than the size I hit last year.
I see now, with utmost clarity and honesty that last year, I clearly traded all the self-love and self-acceptance I had garnered and nurtured, for a purely vanity-fuelled attempt at fitness.
And thankfully, I failed so miserably I had to wake up and bring myself back on track.
I could have gone on, not eating carbs, not touching sugar, and working hard at the gym. I probably would have even enjoyed the feeling of becoming fitter, faster and stronger. But since there’s no escaping how what’s on the inside dictates the changes on the outside, inevitably, I had to give in to my changing belief that being “strong” (literally and figuratively) was just overrated.
What I needed the most was to ditch the pursuit of being strong, and turn instead to learn to be soft. Vulnerable. It has meant allowing myself to accept my failures, recognise what I can, cannot and will not do. It has meant being a lot more truthful to myself, to tune in to my inner voice and listen more carefully, rather than shut it down and overpower it with an external message. It has meant aligning what is going on on the inside, with every single action on the outside.
Gradually, I’m coming closer to accepting that there needn’t be any kind of pursuit at all. I don’t want to lift more, feel stronger, do pull-ups or any of that. I don’t want to work towards any of it. I want to just work out because it keeps me active and feeling healthy.
I am okay.
And it is okay to be just okay. My body is worth celebrating most days. And there will be days when it disappoints me or triggers massive self-loathing. Some days I feel frustrated that a certain pair of pants will probably never fit. Some days I’ll delight in all the other kinds of clothes I confidently wear.
That is okay too.
Self love and vanity will co-exist. And hopefully they will bloom and grow into two well-grounded trees that will mingle, intertwine and co-exist.
A few years ago I loved my body hard enough to make it do things that challenged it. Now, I love it enough to just let it be.
I am okay.
This needn’t be a downward spiral or an uphill climb. Today, this is just a beautiful path, along this journey I am on.
Things have changed, it happens.
And I am okay now.
Two years ago: Day 106: Satisfaction
This is the story of my body
Last month, on a particularly sunny, lazy Sunday I took my FitBit off. And then, I never put it back on again.
I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who feels compelled to know how many footsteps I’ve walked, I thought.
It seemed like a small move, taking off my fitness band/watch/accessory without which my wrist had begun to feel a little incomplete. But, the penny had dropped.
This shift has been a long time coming. If you’ve been reading the blog since the start of the year, you probably already know I’ve acknowledged the damage getting on a food plan did to me, and more recently that I have been fairly troubled by my own unwillingness to hit the gym. I’ve watched myself slip off the bandwagon. Some days I’ve been tricked by my own devious mind into mistaking a sudden jolt of motivation to be the start of a swift slide back to the way things were, but no. This has not happened. My fitness habit, as I know it, has broken. And what I have watched with equal parts growing alarm, as well as a heart swelling with pride, my new found ability to let it go.
But the journey has not been smooth sailing, and not without its moments of doubt, shame, self-hate and deep sadness. It has taken me over two months to get down to writing about it.
You see, that in itself was my first clue – why is it suddenly so hard to write/talk about fitness? It’s one of my things. It’s what I do. I’m that person my friends call a human rubberband. I’m the one challenging members of my extended family to check out my flexed biceps. I once Instagrammed myself doing a handstand. I love lifting weights, watching my muscles grow and take shape. I love how powerful and strong that makes me feel. So why then, was I suddenly shy, ashamed and afraid to talk about what is going on with me?
I’ve realised only very recently that beyond the difficulty in trying to understand why I am no longer interested to bounce out of bed every morning and hit the gym, has been the difficulty in accepting that this very fundamental and crucial aspect of who I am is likely fading away.
I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who needs to see six green ticks per week on my FitBit workout calendar, to feel accomplished, I thought.
And yet, the struggle was real. Even as I denounced the obsession and promised to commit myself to a more relaxed, non-outcome oriented fitness practice, I have had moments of resisting my own good intentions.
This just can’t be. This is me, my body, and it jollywell do as I say.
