hEad Held HIgh

I’ve started a new routine.

I usually pick out my clothes without thinking too much about it, an old t shirt, the same pair of jeans. The eyeliner glides on effortlessly, I’d been doing that since I was five. I tie my long hair in a ponytail usually, this is the only thing that takes time. More so, because I simply liked gliding my fingers through my hair, and trying elaborate hairdos even if it always just ends up in a ponytail. All of this takes me less than twenty minutes, I change out of my uniform only reluctantly but everything else goes on fast.

Lately though, I take longer. The t shirt I wear outlines my body too well, the old jeans seem snug,too snug. The eyeliner seems too much. My hair is too long and makes me look older than I am. I haven’t started wearing a bra yet, I should really tell my mum it’s time I wear one. But it’s an uncomfortable topic. I’m not altogether sure why I should be wearing one. I didn’t want to be old enough and yet it would feel like an added protective layer.

I take off my clothes. I can’t seem to find bigger, looser clothes. Maybe I should borrow my sister’s? But I’d never be allowed out of the house wearing baggy clothes. I put my clothes back on and throw a jacket on top of it, this will have to do. I tie my hair in a tight bun, even as a few stray strands threatened to fall loose around the nape of my neck. I wipe off the eyeliner. I rarely see my eyes bare. I look plain.objectification

The walk to the tuition centre was becoming more painful by the day. When had I started noticing them? Everything seemed to happen all at once. The first time someone touched me I was much too young. Even now, I almost refuse to remember it the way it happened. The second time there was no escape from what was happening. The second time I learnt a new word:molestation. It didn’t come from the incident itself, I don’t think I understood what was happening even then. It was much later, in an old Reader’s Digest article that I read a story and learnt a new word. It’s the stupid word that caused trouble. It could have remained nothing if I didn’t know what it was. But then I did. And everything changed. Months after it happened, I continued having recurring nightmares. Every time I looked at pictures from that day, unsmiling pictures of me in front of famous monuments,beside my parents, I’d feel the desperate urge to erase myself from the pictures. As if that might mean that I was never there at all. I also wanted to get rid of the clothes, like from a scene of crime. They were new. They fit me well. I would keep staring at just how well. That morning I must have taken time in front of the mirror, admiring the new clothes on myself. I looked slim, I liked how I looked that day. That was the problem. I must have stood out.

I must look plain. I wouldn’t be noticed then.

I adopted this new way of life after I joined these tuitions too. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t inside school grounds, not inside a school van, not with my parents, not inside a car. I had to walk alone. It was a 15 minute walk. I walked ridiculously fast. It didn’t help. Even that makes me stand out.

They stand in groups by the street. They whistle and make low hissing noises. Everyone can see them. Everyone can see me. They ask me what my name is. Why am I walking so fast? Why wouldn’t I look at them? I would just walk faster, turning my head away from the questions hurled at me.

An auto whizzes past. The driver yells out something obscene at me. Everyone heard him. Everyone saw me. I sleepwalk my way home.

A scruffy young boy from the bicycle repair shop won’t keeps blocking my way. I can’t hear what he’s saying, the voices are becoming muffled now. He’s a hair’s breadth away. I keep my gaze lowered. My mum says my eyes are too wide, I look like a helpless child and people will take advantage of me. Why won’t you look at me? I look up at him and he grins and reaches a hand out. I swerve left and break into a run. Everyone saw him. Their eyes followed me.

When I reach home at night, my neck hurts. For more than four hours, my neck’s bent. I keep my nails short, very short. I clench my fist so hard, I’d still leave little indented marks on the inside of my palm. My parents remark on my naked eyes,my severe look. I look older and plainer. I don’t look feminine enough. I go back upstairs and put on some eyeliner and smile at my reflection. I breathe.

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thick thighs and chubby ankles

collarbones sticking out with a double chin for company
my flabby arms dance wildly as i flail them about to punk rock
chunky muffin tops pop up brown and toasted in my little crop top
fleshy folds of sweat line my small tummy like a double decker bus
i haven’t heard from my cheekbones, so i’m guessing i’ve been stood up for life
but this birthday,i’m celebrating the layers of fat that have kept me company for 23 years
you’ve been kneaded and moulded and have still stayed resiliently by my side
and maybe it’s the tough skin with the flabby fat that’s kept me going all these years
so this birthday, the two of us have a date

 italian and a large ice cream sundae

oF MIRrors anD VaNIty

Mirrors have played a large part in my life. I always had just the single mirror in my room, a small one. It was at a rather uncomfortable position, I could never see my uniform properly or the ends of my long hair. I had to stand on my knees on the bed to examine the pimple on my nose for any sign of a promising pop. Despite its position, I loved my mirror and would constantly look into it, brushing my hair or putting up little theatrical shows for myself. I loved role-playing and the mirror was both my audience and my judge. Everytime my mum came upstairs to check on me, I would be in front of it, in the middle of a song or dialogue, a sharp dance move or religiously brushing my hair.

I hated it when she caught me, mirrors were meant for sneaking a look at yourself, prolonged examination would conclusively place you in the vain category.

Vanity was a bad best friend. I loved my designer clothes, clear face, wide eyes and long hair. I hated being admired just as much as I loved it. I learnt how to paint my nails at four and don’t remember ever having stepped out without lining my eyes with kohl.I winged it with a liquid liner, went under my eyes with a dark kajal pot, coated my lashes with it hoping it would look like mascara and even drew elaborate bindis with it. This didn’t mean that I did badly in school, in fact I did rather well and was an excellent student, but at home my vanity became my only trait.

Sabina, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Sabina, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The early categorisation and being an easy target for ridicule drove me farther from the things I loved. I forced myself to read, I told myself I hated frills too. my eyeliner became less dramatic(it never fully went away) and my little trysts with the mirror reduced in number.

I did gradually learn to love books and even engaged in politics, and however well I cultivated an attitude of indifference towards all things material and ‘silly’, I still had midnight affairs with my mirror. So when I finally got my very own full-length mirror, I found it hard to stop myself from fixing a cuff, smoothing a wrinkle, or quickly changing a mismatched outfit.When had it become a cardinal sin to be conscious of my appearance?

Today, in another continent altogether and amongst strange faces completely alien to me, I wear bold red lipstick and spend 5 whole minutes in the morning lining my eyes. But now my bold red lips become the slogan of my feminist stance, heavily massacred eyelashes gain sanction when they widen in political outrage and anything from crop tops to a salwar-kameez make political statements rather than fashion statements. I must admit that I am not wholly innocent here, I do this fully aware that I can let my love for fashion go wild as long as I have a prompt answer with a complex theory to back it up so it never seems trite or silly. I spend long hours on Youtube looking for the perfect shampoo and ways to trim my eyebrows, as long as I read a serious magazine right after. Fashion has become a guilty pleasure. I cannot watch 6 straight episodes of Sex and the City without making a righteous commentary on how American television soaps are dumbing us down. So, when I stand in front of my full-length mirror now I spend all the time in the world making sure every strand of hair falls perfectly …and then give it a tousle right at the end, so I don’t look like I spent an hour on it.