Sometime last year, I came across an Instagram post on a moon journalling session. Now, I am not into all this “cult-ish” stuff but the idea of writing, sitting under the moonlight and meeting people outside of work (a rarity, thanks to the pandemic) seemed tempting. I signed up and, a week later, found myself putting a pen to paper after ages and writing about my deepest desires to will them into “manifestation.” It could have been anything: A better-paying job, good health, a book deal, true love… Instead, I ended up writing about something that I had not consciously thought of until then: Myself in Goa, with my two best friends, on the beach, wearing a… dark royal blue bikini.
I shared my imagination with my friends, and the next we knew, we were in Goa. “Ah, manifestation!” exulted my friend from the moon session. Don’t think so, I wondered. It was just a combination of an indulgent boss agreeing to a last-minute leave, a little bit of money saved during the pandemic and two self-employed friends forever ready, and available, to take off to anywhere in the world. Everything was the same as I had imagined: Goa, the beach, my friends. Except, I could not wear a bikini.
Being a plus-sized person since forever, I have had a bittersweet relationship with food. From trying out one diet after the other even as a kid to finally accepting that I needed to eat a certain number of meals and multiple rounds of snacks everyday in order to not snap at anyone who comes my way, it has been a long, arduous journey.
But there has also been another relationship, which has been a bigger challenge – my relationship with clothes. I have always struggled to find them in my size, resorting to wearing only salwar suits throughout my teenage and my 20s, with an occasional pair of jeans thrown in between. Mercifully over the last decade, they started acknowledging that people of my size exist and that they can no longer look right through me, and started making clothes of my size. But what I had to do myself was to find the confidence to wear them. Also, the courage. Oodles of it. And that was a battle of its own. “Don’t wear a saree, it will make you look older and rounder. Not to mention, expose your tummy?” “Jeans? Why do you want to draw attention to some of your most unflattering body parts?” “Dresses? Oh god, no!” But with each passing year, I started caring less and less about others said and more and more about doing whatever I felt like. From wearing only dark-coloured clothes and vertical stripes to appear “slimmer” to putting on whatever colour or pattern I fancied (because one can never look thin enough for the world so, why care?), I found myself winning the battle bit by bit, one thread at a time.
Sarees, dresses (from long, flowing numbers to LBDs), skirts, I was wearing everything I wanted and winning compliments along the way, for my choice of clothes, yes, but also, my confidence. Everything, except… a bikini.
When was the last time you had seen anyone in popular imagination wearing a set of garments named after an island that was once the site of a nuclear-testing exercise and which took the world by a storm only a few decades back? Even movie actors, forever in ship shape and strict diet to look “thin”, go on special weight-loss regimen (like there is any weight left to lose on their wafer-thin bodies) for a few seconds they would be seen emerging out of the sea, their bodies glistening in the sun, water dripping off their hair, in a swim suit. So how can I, a lesser mortal thrice their size, with a body marked by cellulite and stretch marks, commit this ultimate blasphemy? No, not in this lifetime. Also, where would I find a bikini of my fit in India? As it is, they refuse to make lingerie of my size, forcing me to earmark a major part of my meagre earnings for Marks and Spencer panties every few months.
But recently, I saw women of my body type, if not the exact size, on a poster. Coming from a country situated thousands of kilometres away, Spain, the ad explicitly told women that they were beach ready – so what if they had a big bum and thunder thighs, so what if they had body hair, so what if a life-saving round of mastectomy had taken away one of their breasts… One need not come out of an assembly line to be able to hit the beach in a garment of their choice. To use the cliché, I felt seen. And to think that it was the country’s government that was behind the campaign warmed my heart a little more. That they considered this issue was important, a priority. Because somewhere, I feel, it is.
Because the question is not just about wearing something that many would consider culturally inappropriate (a whole different story altogether) but a question of choice. I may not go to the beach for years, but when I go, I should not be getting a panic attack for wanting to wear what I want, be it a bikini, a tankini, a one-piece swim suit, a full-body suit or the much-debated burkini. Whatever makes me feel comfortable and more in my skin.
Can I imagine a similar thing happening in my country? I live in hope. We are a country which decriminalised gay sex not long back and we are a country where we don’t have to go to jail for seeking an abortion. So, there may come a time, hopefully in my life time, when we can become size-inclusive.
And then maybe my “manifestation” will reach its fruition. I would once again head to Goa, with my friends, to the beach and, to no one’s horror, emerge out of the sea in a royal blue bikini. All my stretch marks, every bit of cellulite in full view. And I hope no one will make a big deal out of it. But should I be caring at all? The ad in a distant country may have been an enabler but the decision is mine to make. And yours, too.