The problem with body image

I realised this very late in life. Love your own body and you’ll be a happier person. Growing up in a normal, middle class family in Chennai, I always had body image issues. I hated the way I looked. Too dark, too fat, too clumsy and too much of a slob. This was what I was always told by friends and family. Cousins made it worse by telling me that fair is beautiful, which I was admittedly not.
At 14, I discovered the secret world of crushes and boys. And what did I find? That I could never peacefully have a crush on someone without being relentlessly teased. Sometimes the teasing was baseless. About a crush that was actually non existent. Since then, I’ve always been circumspect. Losing two close male friends to such juvenile teasing did not help. Especially not when one of them told me upfront that he did not want to be my friend because being teased with a fat slob troubled him. Maybe this is why I don’t quite keep in touch with school friends any more. They are reminders of an unpleasant time in my life I’d much rather forget.
But, coming back to body image. I always thought I was too dark and too fat to be beautiful. The obsession with being fair goes a long way back. I was advised not to venture out in the sun, to use sunscreen and haldi and all sorts of assorted creams and lot . The rebel that I was, I still did exactly as I pleased.
Then came the obsession with weight loss. I starved myself, skipped breakfast, ate fruit. But no matter what I did, I could never slim down to the size I wanted to be. I was conscious of my weight and tried to cover up the layers in clothes that are better called pillowcases.
As I hit my late teens there was an additional problem. Blemishes and body hair. There was nothing I could do about it. So I did what I knew best. Cover up rather than flaunt. This reluctance to dress my age continued right through college and university.
And then something changed. I went to France for my masters. Suddenly, I discovered a world of possibilities. I discovered that women were proud of their bodies and flaunted them. I discovered that for a woman to be beautiful, she must first love herself. I saw women who were twice my size carry off short skirts and dresses with an elegance that I could only hope to match some day.
Gradually,I told myself I was beautiful. I convinced myself that weight, complexion and body hair notwithstanding, I had the right to flaunt. If I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, nobody else was going to.
And there has been no looking back. With every passing year, I find myself dressing bolder and bolder. I find myself picking out clothes when shopping that I wouldn’t have dared look at when I was 14. Crossing 30 was an important moment because at that moment, I realised I no longer cared when men thought of me. I realised that I only cared what I thought of myself.
Now, I realise that all it took for others to find me attractive was the courage to accept my own body for what it is. That acceptance is never easy to get. But it’s essential for me to be happy with who I am. The other day, someone told me that very few people can look elegant with no makeup on and I am one of them. I acknowledged that with a quiet sense of pride in who I have become.
When I look back at my teenage years, I tell myself that I will never let this happen to anyone else if I can help it. Maybe this is why I felt the need to write this blogpost.
Beauty is the way you treat yourself rather than in the colour of your skin or in the inches around your waist. If you love yourself, everyone else will love you as well.

Homecoming

It’s been more than 10 days since I left home. And I’ll be back in an hour from now. This time, it’s with mixed feelings that I return. On the one hand I wish this trip could have been longer. I wish I could gain invaluable international experience by working outside India for a few years. On the other, it’s a quiet determination to bring the situation under my control.

I realise that I’ve spent a lot of time regretting what could have been in the past year. That realisation was hard to come by. It hasn’t been easy to accept that perhaps I was not entirely right. Perhaps I was too caught up in the circumstances to examine and act on things that I could indeed control.

At the end of this realisation is to make things better starting now. A first step is refuse to accept being a victim. Yes. I realise now that sometimes it is indeed as easy as that. Nobody can make you miserable if you refuse to be. And I refuse to be a victim of circumstances.

At some point in my life I might have to make difficult choices but today is not it. Today, I just need to decide to be happy. I need to change the things I can and accept the things I cannot. There will always be things in life we do not like.

This has been a voyage of self discovery. A voyage of knowing my own needs and desires. A voyage of enlightenment. And for that, I am grateful.

