I come from a culture of big women, both in body and in spirit. Women who carry heavy loads. Women who persevere. Women who shake the earth with each step they take with their solid feet, leaves and birds scattering from nearby trees.
When I was younger, I stayed with my aunty for a few months in India. It was the depths of winter and Punjab has a husky, biting cold unlike what we know in Australia. Early one morning, I awoke to the sounds of smacks, squelches and thuds to see my aunty, squatted, washing clothes by beating them with a wooden panel in the cold concrete courtyard. Soapy grey water streamed towards my feet. Then, she took the clothes from her own body and added them to the sodden lump between her feet. She looked at me and chuckled, we don’t care at my age. The brown of her large naked body dulled beneath sheets of overcast yet she sat there glowing, full and proud in my eyes. Muscles and tough flesh thickened by years of hard work. She shook the ground with each beat, scared creatures dashing from nearby streets.
I grew up in a culture of tough women. Maternal types who swept you off your feet, holding you close beneath their wings. Fed you rotis saturated in ghee to express their love and high hopes for you. And you ate everything willingly, each bite tasting of deep, safe love. You were fed, held, cared for. You were cherished, protected, adored. So how did it all come down to this?
I have pictures and memories of not that long ago. I cannot recognise myself – I look lost, disconnected and alone. And the whole time I was spiralling, it never once crossed my mind that it could be what it turned out to be because how could a big brown girl like me be anorexic? I became unrecognisable to everything I’ve ever known, a huge mispronunciation of everything I have ever been shown. Like many of you, I sat there in disbelief looking at my wilted skin and bones.
It’s not what you think – it was never really about the food or the weight. Anorexia is an amnesia of sorts. For me, it was a loss of many things…culture, guidance, connection, love. A fading of memories, a washing-away of strong ties. It was a forgetting, a resistance of remembering – a distancing.
But lately, I have had things come back to me. The sight of my aunty, unclothed, beating clothes in the cold. The warmth of her rotis fresh from the stove. The weight of her toughened hands as she patted my tired head goodnight. For me, recovery has been silent, loud, tough, testing, enriching. The fuller I become in body and in spirit, the more I find my mind thinking of the women of my childhood. Solid, full, proud. Large, unwavering, profound. As time passes, the more layers of that same strength I find within me. And I am enchanted by the idea that one day I will stand proud and tall as them, having one day lived, and been through it all.
Contributed by Sumedha for Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2020