Non-Appétit - 2nd Runners UP | Season 4

- Leena N

I wake up, and the battle begins.
The world is on a carousel when I sit up. When the floor’s finally steady, I pull out
the weighing scale the unrelenting judge. My heart pounds as I step on it. A
keening noise escapes my lips.
I’m up by hundred grams! How?
Did I consume too much water?
Does hair weigh anything?
Was it that extra piece of cabbage leaf I ate?
I bite my lips and taste metal. A thought surfaces: maybe if I squeezed out a
hundred grams of blood?
I pull on my jeans, and it feels loose. A tiny burst of euphoria… Until I look in the
I’m not willowy enough. Not like gossamer. Thin and invisible.
I hear your call for breakfast. The hunger intensifies, and I double over, clutching
my stomach. Five months, and I’m still not used to it! I pinch the thin skin on the
wrist till my cracked nails leave uneven crescent marks.
It hurts but distracts.
As I walk out, I chant my war cry. “food is my enemy… Food is my enemy… “
you proudly place the crispy medu vadas, fluffy idlis, and hot spicy sambar on the
table. Dad and chottu make a grab for the food.
I pinch a morsel of the idli, brush the tiny crumb against some sambar, and pop it
in my mouth. You watch intently for the emotions that may flit past my face. But I
perfected the poker face a long time back. When I was made to realize that
enjoying food is taboo. That’s how you grow fat. Uncool. Unpopular. That’s how
you get cancelled.

“How is it? ” you ask with bated breath.
Dad hollers praises. Chottu swoons, sighing, “Yummm! ” you become even more
I push my plate away. “it’s ok. “
I quickly get up. Not because I’m late for college. Because the aroma is too
mesmerizing, tempting me to take another bite. Telling me it won’t hurt. But I
know better. I have seen fatso Fatima and thick Tanya hurling their guts every
morning. I also know you… As always, you are gearing up for a fight.
“Natasha… Eat! “
“I’m not hungry… “
“How? You barely had any dinner! “
I don’t think you meant to scream. Chottu goes quiet. Dad sighs. You stand rigid,
heaving, fists clenched.
I stay silent, eyes glued to the floor. You continue to list the threats if I don’t finish
breakfast: no phone… No mall… No this… No that…
Still quiet. It’s the quickest way to end this.
“Natasha! ” you plead, “why won’t you eat? Please… Help me understand. “
how do I make you understand, Mom? In your world, food is the antidote to every
problem. In my world, it is the pathway to pimples, not fitting into skinny jeans
and social ruin.
I learned this when the cool girls tittered. “you think Dheeraj likes you? Miss fat
ass? “
their contempt was the first piece of the domino. I soon realized that good
grades don’t matter. In reel or real life, the fat girl never gets the boy. But the ones
fitting in Xs tops? They get the world.
So, I perfected my routine: puke. Starve. Portion. No… Cut off more! Puff… A lot. It
helped dampen the gnawing feeling. I still feel gross. I still feel fat. But the girl
who looks back from the mirror, though? She fits in that tight corset. It doesn’t
matter if her eyes are dead.
You tried to cook the low-carb, low-fat, low-something. You might be saying,
“Natasha beta, have some kheer na? I even put chia seeds in it. “
but all I hear is 182 calories.
All I’ll taste is shame. Guilt. And bile when I throw it all up.
Don’t you get it, Mom? The trend isn’t keto. Or paleo. Or whatever Adele did to
lose weight. The trend is and will always be: don’t eat. Hearing you talk about
food makes the hunger feel real – like a beast trapped in my stomach. Gnawing
and clawing for release.
I hear your concerned whispers to Dad. “we should take her to that therapist… Dr.

Shah. He even has a Ph. D. ! “
is that what I’ve become? A body at a crime scene. To be cordoned off, the ugliest
parts of me to be laid bare and investigated. As if the whispers that ravage me at
night can be captured on an a4 sheet – its edges neat and clean.
There’s no answer to the battle I wage every time I lift the spoon to my mouth. I
can’t stop thinking: what will this piece of food do to me? Will it make my hip
bones disappear, my thighs chunky, my stomach bloated, my ankles chubby?
I’m frightened because I don’t know what I am if I’m not thin.
“can I go now? ” I ask, finally looking at you.
Your face falls. I feel like a sack of bricks just slammed into my gut.
In an ideal world, dear Mom, I would savour every bite of what you cook. But my
world is filled with reed-thin demons. Here happily-ever-after exists if you have a
thigh gap. Hunger is the measure of success. A bony chest and spindly arms are
the marks of beauty. Skeletons are goddesses. You’ll never understand it. Your
world and mine will never meet.
As I walk away, I hope your memory is strong. Surely you remember how I
polished off the mango rabri cake you baked for my thirteenth birthday? There’s a
photo of it folded and tucked under my pillow. In it, we wear matching pink hats
with frills on the edges. My mouth’s open, ready to devour a massive slice of
cake. You’re looking at me, smiling. On the back you had written: love you always
my rasgulla! I loved your nickname for me: rasgulla. It is better than everything I
have been called – hot, sexy, babe.
We were happy. I was happy.
But not thin. Not pretty.
So, let’s find comfort in those memories. The odd days of unexpected laughs.
Resting my head on your shoulders. Feeling safe.
… Even if it’s only for a minute.
Can we do that?
I look back. Ah! You’re busy with Dad and Chottu. Maybe you’ve accepted the truth.
Maybe… You won’t pester me anymore…
That’s good, right?

Then why does it hurt?

7 Responses

  1. So beautifully written! Body shaming and image issues are so much common especially among the teen girls. I am a nutritionist and it pains me to see the families who have to deal with such situations and the girls who punish themselves for eating even a single morsel of food. I wish people see people for the skills they have, the talent they possess than the type of colour or figure they have!

  2. You hit the nail on the head with ‘Skeletons are Goddesses’! I’ve often wondered, while watching Bollywood movies, when and why a protruding ribcage became a sign of sexiness? I’ve always associated it with emaciation and malnutrition. However, as you’ve written so astutely in your piece, we always aim to look a little less in the mirror in order to feel a little more in terms of self worth. Thank you for writing this thought provoking piece and articulating an issue that many women conceal and battle everyday.

  3. I saw my baby in your story. Gave me the shivers. So many issues plaguing our kids these days. And it all boils down to being accepted.
    Very pognant and beautifully written.

  4. What a beautiful story. Being body positive is the need of the hour. Very contextual piece. Look forward to reading more from your pen

  5. Very well written Leena. Every scene vividly unfolded before my eyes as I read each line. Your choice of words made the whole piece come alive! Keep writing….

  6. Most people think body shaming is a joke. But it damages you to the core like a termite that eats you from the inside. You start doubting yourself – thinking that you’re not good enough just because you don’t look. I have been there. Constantly checking my weight, wondering what I am doing wrong. Not drinking water as I thought it would make me fat. Skipping meals, as I hoped, it would help me lose a few grams. But the more I checked, the more my anxiety fueled. Such a beautiful piece you’ve written. Hard-hitting and relatable. Deserved to be on the winner list. Congratulations!

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