Of love, art and Greek mythology

Looking around the Musee d’Orsay on Saturday last, I came across several works of art based on various Greek myths. I’m not really surprised given that most Greek myths centre around the theme of love and beauty. And who doesn’t like to talk of these two?

Of all the myths I’ve read, I find the Judgement of Paris the most fascinating. Haven’t heard of the story? Let me tell you.

One day, three Greek goddesses had an argument on who was the most beautiful of them all. Hera, the Goddess of Wealth and the wife of Zeus, Nike, the Goddess of Victory and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Unable to agree upon a judgement, they invited Paris, the most handsome man in the the world to judge. These women, being women, each offered Paris a bribe to judge her the most beautiful. Hera offered him all the wealth of the world. Nike offered to make him the invincible ruler of the world. But Aphrodite, offered him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Troy.

Paris, being a normal man of course, accepted Aphrodite’s gift and judged her the most beautiful. And thus started one of the most destructive wars in history: the Trojan War. For wasn’t Helen’s the face that launched a thousand ships?

Love has been a powerful theme in art throughout its history. Who doesn’t love a good love story? And if it involves lust, intrigue, murder and war, even better.

What makes love such a powerful emotion? What makes people do things for love that they would never otherwise do? What makes them forget the rules of right and wrong, of social mores and of moral values and pursue something to the end of their lives? Is it really love? Or is it something more basic? Lust perhaps? Or perhaps it is a need for validation. Or maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s just what the heart wants.

Did Paris really believe that by abducting the wife of another there would be no repercussion? Or did he not care about the repercussions? Did the love of Helen really mean so much that was willing to put his country, his family and his own life on the line?

We can never get completely satisfying answers to any of these questions. But, we are human and therefore not infallible. If there is one thing that makes us weak like no other, it is love, especially the forbidden kind. But great love is also great art. As is great tragedy. And by loving without reservations, we open our souls out to great achievement. And perhaps heartbreak as well. But, that’s really part of the game isn’t it?

Leaving Prague

It was a wonderful three days in Prague. I haven’t seen all that I wanted to, but I come away feeling there is so much of history to discover in this charming little city of Central Europe.

Sitting in this flight that takes me to Paris, I feel the same sense of elation that I did when I left Chennai. The sense of going home to a place to you love and enjoy. Paris really does that to me. And I’d like nothing more than to go back and live there sometime again.

This trip has helped me clear my mind a little bit and redefine my priorities. I’ve made a bucket list of things I would like to accomplish in the coming years. Nothing really fancy. Just take care of my health and be happy. Shouldn’t be difficult I reckon!

Another thing I’ve realised is that I need a physical space of my own in which I can be happy, regain my composure and clear my mind. Having this space helps me think and makes me write more. And write better if I may say so myself.

My ideal home would probably have a comfortable couch with a reading nook and a fireplace (or air-conditioning considering I live in Chennai) where I can curl up and read after a long day of work.

I probably just need to work towards creating this space for me in order to be truly happy. I don’t know.

But, as a writer, I feel like this trip has helped me rediscover myself. I feel like I’ve regained what I thought was permanently lost: my ability to articulate feelings and emotions. I also realise that I probably just need to start writing again and stop looking over my shoulder and wondering who’s reading the blogposts. I probably will. Because the writer in me in an inseparable part of my soul. To lose that would be to sell my soul to the devil. And my soul is far too precious to lose.

A day with art…

A dreary and raining day once again. Prague seems to conspire against me in my quest for sightseeing.

But, I decide that there is no point in coming all the way to Prague and sitting at home, however cozy and inviting it may seem.

First stop: National Gallery. Three exhibitions. Starting with Neoclassicism in the Salm Palace.

This is so quiet. With so few tourists. Stark contrast to the galleries in Rome and Florence.

Discovering the works of one LudvĂ­k Kohl. A proliferation of greys. Neoclassical painting. Captivating. I wonder why I’ve never heard of him before.

Still life paintings seem quite taken with the idea of lizards. But why?

There is something powerfully attractive about nocturnal landscapes. Perhaps it’s the mystery, or the use of colour, or perhaps it’s simply because the night seduces.

