One hundred and fifty, one hundred and twenty, seventy five, fifty five… I saw her counting her calories like I count the words of my essays. What if she was a writer? I assume this would be her tragedy, and I know the tragedy of a writer embodies what he/she writes; but what if her body shaped what she wrote? I left the young lady, her calories, and the store with something to contemplate about.
As women born into the twenty first century, we cannot help admit, but we have all been through that phase when we felt a magnetic pull from everything that we weren’t supposed to eat. Macaroons and cupcakes and icing and frosting of all colours that defined femininity, were romanticised in window displays or bell jars in corner cafes; but we always passed by dreaming. Every now and then, the chaos of our hormonal imbalance would drown us in melancholy for long lost lovers or the lovers we never had; and we would have our heads sunk in ice cream tubs regretting every scoop we would consume, and then regretting feeling that regret. Oh how we enjoy the guilty pleasures of making ourselves so pathetic at times. Then the numbers drop in like a nuclear bomb; the effects of which linger in the blood of our daughters. We see them everywhere, on scales and measuring tapes, height, weight, the size of my waist, the size of my thighs, the size of that dress, eight, ten, twelve; ‘oh I cannot go up to a fourteen, I have to cut down’. Even a regular doctor’s check up requires measurement of the one hundred and six pounds of my physical existence. Oh these numbers, they scream at us of a reality we want to live in denial for. We start looking for the confidence that we can’t find in ourselves, in bodies that are worse than ours, and envy those that are better. How strange is it that our sisters are never able to give us this confidence that we only happen to find in casual compliments passed by the opposite sex. And then we start transforming, distorting our faces and bodies with contours and physiognomies to represent a stinging image of the ideal in our heads. All this pandemonium, just for the confidence that we cannot find in ourselves.
But I cannot help wonder; and scrutinise the inscrutable Destiny of the women of our time, through the looking glass of my writer’s thoughts. Would I measure the length of my words, or rather those of my sentences like I measure the size of my waist? If only I could reduce to a size smaller by this summer, and then I can buy that one dress which I hope will still beg for my attention by the end of summer. How will I reduce the size of my words, sentences, paragraphs? I cannot measure them; and to my salvation I have only a hopeless word count that I am either over or under, because I have too much to say or too little. But I always have too much flab to lose; I can boast with shame all the places of my body that it weighs me down from.
Reality seems to be a joke in defining the vessels of our gender. Even the terms used to calculate the different shapes of our bodies stink of humour. Straight, Round, Diamond, Rectangular, Triangular, Inverted Triangular, Column, Brick, Hourglass, Top Hourglass, Vase, Cello, Skittle, Bell, Goblet, Cornet, Apple, Pear, Lollipop… there is no consistency. Perhaps we are too diverse for our lazy population to be inventing scientific terms merely to describe women’s bodies. It is just our bodies after all; although our bodies have been possessing the thoughts of civilisation through time. The beauty of our bodies gave men art and contemplation, and the ugliness gave us ‘issues’. But, how am I to make my writing look triangular, or like an hourglass, or an apple, a bell, or a lollipop? I could have used little images of cellos and goblets or pears and apples as footnote symbols, had they replaced the dagger, asterisk, parallel lines or the number sign. I could also visually shape my writing to represent that of an inverted triangle or hourglass – even though my paragraphs already look like incomplete rectangles, bitten off from the sides I align my text to – but that would make my writing look like a typographical joke. The body types of men are categorised into ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph; such a unique introduction of scientific terms to the study of man. Had my body been ectomorphic, with lean muscle mass but fast metabolism, I would write hollow words with a limited vocabulary, but all in time to get the job done. Had it been mesomorphic, with well defined muscles and a strong athletic appearance, I would filter my vocabulary for words that sing to the soul and paint a memory with all that I write. Had it been endomorphic, a body with slow metabolism finding it hard to lose fat, I would cram my sentences with adjectives in places they don’t belong, often repetitively one after the other, even after a sixth revision. But this drives me away from my point, because I am not a man; and I have comparatively more ‘issues’ with my body than men.
