Bodies are ugly—all bodies, not just mine. Just as all bodies are beautiful—all bodies, not just mine. I always assumed my body was undesirable because I had hair in ungodly places. Unlike the white girls in the magazines, I puffed out predictably like a blow-up doll every month, and femininity did not become me.
Spidery stretch marks lace my ass. My ass itself is wide and full, like two eggplants. The pigmentation of the lines on my body’s crevices are darkened and outlined by what I had always considered as shame, a visceral marker of my internal chagrin. I felt stuck in a womanhood that felt unprescribed to me. Both masculine and feminine, I was sticky with dissatisfaction. I didn’t know what it felt like to feel like oneself. I didn’t know that it was acutely possible, or what people meant when they said things like that. I used to stare at the streaks of the shadowy shapes in the mirror counting the cracks, counting to ten all the things that made me undesirable: one, two, three…soon I’d be at six; the list itself was endless.
I’d always considered that my ass, particularly, was a great wall of discontent, its broadness reproachful, “unladylike,” I had been told by mothers and aunts. “You can wear anything you want, so long as I can’t see your ass,” my mother would tell me before we’d exit the house for garden parties or afternoon tea, mild events where I didn’t understand how showing the tilt of my curves would solicit such collective terror. I didn’t understand what I’d done to service such eager truculence from conservative strangers, why my body was a huge vacuum of shame first for my mother, and then for me. The violence I’d be faced with was abject, and real. Walking down the street to slurs of “slut” because my ass moved in a way I didn’t want it to.
Women of color are so often sexualized through misplaced exotification, before we’re old enough to gauge how the holes toiling inside of our bodies serve a purpose. When your naked body doesn’t exist—in magazines, fashion, TV—you start believing in your own unappeal because of your invisibility. We are simultaneously told we are “undesirable” by the glaring lack of representation, and that we are, simultaneously, too sexual.
My family hated the way I looked like a Matisse painting, the lines of my hips drawn out blue, long and curvy.
Growing up, I felt as if my sole design was for pleasure—that the very sight of me was both abhorrent and overtly erotic, sullying those around me with my presence. When I started developing breasts at age 11, I started hunching my back in public. The shame made me delusional, heavy-headed with a bloated kind of fear. One day, my mother’s friend, Sasha, announced: “You’d be so much prettier if you stood straight.” But my body was forbidden to feel comfortable.
My outlines would always register a certain kind of discomfort for my family. They hated the way I looked like a Matisse painting, the lines of my hips drawn out blue, long and curvy. So I started wearing baggy shirts, long capes, skirts that covered my thighs. Modesty became a preference by accident. In my teens I didn’t wear pants, I loathed the look of the bump and the hump, the way my ass stuck out like a sore thumb, so I avoided anything too audaciously comfortable. I wanted it to be known that I hated my body as much as others did, too. The way my ill-fitted shirts would hug my jarring nipples, sticking out like tiny branches, the mistaken shapes burrowed and a body underneath that was quickly beginning to feel unrecognizable to me. I wanted to desexualize myself. I wanted to remove my gender so it couldn’t be weaponized against me.
ow many times have you been touched even though you didn’t want to be?
Once, a white girl in the ninth grade smacked my ass as I walked by her. I both enjoyed it and felt disgusted with myself. My ass jiggled, the inertia pulling it back and forth. Ashamed, I wiggled away, my hips incapable of staying in a straight line. My ass, it shakes, it shakes, it shakes. She screamed a “Yeow!” to cement the embarrassment as I walked away, a paroxysm of internal hyena screams that circled my body and stopped just before being released. I was silent as I sauntered far and far. Years later I would replay this memory again and again. It was perfectly emblematic of the abuse women face at the hands of misplaced desire and power.
It’s funny how you can learn desire through default.
Because my body’s curves weren’t demure, because—shame on me!—they weren’t contained, it was misread as openness. The roundness of my ass ruptured a kind of deep longing and entitlement in others. An entitlement to grope: to teach my body a lesson.
