My changing relationship with the changing body
“I hated myself for not being a few inches taller. It’s difficult for me to accept how guys and their mothers rejected me on the basis of my height during all those matrimonial meets.”
“I lived a fairy tale life until for the first time I was called fat. People said “So what if she is good in academics, dancing and extra-curricular activities. She is fat.””
“I don’t have long voluminous hair like all my other cousins. I am tired of listening to their ideas of achieving healthy hair. But secretly I still wish I could do something about it.”
These are real sharings of real people. In response to “I’m Perfect” a theme that invited members of the Mindful Living whatsapp community to share their imperfections.
It got me thinking about my relationship with my body.
The first time I noticed my body in comparison to another body was when I got into a brawl with another kid at school. I must have been 7 years old. As we wrestled each other, I noticed his body was much stronger than mine. Along with that knowledge came the fear that if my body couldn’t sustain his aggression, I would lose face amongst classmates.
The next time I became aware of my body was during sports competitions. There were other students my age who ran faster, threw longer or jumped higher. It’s not that I was not good at sports. I was. But my comparison was always with someone bigger, stronger and faster.
Then came college. After studying in a boys only boarding school in Mussoorie up to 10th grade, I was now taking my first step towards higher education in Mumbai. It was also my first step in experiencing girls in close proximity. I remember the first time my body accidentally brushed against another girl’s body. An electrifying current passed through my body!
Suddenly the body was no longer an instrument to win sports certificates and medals. It was now a means to attract the opposite sex. From having the latest Bollywood haircut, to building biceps at the gym and wearing fashionable baggy trousers all of it had a singular goal. To be noticed, liked and desired.
This preoccupation with looking good continued for a long time. Sporting a golden ear stud. Spiking my hair with wet gel. Unbuttoning top two shirt buttons. Expensive perfumes.
All of this, and the fact that I have been blessed with chocolate boy looks got me the desired attention from women. When I got that attention it felt blissful. Almost like a drug. The more I got it the more I wanted it. It was never enough. Now when I look back I realise, I was not attracted to women. I was attracted to the sensations in my body, when I got the attention of women.
But then in my thirties, things began to change.
First came the belly. I mean it was always there, but from being flat it started curving out. Having heavy meals at night, lack of exercise and a sedentary corporate job added to that curve in the middle of my body.
Then came the bald spot!
This was a serious assault on my good looks. After all there is no such thing as the balding chocolate boy. There are only balding middle aged men. I was losing my ‘boyish good looks’ identity. I tried various treatments but nothing helped. Then in desperation I started covering my bald spot with hair fibres. Even considered getting a hair transplant.
Then the pandemic happened. I no longer needed to go out. The classes I was conducting were on Zoom. My bald spot was on the top of my head. My boyish good looks identity was still safe. Except now I also needed to wear spectacles. Not as a fashion statement but due to weakening eyesight.
I started looking different from what I used to earlier.
The body had changed. And was continuing to change.
I do not know how it happened, but one day I decided to accept the body as it was. I stopped covering my bald spot. I accepted my belly fat, my baldness and my loss of boyish good looks.
It’s not that I didn’t want to look good. I did. But I didn’t want to hide or feel ashamed about how I already looked. If I no longer had a flat stomach so be it. If I no longer had hair on all parts of my scalp so be it. I even started joking about it. My belly stores my wisdom and my bald spot holds my halo.
And this is just the start of aging.
I am aware that in the coming years more hair will fall. More layers may get added to my waistline. The skin will loosen and wrinkle. And from a balding middle aged man I will transform into a feeble old man. A far cry from the young man that prided himself on his good looks.
And that is the reality of the body.
Not just my body. But every single body.
My relationship with the body has now undergone a change. From seeing it as an instrument to win gold medals in sports or to woo women, I now see it as a vehicle for consciousness. I experience the world through the body. Through the life in it. If it wasn’t for this life there would be no me and no world.
Like a garment that has outlived its use, this body will wither and perish one day. It will be burnt and the ashes immersed in some holy river. And even as that happens I will remain.
Because I have realized…
I am not the body. I have a body.