Growing up, I would watch them sing and dance their way across my TV screen and think about how beautiful they looked, the beauty...
…just a number, something in the back of their mind, or maybe even something that nags at them every day. For others, like me, it is the singular thing that claws away at their mind any given minute on any given day. My parents, being South Asian immigrants, placed a solitary priority on appearance. Appearing attractive equaled good social standing in our community, something that was of upmost importance to them. Since I was 6 years old, they have been persistently and relentlessly reminding me of my less than satisfactory appearance. They made it my top priority, even ahead of education. Their obsession with my weight and appearance quickly developed into a seething anger, aggression, and frustration. Soon, the verbal abuse took to the bench, and the physical abuse came out. My parents would tell me that other kids at school, relatives, friends, that everybody, would make fun of me about my weight, so I walled myself off from friends, classmates, and school, hoping that if I kept quiet enough, I could become invisible, and people could no longer see that I was fat, and wouldn’t be able to make fun of me for it. Living in my own bubble, there was a constant struggle to find any outlet for my pain in a way my domineering parents wouldn’t find out, which, believe me, was a difficult task.
This became counterproductive, as I just would end up gaining weight despite the excessive amount of exercise my parents forced me into and getting yelled at for the empty candy wrappers behind the sofa. I was embarrassed, disgusted with myself, but unable to stop. This led to a downward spiral of depression, anxiety, binge eating, bulimia, skin picking, suicidal thoughts, one after the other, that still continues to this day. It seemed like my mind was doing everything possible to ruin how I looked and any happiness I may have still had. Often, I used to cry myself to sleep, wishing, just desperately wishing, I could rip out all the fat from my body, make my face that of a model’s, and miraculously wake up with fair, flawless skin and beautiful straight hair instead of my naturally curly and frizzy mess. Up until this year, I had firmly believed happiness could only be derived from being skinny and beautiful, because that was what had been ingrained into my head since I was a toddler.
When I went to medical school in India, it seemed like I was surrounded by a sea of people who had the same mentality as my parents. Only after I graduated and came back to America did I realize how much of a toll that took on my mental health. Most people here accepted and celebrated themselves and others for being who they are, as they should be in their entirety, and not necessarily just based on their appearance. This culture of acceptance and individuality opened my eyes and mind to a whole new world and a whole new way of thinking. Removing myself from that environment helped me tremendously as well, and finally had given me the chance to look at myself from a bird’s eye perspective. Here I am, a doctor, a humanitarian, an artist, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an admittedly bad comedian, and so much more than just my appearance! That revelation has been keeping me going and encouraging me to seek the help I need and to start leading a healthy lifestyle. I can already say, I am happier than I have ever been! However, I am still a work in progress; I often have relapses and go back to my habits, but what I’ve come to realize is that, setbacks are normal and I shouldn’t beat myself up over them. Like my friend Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Healing is a long and tedious process but I promise you there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel no matter how dark it may seem.