A ‘chubby’ girl, wearing a long grey skirt — 3 inches below the knees, thanks to a ‘pear-shaped body’ and ‘thunder thighs’—brooding alone in a corner and feeling bad about my body. Sitting cross-armed, with palms covering my lower face, trying to hide my facial hair, and failing hard at it.
That’s how I remember the majority of my high school life.
The worst moment was when one of my own friends (a girl), said ‘OMG, you have a beard, dude!’ and laughed. I was shattered. I ran to the bathroom and bawled my eyes out. I had no comeback, none at all. In retrospect, if she said that to me 15 years later, I would’ve given it right back.
Bullying comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. For me, it was about my body shape and my body hair.
Body positivity as an idea is not a very straightforward one. Women are shamed for being big, and skinny, Indian women, more so. And when you celebrate all bodies, you are even shamed for celebrating ‘obesity. Imagine the conundrum!
Growing up, I was teased for being big and bullied for having facial hair. I have PCOS ( fort the past 15 years) and one of the symptoms was hirsutism – excessive hair growth all over the body—considered way more excessive per society.
At every beauty parlour, I would be faced with a barrage of unsolicited opinions like: ‘wax your whole face!’, ‘yeh eyebrows toh bohut zyada ho gayi hain’ (these eyebrows have grown beyond measure), ‘aapke cheeks pe bhi kaafi baal hai na. Bleach kar lo?’ (You’ve got a lot of hair on your cheeks... you should bleach them), and oh and how can I forget the infamous ‘aapki bhalloo jaisi growth hai, bechare aap, aapka toh jungle hai’ (your growth is like a bear’s! You have a jungle on your face!).
Simultaneously, at school, boys told me things like ‘you’re cute and I would’ve dated you if you were skinny’. This was one of the nicer things. I was also called names like ‘moti (fatso)’, ‘chhota haathi (baby elephant)’, ‘saandh (bull)’, ‘bhalloo (bear)’, etc.
This deeply affected my confidence and self-esteem. I thought I was a good-for-nothing couch potato who would never find a guy who loves her truly for who she is. I never told anyone about the bullying or how I felt about it — not even my mother. When she later got to know about it, she cried and felt so bad for me. She taught me to always talk about my feelings, no matter what, with whomever I wanted to. But my past still holds me back at times and I struggle to share my true feelings with people close to me.
I underwent a lot of hair removal treatments — laser, electrolysis (where a needle is poked at each hair follicle to destroy the growth centre of the hair), all in the hope of looking pretty and flawless. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin because the idea of being ‘hairless and skinny’ only being beautiful was deeply ingrained in me. So much so that the first time I got naked in front of my husband (my then-boyfriend), I told him I couldn’t take my pants off because I wasn’t ‘waxed down there’. That being said, I am not shaming people for hair removal. The only point I am making is that one should do what they’re most comfortable with and not what others tell them to do. There are days when I like to take the hair off and days when I am most happy owning my bush – totally depends on my mood. I’d say the credit goes to my husband who taught me how to accept myself, my body and body hair, in the most natural way.
All my insecurities related to my body and body hair became super evident when I was going to have sex for the first time. In my head, the stereotypical first time was supposed to be this glorious night (because who has sex during the day), with the perfectly lit lavender candle, sexy lingerie and wine, to get you ‘in the mood’. Well, it was quite the opposite — feeling awkward about my body, thinking ‘how do big girls even have it?’— it was scary. I had put too much self-pressure to make it perfect and ... it didn’t happen. I was so dry and it was super painful. I had this immense self-created pressure of ‘making it happen’, that I panicked when it didn’t.
End result: We both ended up not enjoying it even one bit. I went sulking to the other room, thinking there was something wrong with me and our relationship. In a pitch dark room, I wallowed in self-pity and texted my girl friend ‘It didn’t happen. What if we’re not meant to be?’ (We’re happily married now and go at it comfortably!).
She patiently heard me out and explained that it doesn’t happen in one go and that there was nothing wrong with me or my relationship. I calmed myself down and slept it off.
What I learnt from thereon was that when you’re not THERE mentally, it’s really hard to be THERE physically.
If you’re wondering what made me write about my experience with teenage bullying at 30 (so many years later), it’s because, in one of my interviews, I was asked, ‘What would you tell your 15-year-old self?’ That took me down memory lane. Bullying is REAL. It’s high time our schools and parents recognise it.
Let’s make the world a kinder and happier place — by normalising all bodies, all shades of skin, all types of hair and all kinds of people at large.
Sachee is an entrepreneur running a female focused sexual and menstrual wellness brand, thatsassything.com. She studied in India and the US, digs Mexican food and loves having uncomfortable conversations that embarrass the shit out of her mom and husband.
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