Toxic surroundings.

My father's family are from Birmingham, a couple of hours away. My parents visit a few times a year, and I join them on at least a couple of those occasions.

A couple of weekends back, we went for my little cousin's 1st birthday. There was a religious ceremony at the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) and then you have Langar downstairs.

At occasions like these, seeing as you can't really talk during the religious ceremony part, these are the few minutes you get to catch up with everyone.

It's nice. Unfortunately, due to proximity and age (they're not much older, but most have been fairly 'traditional' and settled down), I don't have much of a relationship with my cousins on this side of the family over and above polite niceties and surface-level talk. Joking is also a big thing on this side of the family; the sense of humour is fun, and it's largely used as a form of male bonding.

In total, I had about 30-45 minutes safer the religious ceremony to mingle and say my hello's to as many relatives as possible - my dad is one of 7 siblings (and my mum one of 5). However, somehow in this short space of time, amongst people I don't see too often (and, in fact, someone I'd not seen in years), I had two comments directed towards me which would have ordinarily been fairly cutting.

The first was by my cousin, who in front of my other cousins, said something along the lines of "Those skinny jeans aren't the ones for you, you know". I have long, slim legs. It tapped back into all the "skinny" comments I'd get as a kid.

The second was by the father of the guy a cousin of mine married, this time something along the lines of "Haven't you been eating anything?"

credit: INFJoe / Aaron Caycedo-Kimura

I find it incredible how the Indian culture has such judgemental, and unhealthy, views of what it means to be "healthy". I don't know where it comes from, probably from being skinny having connotations of poverty (and being 'bigger' being synonymous with affluence), but grandparents - and all of those who grew up in Indian - have brought these views over with them, and passed them down to their children, and their children's children.

Well, I am by grandparents' children's child. And, for one, the buck is stopping here. But that's not the point of this post.

I could go on about all of the ridiculous stuff - views and behaviours - that I've come across. Stuff which I never quite believed as a child, and gradually realised just how ridiculous it was. I could talk about the sheer irony of naming and shaming someone who is slim/athletic (not to blow my own trumpet, but I workout and/or do yoga every week, don't you know; and yet it's me that's picked out, and not the various protruding guts that were surrounding me in the Sikh temple that day... and the ones that you'll find most days).

But the point I wanted to make was this. Children and teens and young adults and old adults are exposed to these sorts of judgements and opinions all of the time. I was dealing with my own perceived body limitations at that age, without being subjected to this stuff.

I am fortunate in that I'm proud of my body right now. I love it, and in fact I tell myself I do every day (it's one of my affirmations). Especially as a sensitive and intuitive person (which us INFPs and INFJs are), we can really absorb these thoughts and opinions and not-so-helpful comments. And that's exactly what I did, for many years.

In both of those moments at the Sikh temple that I described, for a flash I felt like that little kid again, being shamed for my perfectly-healthy body and being constantly belittled, feeling like I wasn't good enough, like there was something wrong with me... amongst all of the other stuff going on in my little head at the time.

It reminded me just how influential - and potentially toxic or inspiring (the former in this case) - our surroundings can be. Whether as a child, or a teenager, or an adult.

It's only recently, aged 30, that I have reached acceptance and love for my body. And really, it's an ongoing process. It's why I continue to remind myself about how I feel about myself, should I fall into the trap of comparison whilst I'm at the gym or should I, like I did today, receive unhelpful sort of comments like I did that day.

In the moment, I laughed the first comment off. The second time, to the chap I hadn't seen in years nor had a proper conversation with ever, I made a point of smiling, and telling him that I eat plenty... that I eat *too much* in fact. I was making a point. (And, again, it was oh-so-ironic that his son, who I have nothing against by the way, is on the larger side and should probably be higher on his list of concerns).

Anyhow, lowkey rant over.

But it is so, so important to expose ourselves to the right people, and the right messages, that we're receive from outside. Of course a lot of the time, and especially whilst we are growing up, we cannot control what these influences are. We are born into the families and the worldviews, opinions and judgements that we get.

It just means that, as we grow up and develop more control and autonomy over our lives, we really ought to think about who we spend our time with, and what messages we are feed ourselves with, so that we can form opinions and perceptions of ourselves that are healthier - and truer.

On a positive note, the experiences that weekend were indicative of just how far I have come - from 'holding my own' in the moment, through to the acceptance and appreciation I have for my natural body shape and size.

That's progress, and I am really pleased with that.

Thursday, 10th October 2019

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