Of late though, I am find myself looking just a little bit deeper, at everything. Which is why a broken gym habit, couldn’t be just that. I had to look deeper to realise the roots of some body-shaming, some unhealthy obsession, and a whole lot of unrealistic expectations and standards that I was unconsciously holding myself to. One the one hand, it’s a crucial exercise in re-learning moderation habit formation and maintenance. But, within me, this has been yet another exercise of self-acceptance. Of acknowledging the shame and hate that I’ve inflicted on myself, under the garb of fitness and health.
The thing is, I’d come such a long way from the pursuit of slimness, to valuing strength, stamina and good health. But I realised, with a lot of disappointment and shame, that whatever it is I tried to do with the food plan I got on, had really undone all of it, and put me in a very vulnerable headspace. That’s really all it took to slip, to lose focus and go down a road that slowly ate away at a very crucial part of me — my sense of positivity and confidence with my body just the way it was.
Today, I look at my body as it slowly regains all that it has lost in the last six months, and I feel a rush of emotions — defeat and loathing amongst other unsavoury things. But when I stay with the discomfort, and I really force myself to look beyond my dimpled hips, the food baby in my lower belly, the slight floppiness that’s returned to my upper-arms, I see it for what it really is – an amazing machine of flesh, bones, cells and blood. I see a body that has done some really amazing things, from giving me a childhood filled with hyperactive play, the ability to enjoy fitness so early in life, discover and love kickboxing, attempt cartwheels once every year on my birthday, cycle like a monster, trek, hike, drive, deal with every stress I throw it’s way, quietly digest all the food I put into it, healed from countless illnesses, silently sewn back numerous wounds.
This is my body.
It contains who I am. And aside from being the amazing machine it is, it generates literally everything that I feel – whether it’s a gut feeling about a decision, the shivers when a song I love comes on, the crippling waves of nostalgia for an aching memory, the knot in my stomach when I’m scared, or the blooming overpowering love for my husband, reverence and admiration for my parents – you name it and there’s a feeling I can pin-point to a part of my body.
This is my body. The space that creates my energy, protects my soul and gently coaxes my spirit in the direction it needs to go.
This is that body. That holds my spirit so safely in its cocoon. And sometimes, when it’s time for spirit to grow, spread it’s arms out and reach out higher than it has ever been, it absolutely cannot be contained in 28” jeans. Or the idea that I must be a certain body-type: muscular and strong, and just the right amount of curvy. Or a mathematical calculation that dictates an optimum size.
Abundance needs space. Growth takes up space. And you know what else? It requires a helluva lot of energy and focus. So when I took the FitBit off, I was really just acknowledging that right now is not the time to focus on the numbers, to hold myself to a routine that has ceased to make sense, and to be fixed to an idea of myself that is clearly making way for something bigger.
More than anything, this has been a time of rest for my body. It was the break I needed, and never listened enough to provide. But, our bodies know and they have the beautiful ability to simultaneously keep up with our unrealistic motions and doings while also relentlessly pushing us to see the signs, over and over again.
Until we eventually do.
It’s been difficult coming to terms with this change, because like with any other transformation, it’s hard to fight the feeling that this is somehow just another way of letting myself down. Every morning, when I wake up on time and still choose to go back to sleep because the gym isn’t in the least bit inviting anymore, I do wonder if this is really who I am. It feels surreal, unfamiliar, unsettling. So distinctly uncharacteristic.
But that uncomfortable space is the blinding spot of change. It’s where little makes sense and no logic applies. It’s the frightening moment when pupa opens up and lets the light in. And the only thing to do is to be kinder and gentler, and just a little more welcoming of things to come.
At the start of the year, I thought had a body-image fight on my hands. But yesterday, I realised that this is about so much more than accepting the shape, size, colour and contours of my body. It’s about stepping out into the light, graciously accepting this invitation to a deeper understanding of who I am. It’s maddening, frightening, exciting and anxiety-giving all at once. But more and more, I find myself wondering what if I actually like it there?
This was a newsletter I sent last week. If you like what you see (and don’t already get enough of me on here – hah!) here’s where you can subscribe.
I realised that many of you have already subscribed, but don’t open newsletters — whats up with that, ya’ll? If for some reason the newsletter is landing in junk/spam, maybe just give it a check and direct it to your inbox — where you can open them?
