The Politics of Thin

I used to be thin. Like, stick-insect thin. This was before stick insects became fashionable.

My mother asked me when I was 14 if I had grown breasts. Fact is, they were more like insect bites, but I was too proud to tell the truth. I said yes. She promptly went and got me a bra. It was a dream come true. Me? Bra? Finally!

Yes, it bothered me that I was 14 and still no boobs! But then, I knew all the answers in class. I always put my hand up when the teacher asked a question. I had good handwriting. I aced composition writing.

I thought that would get me the boys.

Wrong.

The bra didn’t feel as great as they said it would. For the most part, I was just fidgety and adjusting. I felt like I had to stop the bra from overriding my non-existent boobs and so it was all clumsy. It still is, actually, but I seem to have developed a nonchalance about it.

I reckon Amma was a bit worried that I still hadn’t got my periods. I wondered too, because every other day some girl in my class would stain and they would all whisk her away as if it was some kind of conspiracy they didn’t want me in on. I longed for the day when I would stain and be whisked away. It never came. Instead, I got my first period when I was at home, studying for my class 10 board exams. There was no audience, no one to high-five. I hated it. I had just turned into a woman and there was nobody I could scream it to? So I jumped in front of the mirror… and that didn’t go very well.

I told Amma when she returned from work and she just heaved a sigh of relief, like I had checked a huge box.

The boobs took their time, but one day I was a proud 32B. Along the way, I dated wrong guys, underwire bras and several wrong shampoos, met my hair, grew an ass, and realized it looked great in shorts.

I moved from a 24 waist to a 26, which was a more womanly size, I thought. I had moved from thin to voluptuous. It was a shift, but I didn’t mind it.

32B cups and size-26 jeans were my best friends for years. Size zero still wasn’t in yet, so I basked in my glory. I had good limbs, a décolletage when I needed one, my ass was as perky as ever and there was no dearth of sales I went to and the clothes I bought. “Extra Small”, I’d proudly announce even as the sales girl tried to hand me a Small. I was the size to envy. I bought tiny little skirts, boots, ultra short shorts in which I could flaunt my bronze legs, singlets and tank tops that revealed my bone structure, LBDs and the gang. I was the girl who would float in someone else’s clothes every time I had a sleepover, and I could never got enough of, “Oh god, how tiny are you?”

I always thought the only way to be was tiny or big, but never in between. I liked big girls. They had so much gravitas. They filled chairs, they made you make room for them, they never sucked their stomach in, they looked so cool when they smoked and they could really carry off jewelry. When I grew up, I wanted to be big, I thought. Never medium. Medium was nothing. Medium was neither here nor there. Medium had no personality, no gravitas, no backstory.

Cut to pregnancy, motherhood, nursing and more boobs. I added on 15 kilos and dropped them in the next six months post-delivery. I was back in my size 28 jeans. What post-baby body were they talking about?

Losers, I thought.

They hated me for it. Like they hated me for getting pregnant when I was 40.

May be it was voodoo, but three years post-baby, I was somehow something of a blob. When I last checked, my rib cage, waist and hips were the same dimension as each other. I am square. I’m Rani Mukherji, I thought. I always wonder why women are so delighted when someone else puts on weight and not them. Is it because you have just lowered the bar for them? Is it because it gives them someone else to point a finger at to deem: Work in Progress? I also find the same delight on women’s faces when hot girl ends up with not-so-hot guy.

It was official. I had moved from XS to S to M.

This is it, I thought. This is the beginning of the end. I am Medium. I am nothing.

I stopped buying anything that had a waist (including jeans) because I didn’t have one anymore. Empire line dresses and leggings never said no, no matter how much I grew. I passionately embraced them. Maxis were the new me.

And then I found saris. I always loved their drape and how they could do as much or as little as you wanted. I had quite a few that I had stacked up in a trunk (in my youthful body phase that was all about flaunting limbs, the poor sari had taken a backseat). There they were, inviting me to start all over again.

photo(9)I found new joy in blouses. Funky, psychedelic, elegant, elaborate—I bought any fabric I liked and imagined it as a blouse. Sometimes I mixed them up and gave them totally new identities. I serial-dated tailors till I found the right guy. It never bothered me when a blouse didn’t have a sari to flirt with. If the blouse rocks, the sari will find its way, I thought. And it did. Friends were suddenly gifting me saris, I became a hand-me-down mascot. Each time I visited my mother, an old sari beckoned me. My measurements are locked up in a nice little book with my tailor. He doesn’t judge me. He never will.

2014iphone 010In an age where relationships are as old as Facebook accounts, perhaps no one will now remember that I had a thin past. But thin is not a mother’s best friend. Thin is not inclusive. Thin is not “Moms Like Us”. Thin is what people who ‘got stuff done’ were.

My mother recently told me I’ve never looked healthier in my life. I read this as: This is the fattest I’ve ever looked. It’s a bit depressing to know that your mother thinks you were all wrong for most of your life. But I still smiled.

When men ask me if I’ve put on weight, I say, “I gave birth. What’s your excuse?”

