My Body Is The Least Interesting Thing About Me

Photo: denis kalinichenko / Shutterstock
woman sitting on couch

I stand in front of the mirror and conduct my daily visual examination.

The lower part of my belly protrudes. Cellulite puckers my fleshy thighs. Spiky gray hairs sprout up along my crown. Is that a zit welling up on my chin?

I don’t hate my body. I don’t love it, either. It’s completely fine and usually gets the job done. I’m just sick of obsessing over it.

This is a learned trait. I don’t think I’m the only one whose mother passed down a critical gaze along with the color of the eyes that do it.

My body has always been unacceptable in some way.

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My toddler weight fell below the growth curve. “Drink more milk!”

My brown skin darkening in the Florida sun was ugly. “Stay inside!”

My teeth were crooked. “Wear your retainer!”

My acne was gross. “Stop picking!”

My hips widened and hair grew and bleeding commenced. I was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease.

“Cover yourself. Fix these things. Don’t tell anyone!”

The comments were unrelenting. The overriding message: I was a mass of dysfunction and disgust.

My body was shameful.

I don’t know whether it came from a place of parental concern, or love, or disdain. Maybe all three.

It saddened and infuriated me. I lashed out. I tried to be better. Perfect.

WHYYYY do you insist on commenting on my body? Please stop.

I’m more interesting than my appearance.

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I want to be seen for more than my physicality, my flaws.

I want to be celebrated for my intelligence, my drive, my inquisitiveness, my kindness. I want to be noticed for the gleam in my eye and the joy in my step and the depth of my thoughts.

Or sometimes, I just don’t want to be noticed at all.

The quiet, knobby-kneed little Indian girl inside me craves the ability to blend into the crowd. I long for normal.

The constant focus on my appearance created a reality that was purely skin-deep. And I became incredibly self-conscious.

Self-conscious. Self. Conscious. Conscious of myself. So aware of every part of me. Conditioned to judge.

It impacted the way I saw myself. And, it impacted how I saw everyone around me. I became the same judgy person she was.

I built a mental calculus to determine my worth based on how my appearance ranked among my peers or people in the media.

I slowly chipped away at this convoluted thinking. I allowed myself to take pleasure in food. I sunbathed with delight. I left my house without makeup.

My anxiety rises with plans to see my mom, peaking in the short moments before I see her. Did I get overly pigmented? Was my hair too unkempt? Is something about me going to elicit some kind of feedback that I haven’t even considered?

Without fail, the first comment is about the way I look, the way everyone looks. It was always too much or not enough. Often, it was something nonsensical or absurd, as though she needed to fill the space whether truth was part of the equation or not.

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I was toeing the line of lunacy trying to achieve some kind of Goldilocks ideal. I knew it was unattainable, so I tried to ignore the criticism. My nonchalance became the armor I used to deflect negativity. But the spears still found their way in, and they cut deep.

I wonder if my brokenness somehow became visible because at some point there were positive comments that began filtering through. A small part of me craved the dopamine hit of this bit of external validation. Had I finally become…acceptable?

But the problem with the new messaging was that it always felt so ephemeral. Sure, it’s a compliment now. What about when something changes? Do I lose my value again?

Behind every “You look great” was the fear of a “What happened to you?”. Before compared to after. This is better than that. Something bad lurking behind everything good.

Screw the positive comments. Because there is an opposite to that. An opposite that I am acutely aware of.

And as a result, the outside has often been the first thing I see about myself. Paying less attention to the actual important things about who I really am.

I may have kept going with it, believing that I was the problem. Accepting my need to change, be better. Be more, or less, or fit into some sort of box or identity that was completely unnatural.

But then, something changed. A group video call connecting three different generations. A source of pure joy for me, watching my 2-year-old twin niece and nephew running around their house, refusing to share their toys, eating their macaroni and cheese. Interrupted by another comment.

“She lost weight.”

Stated. Matter of factually. But she was exactly the same.

No. Stop! Do NOT comment on her body!

The bile rose in my gut. How is that your focus on this glorious, happy, innocent child?!

I tugged with all my might to redirect this sweet baby at the intersection of acceptance and critique.

She didn’t hear or understand what it meant. But one day she will.

I don’t want her to have any doubts about her worth.

I don’t want her to think that the important thing about her has anything to do with what she looks like. I can’t bear the thought of her losing a single moment of happiness based on a sense of shame or insecurity. But, I also don’t want her to put too great a value on the positive superficial comments, either.

Jonah Hill said it best: “I know you mean well, but I kindly ask that you not comment on my body.”

Honestly, I don’t know if you mean well. I don’t understand why you say things that are obviously hurtful and superficial and damaging in the long term. I’m past the kindness. I’m not asking nicely. Stop commenting on my body — or anyone else’s.

Dr. Sonia Ashok is a physician-turned-leadership coach and women's health advocate. She writes through the joys and defeats of life, love, and purpose. You can learn more about her work on Connective Coalition and read more stories on Medium.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.