Two years ago: Day 85: Piece of peace
There’s a wobble in my belly. Especially when I laugh out loud. I only notice it because of late, there’s been so much laughter in my life. That perpetual little food baby has made a reappearance. That gentle bulge in my lower abs? I can feel it again when I rub my hands over my belly, or pat it after a very satiating meal. And there’s been a lot many of those. Meals enjoyed fully, with a generous side of laughter. When I smile now, it shows. Because my cheeks are propped up, more rounded. More me. My abs ache. Not from exercise, because there’s been close to none of that, but from laughing hard, while sitting around and sharing a meal.
I’m rediscovering tastes and associated feelings, that I had momentarily forgotten. That pinch of sugar in the occasional cup of tea that I’ve missed so much. The Sunday night cake fudge, devoured in bed. The gluttony that strikes, as it invariably does when I PMS, which can only be abated with a thoughtlessly, guiltlessly scarfed-down helping of rice, slice of pizza or a giant serving of pasta. That perfectly fluffy white bread chicken sandwich at Koshy’s that I love so much. The first plain dosa I ate in six months. The hoppy grainy freshly brewed beer. I’ve tasted it all with such gusto, and it’s awakened my sense of taste with such fury. But it’s not just the taste. Food is such an essential part of my being, my wiring, my brain. Sometimes it’s a feeling — of comfort, of peace, of equilibrium, of excitement. Sometimes it’s a memory — of my grandmother, of Goa, of my childhood, of my mother, sister or father, of a friend with whom I shared a specific meal, of a time in my life, of boys I loved because we loved all the same kinds of food. I’m allowing myself to taste it all — the food, the feelings and everything in between. And when that happens, I am not cheating.
I’m finding new spaces for relationships around food again. Breakfasts with VC, entertaining at home again, cooking a whole lot of food for friends, weekly soup for my mother, creatively conceiving special meals with my sister, upping the ante and making a special meal for VC, cooking it together. Food is not mere sustenance, it is a big piece of the puzzle that is me. To deny its existence had begun to feel like I was altering the shape of me, changing the very essence of me.
I’m filling up my jeans again. For a wide-hipped Indian girl like me, the immediate shrinkage was most obvious when I suddenly noticed all the space that was suddenly available in my length of the legs of my jeans, and how much significantly less space I occupied in any chair I sat in. I felt small. Shrunk. Before long, my spirit shrunk to match my size too. There was nothing empowering about that.
I’m slowly inching back to feeling like my jeans fit right again. I’m filling up, with a deliberate sort of reclaiming of space. In every seat I take, in the clothes I wear, in the space I occupy wherever I go, I take up space. I am me, big, round-butt, wide-hipped, thick-thighed me.
Slowly, but surely, I’m reclaiming my mojo. I’m finding home, right here within this body. In all it’s imperfection. I’m reclaiming the space it needs and deserves, rather than shrink it back to fit the cubby holes I wanted to fit. I’m reclaiming my mojo. With what I put in my plate, at the dining table, and the fuel that I give myself, as much as I am with the energy I put into everything that I do.
I actually don’t remember the exact moment when I agreed to participate in the OXFAM Trailwalk. All I remember is curiously asking what it takes to prep, what it feels like getting through those two days, and how long it takes to recover. The next thing I remember is laughing loudly when I was told I give it a shot. At some point though, I’ve obviously said “Okay, let’s do this,” because I was registered and a part of a team, along with R, S and D. I’m not that much of a quitter, and to be honest, semi-masochistic challenges like this are kind of my thing. It’s how I found myself at the start line of a 100 km cycle ride with zero cycling preparation. I was banking on regular exercise to and a lot of inflated confidence to take me through.
Thankfully, it paid off then.
I can’t say I was banking on the same set of variables this time around. Because as the day inched closer, and it so happened that I had a terrible month of infrequent gymming in January, a proper worry descended. I had accepted and mentally prepared myself for getting completely fucked, physically speaking, and had therefore turned to psyching myself mentally, to just finish it come what may. At some point I even told myself, if I managed a 100 km cycle ride, this can’t be so hard.
