I’m thinking about buying a bikini for the first time in about 14 years. The last time I wore one I was 19 years old and 110 pounds. I was living with friends and had no qualms with walking around in it when the weather was too hot. But today I found this bikini that was covered in stars and had this cool cagey top and I thought “Oh hey I could look good in that”.
There’s this ongoing battle with me and my body. I used to be super skinny and then gradually put on weight as I got older, and there are people in my family on my dad’s side who really focus on how I was way more attractive when I was skinnier. I also used to date someone around the time I got heavier who commented on how I was ‘too big’ about two months before we broke up and that’s always stuck with me. It’s hard to shake off someone who decided you were no longer attractive now you weighed a little more. There have been a lot of times over the last 10 years where I’ve looked in the mirror and just not felt good. There have been many times where I have avoided mirrors because I don’t want to see myself at all. Times during summer when I’ve chosen to wear tights or leggings because I’d not got around to shaving my legs and was ashamed of them and super embarrassed to have hairy legs on display at all.
South Asian culture is funny like that, you have people older than you encouraging you to eat when you’re thinner and then telling you off for eating the moment you gain any weight. We have it thrust on us that fair is beautiful, the range of skin whitening treatments you can see is huge, there’s even this crazy commercial for an Indian product to whiten your vagina. At an early age, I was ashamed of how much body hair I had. There was never anyone on TV or in magazines that had any hair and here was I with it all over my body. I would shave and wax pretty much everything in an attempt to feel better, so I could wear short sleeves or a dress without leggings. I remember when thin eyebrows were in fashion and someone made a comment on mine being too big. 16 year old me was confused about how my eyebrows could be ugly or unfashionable, they were just hair above my eyes.
Last year was the first time I just didn’t give a damn about shaving my legs all summer. I wore shorts, rompers, my weird tankini, dresses, whatever I could get my hands on and I probably shaved my legs twice the whole summer. It was too much of an ordeal but it was the first time in my life I wasn’t self-conscious about the fact that the hair was there. I’ve got into this mindset of if someone is really grossed out by my legs do I really want to be around that person? No, not at all. This is the mindset I want to get into with my weight. I’ve joined the gym and I’ve been going and do want to lose a little but I’m never going to be 110 pounds ever again and I need to be okay with that.
My weight is what made me feel so unattractive for so many years, to the point where I just didn’t see why anyone would look twice at me. It wasn’t even that it made me feel bad, I just resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t an attractive person and got on with life. I don’t know when this started to change, but I know now I really love creating some sort of style for myself and I have started to like wearing things I wouldn’t have thought about before. Crop tops were a big one, I wore them last summer with skirts and it was wonderful. I didn’t feel big I just felt awesome. The journey to accepting how I look has been one of hit and miss clothing choices and a lot of selfies. I take photos of myself when I’m happy with how I look because it’s nice to have that reminder for when I feel like shit. I don’t think it’s self-indulgent or vain, I’m always super happy to see people around me take photos of themselves and celebrate the heck out of how good they look. I will always be here for that.
I bought this awesome yellow and pink salwar kameez for the benefit party we’re having at work and I am going to wear it straight after to my friends birthday show, which is all on the same night. In the past, I would never have worn something Pakistani but recently I’ve been wanting to explore the fashion side of my culture a little more. I like to mix Pakistani style in with what I usually wear, and I want more crazy bright jewellery. If the suit actually shows up and fits me properly (online ordering is so hit and miss) I’m going to feel super awesome. I think this is growth in this area, learning what I like, learning to be confident in my choices and overthinking a little less. I don’t look in the mirror and think I look bad anymore, I like what I see and i know what I need to work on.
I think I’m going to buy that bikini and then I’m going to wear it like once all summer because let’s be honest when the hell do I ever go swimming? (note: I love to go in the pool but I have no idea how to swim, come to a water park with me please). My body image issues can only be solved by me and I’m trying to be more productive about this. Actually going to the gym, trying to eat better food, actually looking in the mirror before I got to work to check for toothpaste in my hair and honestly just trying to be a bit easier on myself.
Maryam Hassan is a 32 year old Photographer, Montessori Teacher, Wearer of Yellow from London who transplanted herself to Chicago in 2015. She likes punk music, hash browns, animal facts and mangoes.
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