When I go clubbing or am invited for cocktails, I don’t think sexy anymore. I think comfy, snug, no-bra, something in which I don’t have to fidget too much, fabric that flaunts the nice bits and camouflages the not-so flattering bits. I still have legs. Although I’m yet to fathom what has happened to the rest of my body. The last time I wore an LBD, my Facebook profile picture got 120 likes. “Hot mamma!” one said. No one noticed that it was very clever dressing. (Should have bought it in other colors too, I thought). People still want to believe in the idea of thin-me.

photo(13)I don’t have aspirational jeans in my closet waiting to motivate me. If I don’t fit into them, someone else will. I have regular hand-me-down dates with women who still have the body for clothes I once had a body for. Surprisingly, it makes me happy to see them in clothes that once fit me so well. I’m also happy to take clothes from big girls who are happy to see their small clothes on me.

Medium is a whole new ecosystem for me. I have gathered enough equanimity to glide over the politics of thin and pretend I have left the room. I have made my peace with my contours or the lack thereof. I have stopped treating my body like a Work in Progress. I might have occasional flings with Spanx, but Spanx will never be someone who can move into my life. Thin is past tense and I’m happy to let it stay that way. The boobs and ass are here to stay, and so are the pelvic wattle and the thick waist.

But the last time I went to a store and wanted to try something, and the lady assistant said, “Wait, this is Large. I will get you Medium,” I was grateful. Ever. So. Grateful.

(I originally wrote this post for theladiesfinger.com)

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Confessions of an ex-sales addict

I am most intrigued by my recent apathy towards end-of-season sales. There was a time when announcements in newspapers of “Up to 50% off” used to make me grow weak in the knees. It was a time when I was on the pull, and buying new things always signalled opportunity to meet new, interesting people (read men) and my life would be happily-ever-after. Ah, the foolishness of youth!

So, there were shimmer and sequin tops, for that clubby night. Rows of beach dresses to rescue you if there’s a quick weekend getaway. Lingerie, in all colors and potential, was a must because your inside should always be as good as your outside. And the ‘outside’ would look incomplete without stilettos, LBDs, shorts, tank tops and even gymwear (although I never got to that part where you sign up for a gym). There were also sweaters, stoles, shrugs, and hoodies bought and put away for a winter that never came. There were candles reserved for that special date (when countless unspecial ones came and went). There were fondue pots for ‘what if I really felt like it one day’ ?
Once I bought a pair of tan boots from Nine West just because I saw Diya Mirza buying the same pair. I don’t know about her, but the said boots got four outings in five years (alas, my trip to Scotland was much before that). Now, they are adorning the feet of some PYT. I gave them away in a Zen moment.

A few things have changed since my days of retail excesses:

I hate trying on clothes. This is primarily because my curves are not what they used to be and it makes me angry when I see stuff on mannequins and they look completely different on me. I feel cheated, upstaged. I would sign a lifelong agreement with a store that sells me stuff without me having to try it on.

I have graduated from an XS to an M in the last ten years.

I hate not knowing what I want to buy or when I am going to wear it.

I hate it when they put three stickers over the original price, just so you can’t really tell whether the mark-down is indeed 50% as they claim or 30 or 20. I always like to know how much I have saved. Even if, technically, I haven’t saved it.

Shopping suddenly feels like too much work. Because once you shop, you need to find places you can wear the stuff to, people to hang with when you wear them, and things to do with said people. Since my universe has drastically shrunk and list of jobs to do multipled post mommyhood, I really couldn’t care less if I wore the same dress (built for comfort) to three brunches in a row.

I have realised that hair is an outfit in itself.

The husband on the other hand is a retail slut. The sentence, “Come let’s go shopping for new dresses for you, ” while may sound like nectar to some are full of nuisance value to me. It just means more work, more trying on, more annoyance. The husband is a sucker for sales that go, “Spend 10, 000 and get 10, 000 worth free” The first time he came home with a hamper from Puma (most of which looked straight from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), I said “That’s way too many clothes and shoes. ” He said no, we can gift them. Aha! That’s a good angle. Do the work so someone else can reap the benefits. I have never heard of anything more nonsensical, so I just shut up.

There are those who get lucky in sales. There are those that build wedding trousseaus from it. I am unfortunately not one of those, save a Mango dress I picked up for Rs 1, 000 and don’t fit into anymore. And when I looked at my booty from sales a few days after the sale and compared it to my credit card bill, I always felt a sense of malaise. As the years went by, sales were not just about clothes. There was furniture. Electronics. Decor. Bathrooms. Books. Toys. Baby items. Real estate. And some. More decisions, more dead stock.

Now I have moved to the polar extreme. I have reached that point of comfort over style. Also I buy things when I really need them (read that as trainers have lost their sole and are beyond redemption) rather than when I want them (and convince myself that I really need them)

In the meanwhile I make sure that every year I donate all my “someday” clothes to a garage sale for an animal shelter or hold a tea and muffin flea market at my place so at least I clear shelf space in my wardrobe. After all, every girl should have an empty shelf, as I learnt from the Happiness Project.

(This piece first appeared in the Crest edition of the Times of India on 15th December 2012)