We live in a web of definitions, roles and expectations weaved by the society, the threads made strong and shiny with ideal images that invokes a sense of happiness and comfort. While we are all trapped, not all of us may realize it. Some of us realize or rather are made to realize it when we fail to ‘naturally’ meet the expectation.
While the society controls every aspect of our being, in the present context, I am talking about the expectation regarding our physical appearance. Growing up, always looking half my age and being tiny in size, l have personally experienced the societal ‘reality’, the societal expectation to be of the pre-defined ideal size, height, colour, qualities and a mindset that all these pre-defined specifications are perfectly fine.
Always been tiny, I am so used to hearing people express their disbelief at my age that it surprises me when someone doesn’t seem shocked! I don’t mind people being surprised but I certainly wish that they would keep the after thoughts to themselves though they don’t affect me anymore. I am far more used to it and at peace with myself, with my body. Though there would be a time and I must confess, still there are moments when the comments affect me, trouble me enough to force me to look for solutions.
I have gone through body shaming in childhood, during teen years, in college and even today, there are people who try. A small physical stature combined with an introvert nature, I would be assumed to be dull, docile, subordinate, powerless, incompetent and a source of pity. While growing up, not reaching a certain height by high school was supposed to be a matter of great concern and shame. I would constantly be made conscious of my height, a friend would constantly hint at how she was trying new things to speed up her growth. She did manage to grow an inch or two taller than me but I don’t remember if I congratulated her for the achievement. I remember that once a junior kid had asked me if I was a dwarf. At that time, I did feel a sense of shame as I explained I am not but now ofcourse, I realise that there it is no matter of shame even if I was one.
But back then, it was hard to fight it. I remember that once I had said to my friend that it doesn’t matter to me if I am short and she frowned which made me think if I really said something so wrong. But eventually, I started accepting myself, my body and doing so, I realized that this was much harder than to grow in height!
I am still made conscious about my tiny stature. There are people who still treat me, a woman in mid-20s as a “kid”. The snide comments passed off as “jokes” or sentences in “light vein” do not stop. I am still asked if I am ok with looking so young. I am suggested ways to look a bit mature, given free advices on hairstyle, dress sense and way to carry myself. But this doesn’t hold me back anymore.
I have realized that the problem doesn’t lie with me but with such people. I realise that it is actually their own insecurity and failure that they try to impose on me to become happy. They themselves failed to challenge the society that teaches us to give importance to looks than to other things, to challenge the society that teaches us to be of a certain type. They fail to fight to get our right to be the way we want to, look the way we want to. They not only failed but also try to hide their failure by sustaining the order, keeping stiff the web. If they judge me, then the fact is that I judge them more. I feel pity that they could not look beyond my physical appearance. I feel pity that they can’t find a better topic to talk about other than one’s physical appearance. I don’t know and care less whether one may agree or not but this is my tiny perspective on the body that belongs to me.
Devika Mittal is pursuing Ph.D in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics. She is a core member of Mission Bhartiyam and convener (India) of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative. She tweets at @devikasmittal