Both my siblings have always been extremely underweight.
For as long as I can remember, relatives have made comments on the fact that while both my siblings were skinny, I was nothing like them. I was the ‘fat’ one. I have never been overweight – my weight was always perfect, according to the BMI chart.
But somehow I ended up with the nickname moti (Urdu for fat) at home.
I know the nickname was only meant as a loving joke, but at night, when no one was watching, I would stand in front of the mirror and I always hated what I saw.
At ten years old, I started exercising vigorously. I didn’t have dumbbells so I filled two 1 liter bottles with water and used them as weights. I started using my favorite purple and orange skipping rope for exercise instead of fun.
Every evening, I went for a jog with my dad. And every night, I would lock my room and do 150 skips on the skipping rope and 100 lifts with the bottles. I didn’t tell anyone about the exercise sessions at night because I was too ashamed to let them know that I thought I was fat too.
I kept this up for months but I saw no difference in the way I looked. I still saw a disgusting overweight girl staring back at me from the mirror.
To this day, I feel guilty when I am getting a second helping of dinner.
My feelings about how I look had been negative for as long as I can remember. I thought that if I lost weight maybe I would like myself. But that never happened.
I used to think that I was making no progress whatsoever, but when I was 11, my aunt visited us after a while and was shocked when she saw me looking ‘weak’. She was concerned enough to alert my maternal grandmother who called my mother to ask me if I was sick.
My parents brushed it off and laughed and so did I. Inside I was ecstatic. I was so happy that someone had viewed me as skinny. But that happiness didn’t last long because when I looked in the mirror I still felt ugly and fat.
This pattern of self-hate, crash diets, and crazy exercise routines continued till my A-levels. I would never tell anyone how I really felt about myself. On the outside, everyone viewed me as confident and self-assured, but on the inside, I was riddled with self-doubt.
I thought feeling this way about myself was normal.
Then one day, in my second year of A-levels, we were studying Body Dysmorphic Disorder in Psychology class. As my teacher described the symptoms and what people who had BDD went through daily, I couldn’t look up from my notebook. I was frozen and deeply embarrassed; like I had been caught out on a secret.
I was convinced that I suffered from it.
While I did not have BDD, reading about the disorder felt personal because I could somewhat relate to the self-hate and doubt, which consumes those who suffer from it.
When university started, I still felt the same.
When I walked through campus to class, I felt everyone was staring at me and thinking about how ugly I was. I would convince myself of this and drive myself half insane to the point where I could not look up and meet anyone’s eye. I would not raise my hand in class or participate in discussions because I did not want to draw attention to myself; fearing ridicule regarding my looks.
But then, I found a group of friends that quite literally changed my life. For the first time in my life, I knew I had unconditional love. I had two amazing women who would spare no chance to lift my spirits up.
Telling me what a beautiful, badass bitch I was.
I honestly don’t know how it happened, but I know it was because of their constant appreciation and helping me see how amazing I really was. They listened to my doubts and helped me look through them. They helped me identify my negative thinking patterns and replace them with healthier thoughts.
Unconditional love and appreciation are extremely important. Having loving people around you, who appreciate and encourage you for who you are, is something everyone needs.
And you should never settle for anything other than people who love you, just the way you are.