My Fort with Its Moat: Why Did I Make It and Why Was It Destroyed?

Ishita Sareen
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

I am an 18 year old girl, who weighs 87 kg, precisely. I know that is big amount, I am almost obese by 25-30 kg (what knowledge I gleaned in my physical education classes). I am 5’4″, a modest height. I do not have any particular talents to brag off, I am just your ordinary teenager, but with my own custom-made body image issues.

I was born a healthy child (3.5 kg at my birth on December 16, 1994), just what my parents wanted. I was the most pampered and loved on both my parent’s sides. I was fed cans of lactogen, baby formula, and God knows what else so that I grew up to be a healthy baby. I did. I was a healthy, chubby child, always a little ahead of my classmates on the weight front.

Honestly, I did not care. I never spent my time looking in mirrors, nor do I do now. I was content with myself, at peace with the world and my Alpenlibe lollipop. But as I grew old, I realized that though I was happy with me, the world was not happy seeing me being me. No offense to all those who are thinking that this is just another teen story, but really don’t flip pages just yet.

I was 8 and at school, and that was the first time I felt ashamed of my appearance, of my weight. I remember clearly. It was mid November and the class bully was holding his conference at the far corner of the playground. I was not part of that. I always stood up for what I liked/wanted/felt was right (pick any, I don’t mind)—in this case I did not like being dominated so I did not join the conference. Later on I learnt that the resolution that had been passed was to call me ‘moti ’1 from now on. My friends left me for the bully camp and I was alone. That day I cried in the school bus. Now when all memories have grown so old and I hardly remember any good ones (just vague recollections), that one is the one that stands out, corrupting other treasured memories.

After that incident and many others just like that, I taught myself to ignore them all. That was at 10. No matter what they said, I did not rise to the bait; I kept silent. I mastered it gradually. I built a permanent red brick fort, with its own moat of crocodiles. I was proud of myself. My parents might have guessed what I was facing at school, but they left me to fight my own battles and wars and for that I was grateful because I learnt to fight and hold my own fort.

As I progressed into teenage-hood, I began to realize that the wall I had built around myself was not so permanent after all. It was showing cracks in some places. But with school, boys and lots and lots of homework, who has the time to fill up cracks? The fort turned into a ruin and I felt all those hateful memories and the new names (now improvised) boring into my memory. Like some mind-control drill.

I declined offers to sit with friends, convinced that I would be needled about my weight issue. In the school bus when we had to squeeze together, I would get up from my seat and give it to another. Many thought this act was good-breeding but it really was so that no one could get any opportunity to say that I blocked too much space. I started hating my school uniform, as I looked fat in it. I never looked at myself I the mirror in the morning because I was afraid that I might break down. Many whistles from street loafers followed me in the streets. I was getting out of control inside, getting paranoid. Convinced that everyone was looking at me, commenting about my ever increasing weight. And I could do nothing to stop it, nothing to fight. I went on walks, consulted dieticians and did a lot of exercise, but nothing budged those muscles. I was depressed so I ate even more. And that got me to my present 87 kg.

I thought or hallucinated that I was fighting the battles and winning some of them, but by some treachery on the account of my brain, my crocs were dead. I was not immune to those leers and taunts after all. I am not proud of the fact, but I just curled up under my sheets for a few days and cried. I thought and cried some more. But eventually the crying stopped the raging at the world, the leers and the whistles going through my brain too. It’s a terrifying feeling you get when everything just stops, you wonder if it ever was there, will it return, what happened to it? This was when I was 14.

I started work on a new wall this time with super strong cement, working out the points where I had been weak before. I was shy ever since I can remember but now I was an introvert too. As I grew I learned that my weight was not THE problem. The taunts, and the leers continued, but I realized that they were less a problem when I grew older, more mature. Now people were beginning to understand me, they were trying not to judge me by how I looked and I was grateful for that. They took the trouble to find out about the real me, that me who was hiding under the cemented grey brick walls. I made real friends, who stood alongside me when I needed them. The ‘friend in need is a friend indeed’ type.

And that made me realize something else too. (Other than admitting I had a problem which needed exercise to get over, which I am doing faithfully). You can decide whether its wisdom or not.

I realized that  we all are insecure. All these insecurities make a great part of who we are. Some people let those insecurities commandeer their life. Like I did, they made forts and moats and also kept crocs and jelly fish. Sigh. Some others pay no attention to them but give all their time towards scouring their real talents, their natural ones, honing them to perfection so that the insecurities look puny. Yet others find a way round them, the middle path, they spend time on their insecurities and nurture their talents too. I call these the all rounders. I haven’t decided yet to which category I belong to, but I think I just might bet on the last one.

The bullies in my life who called me all the names and the mean things had insecurities. We live in a world that includes people venting out their anger, emotions, feelings etc. at others—catharsis, they call it. And we need to do that, Why? To feel important, self-satisfied, proud, loved, arrogant, valued, safe, satisfied, confident…. In this process even if we end up saying some mean things or some people end up listening to that mean talk, it’s no reason to make a wall, or bury yourself in deep, or do anything that might make yourself feel ashamed. Because you are what you are. All the songs say it, celebs say it, our shrinks say it, the society also seems to say it—it is we who refuse to believe it. And trust me you only believe it when you are faced with no other option than to believe. You always have the power to believe but you also have the power to choose what you believe, and the impossibility of a situation becomes the catalyst of your decision.

As I learned it the slightly hard way, some mean things cannot change who you are even though you might try it. Some other souls come along and dig you up from your self-dug grave. And to me those are my angels. Sort off. Bit dramatic, huh?

Those people, the mean characters in my life had a great role to play. They eventually bought me closer to the path, at the end of which came Deduction Number 1 —  that I had a problem, and Deduction Number 1a — which needed some solutions and fast, which led to my slimming-down-by-the-earliest scheme of tasks, including a lot of exercise. I was never comfortable in my own skin. Big surprise! Every teenager says that, I guess (except the ones with no acne and perfect swimsuit bodies, if there are any). But now I am very near to it. Bet you no ‘teenager’ says that. Deduction Number 2 — there might be room for constant improvement, but that improvement should not be based on the whims and fancies of others.

I am again at peace with my world, have dreams, go party sometimes, read books still. But there is no archaic fort now. There’s a valley full of long grass that beckons me to move on and love myself even more. I have started loving myself for who I am (and believe me life has taken a turn for good), have you?

  1 Derogatory Hindi term for “fatty”