To BE or to FEEL beautiful?
A stethoscope clad girl took charge and before I knew it the bottom of my t-shirt was held firmly beneath my neck. I faced the wall, my back exposed. My peers took turns, as I had done before, to meticulously examine my breathing. I stood there silently, fighting the urge to cover myself up. I was consumed with fear, feeling convinced that I would be judged for my physical flaws. I obsessed over whether they noticed the rings of fat creeping in from the sides or the speckled spots that dotted my skin. I was nearing the point of breakdown but I held myself together until it was all over. Along with the embarrassment, self hate started creeping in. I was extremely pissed off at myself for freaking out. The girl before me had done it with confidence yet here I was consumed with anxiety. After all, my back hardly counted as an intimate area. For weeks after this particular workshop, I couldn’t stop thinking about my overreaction and how critical I am about my body.
I had always prided myself on not caring how I looked. I’d be the one saying amen to the whole true beauty being on the inside. When friends opened up about their appearance related insecurities, I would get super preachy. I would then loudly proceed to claim that I was totally confident about my own body. I thought such rhetoric made me superhuman, immune to the unrealistic standards of beauty that are imposed on us daily. I see now that it had the opposite effect as I mistook denial for empowerment. I was still receiving my dose of the poison but because I believed I was an empowered individual, I kept denying the effects of beauty on me. It turned me into more of a hypocrite. I was trying to reach the “strong independent woman” ideal by simply putting on a confident act, laughing off those who were brave enough to vocalise their struggles. While preaching about being comfortable in one’s own skin, I hid under shapeless clothing and higher necked tops to cover up what I believed were my physical flaws. It was only during my clinical skills session that I was forced to accept the reality. If I truly wanted to break free from the influence of beauty, I had to first look deeper into my own insecurities. What I needed was not pride but rather a profound acceptance about the way I looked.
My wake up call always seems to come while volunteering at the hospital. I met a woman who was in her 50’s yet had still not come to terms with her body. She detested her body to the point that she resorted to surgeries. She had undergone a breast augmentation in Thailand and a failed arm lift that left her with a numb arm and ghastly scars. Her most recent venture had been a gastric bypass to help her lose weight. Instead, she wound up in ICU because of a near death allergic reaction to the anaesthesia. When I spoke to her later on, she had no regrets. She believed she was reclaiming her life and these surgeries were giving her more control. I was honestly so shocked because she was an example of somehow who struggled with her image yet was in denial. All these years she had been striving to look beautiful but all she needed was to feel beautiful. Feeling beautiful doesn’t require surgery but it requires something even harder. It requires acceptance that the body we are born with is physically flawed but we’re going to live with it anyway.
Yesterday, I went in to uni without covering up my blemishes. I took one look in the mirror and felt disgusted but refrained from grabbing my trusty Thin Lizzy. I tried on bright blue polka dot pants that I hadn’t touched for the last two years. They pressed hard on my thighs, making them balloon a little. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea but the thought of becoming the lady at the hospital scared me enough to stick with the pants. To my surprise the polka dots drew compliments and I found myself, once again, showing off as though it was a calculated decision. I guess I’m still all talk, but hey, at least I’ve started taking some baby steps.
This is a reblog from Anisha Viswanathan MBChB III. To read more of Anisha’s work, follow Once in a Brown Moon