On a cycle, the kilometres rush by, you thrust ahead, propel yourself forth and go places. Quickly. On foot, you’re painfully aware of every single step you take, and how small it is in the larger scheme of things. On foot, my speed is a fourth of what it is on a bike. On foot, the strain and pain is about four times more than it is on a bike. That said, fear and butterflies-in-my-stomach aside, I was severely excited in the week running up to the day. There was so much (unnecessary) prep we did, and much like the time I did the 100 km cycle ride, I tried to compensate for the lack of physical prep by doubling up on the food and snack reinforcement.
If all else fails, have a Yoga Bar and power on.
But there were other things to consider too. This was a 48-hour event. That’s two days of trampling through the wild. So we had a bag of extra clothes, reinforcement for shoes and socks, lots of Enerzal, warm clothes for the night walk, blankets for our night stops. This time around, VC (and P) volunteered to be our support crew, returning the favour I did when VC cycled to Wayanad.
Finally, at 4 am on the day, we were on our way to the start point, 1.5 hours away. At 6 am, even before the sun was out, we walked through an arch, over which stood a larger than life, and oh so incredibly gorgeous Milind Soman, flagging off the walk. From there on it was just…a lot…of…well, walking.
I wish I had a more detailed description to give, but really it was just that. Walk, walk, walk. One step ahead of the other. Onwards and upwards. Up and down, under branches, over rocks. Alongside lakes, beside eucalyptus groves. The weather started out beautiful, but as was expected as the sun made its way overhead, it began to beat down on us hard. The area around Devanahalli and Nandi Hills is largely arid, with large tracts of barren, rugged earth, with rocks and brambles for miles together.
Off and on we’d hit a patch of shady trees which would give some respite. But for the most part it was walking through shades of brown earth, clouds of dust surrounding us, as we trampled on.
We managed to keep a pace of about 5 kms to the hour, for the first 38, walking through the worst of the afternoon heat, before we took our first longish break. The event was rather well-organised. Every check-point had adequate water and snacks available, a first aid and medical station, a rest-stop which was a large tent with dozens of mattresses and blankets for anyone to grab, and the whammy — a physio station where hordes of physiotherapy students stretched and pulled and pushed at walkers, relieving our muscles of the strain and lactic acid build up that was bound to happen.
The walk itself, while arduous, was really a lot of fun. I have to say. Even through the muscle cramps, the hellish stretching in my calves, the twitching and eventual burn in and around my knees, the hips that began to pinch, I had an utter and complete blast. It had everything to do with my team, and that includes my support crew. Somehow, just being in the energy of the gang, I found the strength and willpower to keep going.
We chatted in some parts, of course there was an inordinate amount of giggling and laughing (mostly on my part), and a really good rhythm in terms of pace and teamwork between the four of us. This is where knowing your team probably helps. This isn’t an event you can do alone, or with a team you put together just to hit the numbers. VC and P showed up diligently at every check point, bearing food and drinks — bananas, upma, coconut water, dal rice and omelettes, and kept us going with motivation and laughter.
Five things I loved and enjoyed about the walk:
- It’s been ages since I faced the elements like this, with no veneer to mask the effects. Punishing sunlight, gusts of wind, clouds of fine red dust, splinters and brambles in my shoes, the beautiful night cold that required me to layer up and get my gloves out — it was a bit mind-boggling to have experienced it all in two days.
- All manners of trees. Some stubby, gnarly with twirly, unruly branches cut short, some ragged, half-eaten, some lush and full with an almost visible bounce, some stripped down with a framework of a thousand, wide-reaching thin arms spread in different directions, some mushroomy, airy and pouffy, large and cloud-like, some tall, minimalist, some just so furiously flowering with no time for leaves, some almost dead but still alive.
- THE MOON. The moon! The night of our walk was just two nights after the spectacular Lunar Trifecta the effects of which lingered on. We watched the moon watch over us like a steady sentinel in the morning sky, long after te sun had rise on day 1. By evening, the a blazing orb hung low over the horizon, furiously large and intimidating, yet calming. The bright post-full-moon moon lit up the path for us, making it possible to turn our torches off for much of the night walk.
