Body size is a universal obsession. Too fat, too thin, trying to lose a few kilos - this is the usual state of flux most of us are in. Rarely have I met a person who's happy with just what he or she weighs. For women things get even more complicated. Often, our peer validation is linked to our looks - more often than not, it's our female friends who withhold it or give it.
I have a love-hate relationship with my weight. Ever since I gave birth to my second child, a few years ago, I have been trying to lose some. Not much - but enough for it to be a niggling thought every time I decide what to eat. I know I am not fat. It's just that I don't think I'm lean enough. I obsess about the gym, about pilates, about green juices. Health is important to me. But so is being thin. But how thin is thin enough?
Six weeks ago I went on a juice cleanse, with one meal in the evening. Predictably, I lost weight. But I was surprised by how much my friends and acquaintances noticed. There is a “kudos” attached to losing weight. If you lose enough for it to be noticeable then be prepared for "Wow, you've lost so much" said in varying tones of admiration, tinged with a tiny bit of envy. This was a motivator as well.
But looking back I wonder how we all have been conditioned to thinking thin = good. So much so that entire food groups now have been marked as guilty pleasures. I can't remember when I had bread without thinking of it as a cheat, treat or guilty pleasure. Same with chocolate, cake, potatoes. It's a passive-aggressive relationship with food. The bizarre thing is - I am aware of all these nuances. Intellectually, I know that my triggers are unhealthy ones - both physically and psychologically. But even with this knowledge, I cannot get off this rollercoaster of either intense exercise or dieting.
All this links into the idea of beauty. It is a social construct. Something universally acknowledged as the ideal. Bollywood feeds us the skinny, fair stereotype on a daily basis. Anyone and anything outside this definition is seen as trailblazing. Be it a Kangana Ranaut or a Dum Laga Ke Haisha. As the mother of a daughter, I would love to see this change. For beauty to recognised as individual, multifaceted.
I am looking forward to the Women in the World India Summit, which will be held in Delhi on 20 November, 2015. Among the many conversations which will take place, there is a panel "The Beauty Debate" discussing exactly this. Are changes in culture, media and society helping push the boundaries of what's considered beautiful in India today? I hope the answer is yes.
Women in the World India is generously supported by presenting sponsor Hindustan Unilever and Dove. It is hosted by Tina Brown Live Media.