I felt the first pangs of absolute ridicule in second grade. I was 7, maybe 8 years old. My classmates made fun of me during our annual health checkup in school – because my weight was 32kgs. I was a fatty. Talk about core memories.
Eventually, after a lifetime of more ridicule because of my weight, of judgment, of being made to feel like I was never good enough, and feeling like I was never good enough – but somehow fighting through it as best as I could – I lost the weight.
The dysmorphia never left. I was 33 years old when I dared to wear a bikini – it was only one piece swimsuits that covered my big butt until then. The Punjabi butt that Punjabi women know all too well. A lifelong curse that I eventually understood was a boon. I had a big butt. And I was done trying to hide it.
The next obsession - the loose skin that resulted from the weight loss. My face suddenly looked sunken, sullen, lackluster. Obviously this happens when collagen breaks down and the fat goes away – and you don’t control where you lose the fat first FYI.
So I sought professional help. I got the botox. Then I got fillers to ‘fill’ my ‘hollows’. It kept growing – more units in the forehead, more filler – now in the ‘bothersome nasolabial folds’ and in the hollows of my eyes.
I can’t blame anyone because at 30 something when you take this path, no matter what the source of the pressure, the decision is ultimately yours. I chose to spend a LOT of money on this pursuit.
And I hid it. There was shame in telling people I was getting work done. The shame of being judged – and I had already survived a lifetime of that. (So I actually get why more people aren’t open about the work they get done.)
While all doctors will not push too much botox or filler, some do. They’re masters at making you feel worse, tapping into your worst insecurities, and you let them take away your power – because you think they know better and they’re eventually going to help you. Not all doctors. But too many where I know I’m not the only one. Every woman I have worked with has a story like this.
I walked into a dermatologist’s office once seeking help for my sudden alopecia and bald spot in my head – I was met with a judgment on my weight first.
But back to the botox. It becomes an obsession. You start planning your life around it. You can’t get it done before an event because you might bruise. I always bruised. You start thinking about how much you’re smiling because you’ve been told you can metabolize it and it will wear off quickly if you use your muscles too much. You keep a plan of when you need to go in next. And the whole time, you’re being sneaky about it – your big guilty shameful secret.
It was all becoming too much for me. The gaps grew – I hated going in, I hated everything about it. I hated how I felt. I hated that I was ashamed of a choice I was making. I felt like a liar. I was so tired of trying to fix myself constantly.
And so, I stopped.
I fell deeper in love with my massage techniques. I fell in love with using my hands to soothe my exhausted soul. Every stroke on my face became a message to my body – I am here now. We have nothing to prove to anyone.
The thing is I have lived through way too many aspects of this crazy relationship we have with our bodies. I have been on many sides of this. Now, this is where I choose to be.
I choose to be free. I choose to share that freedom. Without judgment. In complete safety.
I do what I do, and do it the way I do, because I have lived it. I have sought safe female bonds, I have sought safe places and spaces. The complexity of being an overweight brown woman in a world that is obsessed with perfectionism and rampant with racist ideals of beauty, lives within me. I think this is why I love Missy Elliot and Lizzo. Missy was always my friend. Her music reminded me there was a place for me in this world. Big butt and all. And Lizzo came along and reaffirmed it. Hell, she stomped all over everything that made me feel less than myself.
I might be digressing, but my point is this – I chose to stop berating myself all the time. I chose to try and stop hating my body – I still have days when I wonder if my butt is too big or my arms too jiggly.
But when I sit down and massage my face – when I hear my body speak to me – I know everything is alright. It’s nerdy as hell – but moving that lymph on my body – I can hear it whisper, I’m safe. I’m alright.
I know everything is alright when I teach – when I witness other women hear their bodies for the first time. When the tears of relief or laughter flow – when they finally take a breath and realize, it’s okay, they can just be.
It is exhausting to stress about our bodies and our skin, and to keep hating ourselves, bit by bit or all at once. To constantly seek ways of fixing it – when you keep feeling broken and not perfect enough. It is f*cking exhausting.
For me, my work is relief. Because I want every tired soul to know this kind of peace. This too, can become a feeling you want to lean into. And it feels reassuring. Safe.
I don’t hate the beauty industry and I don’t hate influencers. But if nobody is giving you a seat at the table, and the damn table is twisted, you better believe I’m showing up to build a new table – not just for me – I’m building a safe table for exhausted, wounded souls like me.
I should’ve known this is what I’d end up doing – 7 year old Paayal putting face masks on her grandparents knew what was up.