- The sheer push it took to get going and keep going. In recent time, my life and the kind of experiences I’ve had have made me believe I’m not one for too much roughing it out. I’ve shied away from treks, trips into the wild and any other outing that required a little less than bare minimum comfort. I’ve completely stopped taking bus journeys for this reason. Of late though, I’m feeling the pinch. I’m feeling the pinch of having missed out on a lot. And this is pushing me to get out some more. Not just physically, but get out of this box in my head. The truth is I can rough it out. I just need to choose to. So while the walk tested my physical abilities for sure, it also pushed my mental boundaries, to do with lack of sleep, to go without a shower or brushing my teeth, to use a porta potty to take a dump — four times over! It’s no big deal, but I’m glad I’m over that small hurdle in my head.
- The camaraderie. It’s very unlike me to put very diverse groups of my friends together, otherwise. I’m not the person who throws a party and brings a motley crew together, while I sit back and watch the fun. So it really amazed and thrilled me when I realised that with absolutely no effort on my part, four very varied sets of people I’d otherwise hang out with separately, somehow converged over the course of the walk. These are sets of people I haven’t taken the trouble to mingle with together. It happened, and there we were altogether, bound by this common goal to finish the walk. And we all came through, together. It was brilliant to watch how freely the energy flowed, and how by the end of it we were all hugging each other uninhibitedly.
That was the good news. Now for the bad news — I didn’t finish the walk. By the second morning, we were running on three hours of sleep and gunning on. When I reached the 65 km mark, I felt a surge of energy and 35 kms felt like a small number in the face of how far we’d come. Up until then I was just taking it one kilometre at a time, but at 65 kms, I actually saw the finish line in my head and believed I was going to make it. The strain was real, the pain in my legs excruciating, yet I felt like I could keep going, slowly but surely, with as many breaks as were needed. But very, very soon, something snapped. In my knee, to be specific. And I reached that uncomfortable place where I so badly wanted to stop after every kilometre, but the more I stopped, the harder it became to get up and start again. Truly like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Eventually, when I felt a pinch at the back of my right knee, with every step I took, and I noticed an involuntary rotation of my foot that try as I might I couldn’t control, I had to will myself to quit for fear of doing some long term damage. In a brief span of five excruciating minutes I had to call it a day.
I made it to 81 kms, which took 31 hours, before I called our valiant support crew came to fetch me.
I wont lie, I’m very disappointed at having come so close to the finish and yet not making it through. But I guess that’s what next time is for?
D and R powered through for 7 hours more, to finish the 100 kms at 9 pm on Saturday night. What a rush!
The physical aspect aside, the two day experience was far more humbling and reaffirming in ways I didn’t expect. For one, I was happy I got out and made it. On the other hand, the six of us coming together the way we did was a bit like watching a real life experiment in letting go and being a part of a team you might not fully identify with at the outset. Once again, life seemed to be affirming how it is little about likeness, and more about the experiences that bring me closer to people, presenting opportunities to bond over commonalities that don’t lie at the surface. Commonalities that you wouldn’t discover over whatsapp, or sharing a coffee or beer, or even endless hours of chatting.
It is an incredibly privileged place to be, to be able to occupy my mind with matters of purpose and meaning attached to every experience. To see connections where I might not have even six months ago. To find common ground where I least expect it. To constantly time and time again find myself pushed into situations where I am forced to open up my heart some more. And the beauty of it all is that the more I seem to do it, the more natural and less like an effort it becomes. The more comfortable I get with getting out of the spaces in my head, the more life seems to push these amazing experiences my way.
I’m thankful for the weekend that just passed. For how it churned together several affirming moments and put so many different, disconnected pieces of my life together. I’m so thankful for the many reality checks it presented, the thumping steady beat of truths I knew to be true, but that I needed to experience in order to believe.
I’m thankful for my friends. The entire diverse lot of them, and how we miraculously converged, rallied together this past weekend.
I’m thankful for uninterrupted the access to a great gym. The opportunity to keep working out. I’m thankful for the many people who have contributed to my approach to strength training, because I know it’s a large reason I was able to make it through the walk, and how quickly I have recovered and bounced back.