How many merciless hands have groped you?
At ten, at 14, at 18, your body is a vehicle of an unkempt desire you don’t understand, but you slowly begin to feel the energetic ignominy, which becomes apart of the narrative of your own self-hatred. Others are swollen with a cruel desire, and bodies like mine are targeted with a malign kind of savageness. Touching what’s not yours is always a means of ownership. White people touch what they can’t have in an attempt to understand, but as they do it they dismiss your body as belonging to you. For them it becomes a vehicle for their acceptance, for their intrigue. You should be honored by their interest in you.
lost my virginity in the Sydney Botanical Gardens under the street lights by the road that lined us, me and my then-boyfriend, enclosing our entwined bodies with flowers and jacaranda trees. I liked the way the darkness hovered over me. The lights shining only just on my face, outlining my smile and my eyes, like black discs. He asked if he could hike my dress up; I said no. His pants stayed half-mast, halfway across his own ass, while the earth and gravel moved under my big bottom, imprinting the soil into the dark places of me.
We aren’t just flesh and bones, we are also magnificent vehicles that can sometimes stretch, or move, or walk, or run.
I’ve never wanted a lover to linger on my body. For the longest time I didn’t know how to exist in the presence of a man. By virtue of my decided undesirability I pushed men away with fear of their impending disgust. I spoke for them, like a leader consumed with distrust. Yet men, with all their natural given audacity, don’t mind their own undesirable qualities. Their rapid-like-in-motion pumps or fast-coming-sways are what govern them. We accept their bodies, their weird smells, their ugliness, but why? How can I be okay with their desirability, but not mine?
It’s funny how you can learn desire through default.
s I reached the quarter mark of my life, I was tired of feeling as if, in so many ways, my body had failed me. There’s a limiting experience of being a woman of color, of a woman who is not visibly adored on TV shows, or sideways hugging a glossy magazine. It makes you susceptible to feeling failure on a holistic level, that as a body, mine didn’t serve me right because of its color, and its variegated shapes.
Through acts of self-care there’s been an awakening of my body’s utility. We aren’t just flesh and bones, we are also magnificent vehicles that can sometimes stretch, or move, or walk, or run. We are mechanisms of great mastery in whatever forms we blossom in. Our physicality is not the end. The reality is, despite the ways we’ve been fed our imperfections, nothing is more revolutionary than liking who you are, what you are. For those of us who have been dehumanized by an aggression we never asked for, for those of us who have felt invisible in our bodies that bleed and feel, who have felt undesirable due to ridiculous standards—to like yourself even amidst that is power in its fullest. It’s to remind people, that no matter, you’re still here. That better yet, you’re going to enjoy being here.
Clarice Lispector once wrote: “To have a single body surrounded by isolation, it makes such a limited body. I feel anxiety, I am afraid to be just one body. My fear and my anxiety is of being one body.” Our bodies aren’t all the dimensions of us. It doesn’t represent all of our emotional and mental nuances. How often I have thought “My body doesn’t represent me,” but would I be Fariha Róisín without all the flaws that I carry like scars? What if I looked at them and saw badges, each stretch mark an ode to me?
Bodies are pleasurable. They contain multitudes of sinking enjoyment. The figure of my robust trunk has roots that tie me to the spiritual world of my bodily ilk.
I wonder if my grandmother had a fat ass. I wouldn’t know. There are faded photos of her riding horses when she was younger in knee-high boots, or ones of her carrying around rifles with two twin braids, one of each side of her face, a countenance that looks like mine. When she got older I only saw her in colorful sarees. Then, when my grandfather, her husband, died she only wore white ones with a black cotton blouse, her pale skin spotted with the stains of life. Sometimes, I wonder, if she were alive now, would she have sat me down, her old life juxtaposed against mine—and would she have said: “You’re beautiful, no matter what”?