If I were petite, I would write exceedingly short sentences in each paragraph. If I were tall I would conglomerate my thoughts in a single sentence, but separate them with commas. If I were obese, the confusion of my thoughts would be portrayed perfectly in haphazard paragraphs; all suffocating and falling apart like my state of mind for the brutal non acceptance of this category in the Body Mass Index. My writing and I would be a social disgust. If I were short and stout, if I were fat, which is not exactly obese but one step below and often sugar coated with ‘healthy’, if I were slim and tall, if I were healthy and tall, if I were, if I were, if I… I could go on, but there never is a distinct ideal, is there? The subjectivity of human minds can never allow for there to be one. The state of my body can be sexually electric to one and completely grotesque to another; but what is it to me; does that not matter? And here I am asking questions for approximately three billion and seven hundred million of the female population of this world, when I should be asking these to myself, and they should be asking these to themselves. The young lady in that store should be asking these questions to herself.
After an hour’s time of pondering and wandering, I sat my weight down on a wrought iron chair of a bistro, that looked like it had stolen its furniture from the nineteenth century piazzas of Italy or the streets of Athens, and shamelessly ordered thought in a cup of hot chocolate that I would not regret. As I dived deeper into the rational discourse of my mind, I looked around me and scrupulously observed womankind. Women have infinitely more problems with their physicalities than just with the biological nature of their bodies. The classrooms of a daughter, I would one day have, would stink with odours of propriety, lingering on her clothes and her naivety like the residue of moisture on our skin, from a hot summer morning. ‘Torture yourself,’ I would tell her, ‘but not for your body.’ ‘Suffer if you have to, but suffer for the ambiguity of our universe, for the wealth of knowledge. Suffer for the truth.’ We metamorphose ourselves, surgically and chemically; we alter the divine nature of our bodies. I wondered how many women, that walked by me, had removed their fat from all the wrong places and had them put in, what they consider, or rather what the society considers, all the right places. How many had permanently painted their eyebrows? Honey, where is your face behind all that make up; please tell me because I will give you that dose of confidence which you seek in others by redefining yourself. Breast enhancement, Facial contouring, Body Contouring, Tummy tuck, Nose job, Lip job, Face lift, Eyelid lift, Neck lift, Brow lift… oh just please stop and grab that piece of chocolate that you have been craving all this while.
Enhance or contour my writing? Tuck my words or lift them up? How was I to do all of this? A vacuum device, a small incision, and an excruciatingly painful push and pull, whereby I would break my words, my sentences, my paragraphs! And draw out of them by means of suction, all the meanings I hide between my lines. A bruised vocabulary and scarred pages with no emotions. Yet if my writing were to survive the shell shock of this procedure, I would overwhelm it further by blurring the intentions of my writing; and instead displace, replace and misplace my words in a thoughtless mishmash that grammar would suffer to define as a paragraph. But, you may say, what about those of us struggling with eating disorders? Well, on the days that I delightfully eat too much, and the walls of my stomach struggle to even contain the food – forget digestion – creating a swollen dome of skin filled with regret and constipation, I would gag and disgorge; and purge out of me will a verbal diarrhoea, onto the pages of my notebook on the bathroom floor. As I would raise my head into the stagnant air, my reflection would complain of being too fat. On days that the hungry horses of my appetite would suffer from famine, the skin of my stomach touching my spine; I would measure my thoughts and carefully concise them into a haiku, contemplating the nature of my body. Overcome with pride, I would triumphantly celebrate my consumption of twelve hundred calories less than those that I recorded for the day before, by wearing the darkest outfit and looking at a mirror, but my reflection would still complain of being too fat.
I arrived at the bottom of my cup, but not at a conclusion. I can only stand behind my words or the looking glass of my thoughts, and commiserate. Image of the ideal is an addiction that one can never be too proud or ashamed of having. The ideal is wishful thinking that is constantly changing because of the subjectivity of human nature. Just as I have failed to arrive at a conclusion, we will always fail to arrive at the ideal, no matter how much we mar our bodies for it. No, I do not wish to distort my words or meanings, or change the structure of my sentences or paragraphs to anything different than what my soul chooses to imprint on paper. I do not wish to limit the diversity of my vocabulary that I have arduously put together with the help of a reading list, which does not seem to end. The womb that fed us cannot see us like this; I cannot see the child that my womb would nurture –with things that I cannot imagine myself eating yet my mother would feed me in those six months– ashamed of a body that I gave her. I will not torment myself so wastefully, because my reflection, when it smiles or complains, stands alone in the mirror. My reflection looks to me for confidence.
Aayushi Gupta is an artist and writer currently living in her own world located in and around the streets of Edinburgh. She is studying BA (Hons) Photography at the University of Edinburgh and is also training to be Journalist. When she hasn’t got her head in a book, Aayushi can be seen contemplating with a pencil, coffee and a grey notebook, or with a camera capturing reality through bodies of humanity.