I’m thankful for VC. Again and again, the man surprises me in big and small ways. The more I find myself abandoning the chase to find sides of him I want to see, but aren’t really there, the more he surprises me with other facets I need to see more. I’m so grateful for his kindness, generosity and patience.
For his unending support, his ridiculous faith. For his rock solid presence, cheering me on in whatever I choose to do, and how he always has my back, should I happen to falter. And I am eternally grateful for his perpetual, blind confidence in my capabilities.
I’m thankful for the number of opportunities to meet people to discuss work. Even as I get incredibly frustrated at the slow pace at which the conversations seem to move, or how long it takes for something concrete to materialise, the truth is I feel lucky to have so many people willing to open up opportunities to meet with us and have a chat about the possibilities of working together. I’m thankful for the places these meetings take me to. I’m thankful for the second shot at dressing for work. I’m thankful for the purpose it brings to my days.
I’m en route the OXFAM Trail Walk. 38/100 kms down. And hopefully I’ll live to tell the tale next week.
See you on the other side.
Two years ago: Day 33: January
I’ve been beating myself up about a couple of things of late. I’d like to stop. Not so much put and end to the completely unproductive self-flagellation itself, but also gently remind myself that there are no mistakes. Just missteps that serve as lessons. On the flip side of the opportunity to learn something.
It’s okay to have made a wrong call with a certain work assignment. It’s okay to acknowledge that I didn’t see the signs, the writing on the wall, right from the start. There was enough evidence staring me in the face. I had a hunch right from the get go. That the editor wasn’t being upfront, clear and transparent. And that I was selling myself short. But I chose to ignore the signs and go for it anyway. Because I thought I was at a loose end, and I needed something to bind me down to a work routine again. I am a long way off from seeing the end of this, but I need to stop beating myself up about it, get the job done and just move on.
I’ve really, really had an ongoing tug-o-war in my head as far as the whole fitness debate goes. The more I think about it, the more clear it is, how much of confidence, positivity, clarity and true liberation I have lost to what I now see as a completely unfounded need to experiment with my fitness. Last week, I finally admitted to myself that I was fine even before I went on the six week plan, and that in retrospect, I now no longer understand why I had to do it. Fixing this place in my head, and regaining this conviction is taking a lot more time and effort that I am willing to give it. I want to snap back, but the truth is I have to take the long, painful route. And it is testing me.
Then again, nobody said it would be easy. The rewards however, are happy-making beyond compare. So I’ll take it. Even though it isn’t always a pretty picture, or a perfect progression of linear, ever-progressive movements forward. I’ll take it, for that crushing sort of all-pervasive relief in finally learning to forgive myself, let it go. And just get on.
Two years ago: Day 25: Love
I’ve had a strange few weeks since the start of the year. On the one hand, there’s an all-round positive energy, a really good feeling that’s pervading every day and every thing. But on the other, my routine has come undone a little bit. Nothing gets me worked up like this does. I am a creature of habit and so when my habits get shot to bits, I feel a little unanchored.
Primarily, this time it is because I just haven’t been back to the gym. And this is the one activity that typically sets my day rolling. Getting it done at the start of any day usually makes the rest of the day fall into place. I don’t know what is up, but I have just been flaking off, not waking up when I should, and not really doing much to push through that bit of resistance that one is known to feel.
Something is stirring. At a subconscious level, I know I am making my peace with getting off the food plan I was on. I want to strive for some kind of mindful balance, and in doing that, maybe I need to also re-look at the compulsive need to exercise 5-6 times a week.
In keeping with all the other surprising changes that I’ve been seeing in myself, I’m trying not to get too taken aback by this sudden volteface. I still have the odd day, like this morning, when I get really agitated and ask myself — what is wrong with you? how is this possible? it is so unlike you — but for the most part I’m really trying hard to let it go. Brushing aside the self-bashing, with thoughts that affirm positivity.
This morning, I exasperatedly told amma, “what do you think is wrong with me?!” implying that not wanting to go to the gym just feels so wrong. Cutting through the clutter in my head in a way that only she can, with a shake of her head she said calmly, “maybe this is what’s right for now.”
And so I wait, in the hope that this too shall pass.