Lake in the Mountains by Charlotta Piepenhagenova. Breathtakingly beautiful in its use of light.

It’s only after someone mentioned it that I am beginning to see the several shades of grey in painting. Grey indeed is beautiful. I had always assumed that landscapes had more green.

Second stop: Schwarzenberg Palace: Baroque in Bohemia. Fascinating experience mainly because Baroque is a very important period in the history of the Czech lands. Not that I understand Baroque very well apart from the fact the themes are Christian. I did notice two portraits of a penitent Mary Magdalene though. Quite in contrast with Catholic art where she is a companion of Christ.

Final stop: Sternberg Palace: European painting from over 300 years. The great masters. Interesting study of Rembrandt’s “A scholar in his study”. It’s fascinating how paintings are studied under infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray lighting. Must do some further research.

Fascinating. That’s the only word I have for these art galleries. Makes me wish my creativity extended beyond the verbal. But I’m so bad at using my hands that I will probably not be able to fashion a single tea cup or draw a straight line. The sooner I accept this limitation, the better.

Random thought: Human anatomy is notoriously difficult to master. If the great masters were such great fans of nude paintings, there must be something powerfully attractive about the female form to an artist.

The Prague castle

Dragged myself out of a very warm and welcoming bed to go see the Prague castle. It’s raining. And six degrees. Not very motivating for someone from a place where the Mercury rarely dips below 30.

Boards with explanations must be bilingual. This way, we’re not obliged to buy pointless audio guides.

The Czech Republic has an interesting history. Protestant initially, the influenced by the Jesuits and progressively Catholic, a lot of people today identify themselves as atheist. With the Habsburgs, the Czech lands have been under foreign rule from 1526 until the end of the First World War. Must look this up more in detail. I’ve never really paid attention to the history or Central and Eastern Europe. It seems terribly interesting.

There is something very powerful about the inside of churches and cathedrals. The St. Vitus Cathedral is no exception. Part of the Prague castle complex, you need to pay to see all parts of it. Even then, the Royal Crypt and some underground chambers where closed when I was there.

The old royal palace is a large stone castle with multiple rooms, passageways and paths. Interesting. No photos are allowed inside though.

The St. George Basilica is a simple structure. A central nave with with an alter and some chapels. A crypt downstairs is shut but seems interesting to explore.

The castle alone took me close to five hours to explore. If you want to see Prague well, take at least three full days. Tomorrow is a day if museum visits. So until then, so long!

PS: “A young girl was dating an Italian and Italians are known to be very potent.” I overheard this at the St George’s Basilica! What actually happened? So apparently, that particular Italian was not potent but possessive. He suspected his lover of being unfaithful and killed her!

Prague – First impressions

Prague is a living picture post card. Medieval, beautiful. First impressions are fabulous.

I seem to have arrived in Prague on a most interesting day. Demonstrations, freedom festival, celebrations. Feels like I’m in a carnival of some sort. Except that it’s cold.

Still getting used to a currency other than the euro. Not easy. And I have trouble identifying the coins.

Apparently the Czech Koruna does not have a cent equivalent. Everything is in whole numbers. That’s one thing I find quite unusual.

Travel notes 1

Once again, after close to 9 months, I am travelling again. There’s something about travel that liberates the mind and makes me want to write.

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that I’ll be going somewhere me, somewhere exciting and very soon. Or perhaps it’s the excitement I derive from the change of routine. Or perhaps it’s none of the above. Perhaps it’s simply wanderlust.

Now, I’ve never been a particularly excited traveller. I’ve never actively sought out travel and adventure. I’ve always been the quintessential home bird especially to those who know me well. This desire to travel seems to be newly discovered. So new that even I have trouble recognising or understanding it at times.

But travel I will. At every opportunity I get. Because travel opens the mind to possibilities. Because there’s something exciting about leaving ones comfort zone and going away somewhere, to someplace unknown. Or even known but unfamiliar. So, until the next blogpost, probably coming up in less than 12 hours, so long!