“Paint with your fingers”, the therapist said. There was no canvas, no paint and no brushes with me; Just the ‘Don’t disturb until 3pm’ sign on the outside of my closed door and a laptop through which the therapist glared at me. “C’mon, pick your canvas up”, she nudged. I didn’t know what size of canvas to imagine, what to draw. I decided, I’d pull a classic Frida Kahlo, except that I wouldn’t paint what I am but what I want to be. I painted the detailing to the bits in this imaginary setting. I used my nail tips for the eyelashes and blew on the wet spot around the cheek. There it was, my self portrait sitting in a world where everything was possible. I was unapologetic, confident and happy. Behind me was an entire galaxy, and I was seated calmly with poise, my hands placed one over the other. My ring finger sported a humongous blue diamond, which was the only jewel on my body. There were flowers in my hair and a coy but content smile on my face. I used all the glitter and gold to fill up the stars around me, because why not? Everything was possible in this setting. I could use whichever stationary I liked and draw whatever I wanted because it was all a product of my imagination. I leaned back to check my masterpiece. “Hmm? Too perfect!” I had completely forgotten about the therapist watching me through the screen. I added a blemish to my chin with my little finger. “There you go”, I said to myself. “What would like to do with your painting? Give it a closure. Set it aside to dry or destroy it or do whatever you like with it”, she suggested. I swept my imaginary stationary away and let the canvas aside to dry. “How do you feel?” she asked. “Nostalgic. As a kid I was never too hesitant to tell the world what I really am or what I really wanted. I did not need an imaginary canvas to express my true self, I would do that on an actual paper and with actual colours back then. Sometimes I would even paint important documents, once it was a chequebook.” I smirked. “If I asked you to paint this exact same painting that you did right now with actual tools and show it to the world, would you do it?” “No.” “Is there a specific reason behind it?” “You see, I painted myself naked. I can already anticipate the response it would get and I could only wish people perceived it the way I intended it.” I felt embarrassed the moment those words escaped my mouth. I twitched. The therapist understood my silence. “Interesting.” She tried to appease me. “But let’s go back to the concept of the world where everything you want is possible. What would you do then?” “I’d set up a show” I beamed. “Where me and my fellow dancers do an entire routine without a single piece of cloth on our bodies. Human body is beautiful, and more so when it is in a motion like dance.” “Why do you think you cannot do it now?” “Because I’m aware that it will be sexualized. I have read many a quotes from couture and apparel brands stating how the way you dress defines you. I wonder when what’s under our clothes will get associated with our identities. There’s a lot more to a bare body than just lust. ” “I agree” she smiled. The session ended soon and I stepped out of my room for a cup of tea.
I browsed through my Instagram while the tea brewed. I stumbled upon this image of my friend where her multiple belly tyres were visible and she captioned it, ‘I’m perfect and nobody can change that, I wear my flaws as my identity. #bodypositivity.’ For a reason, I knew that the reason for her obesity had little to do with her genes or hormones and more to do with her extremely unhealthy habits. I myself had pestered her a lot to work out with me and keep a check on her diet, but to no avail. I kept rethinking her caption though. How could she just accept this as a fact and ignore the actual dangers it posed to her health? I wished I could convince her that one’s identity needn’t always be something one gets as a consequence, but something that is consciously built. Only if I could convince her that acceptance of our body is just the step one in the process of body- positivity. It is ought to be followed by “working” on our bodies, in whichever way we can. Appearance is a choice, but health isn’t. I was genuinely worried for her. I let out a sigh and kept scrolling. One of the poetry pieces that spoke about existential crisis caught my attention. It said, it’s a designer world; we now design our dreams as well. Yet there’s a battle. A battle of what we are and what we want to be. This led me to rethink my concept of identity too. How do I address myself? The image that I have of myself in my head, or what the world sees me as? I was torn between the self help books that said I am unique and the science that spoke about individuality being a hoax and how it is now possible to create a cyborg that is exactly like me. What to do when I cannot find one proper term to answer the “who am I?” I change every single day. I grow and I falter. I experience and I learn. How could I decide who am I? It felt simpler to answer who am I “today”! My friend was stuck with who she was, and I, with who I wanted to be. Both of us were unwilling to bridge the gap between the now and the then.
Just then, my mum joined me for tea. “How was the session? Did you have fun?”, she asked. “It was really good, but I wouldn’t call it ‘fun', rather thought provoking.” “It shows! Look at your face. What have you been thinking?” I found it tedious to assign words to my thoughts. After struggling for some seconds I asked her, “Mum, what do you think is more important? What I am now, or what I dream of becoming?” “Both of them, darling.” She smiled at me. “You, are important.” “No, not like that! I mean.... Ugh let it go.” I went back to sipping my tea. “I know what you mean”, she said. “There are some things about you that have a lesser probability of changing in the future. Like your sexual orientation, right? So that is important now, and forever; For you to feel secure and comfortable in it no matter what life throws at you. Be secure about your now. Then there are some things that might change; some good, some bad. With time you’ll get closer to what you want to become. You will still have to keep believing in yourself to do better and reach your aim. But I’ll tell you what is the most important of them all. It’s the journey in between. The process you go through every single day. Your identity is what you own up to.” “Own up to? Like what?” I was confused. “Things are ever changing. Your body will change, your opinions will change, you choices will change. There isn’t a constant or universal answer to your identity, beta. But what you decide to own up to is what you are. You don’t want people to identify you as the skinny or the curvy girl, you want your identity to be the girl who carries herself with confidence. You don’t want them to call you the girl who chose to do xyz, but the one who is always headstrong with her choices. Just own up to your strengths and own up to your flaws. Work hard to become a better version of yourself. Decide what kind of an attitude you want to nurture towards yourself first.” “You’re so wise” I nodded at her. “But there are so many terms of late. So many concepts, I find it so difficult to spot myself in that entire nomenclature. Theist or atheist, capitalist or communist! There are so many choices for the gender I want to be addressed as too. It gets confusing after a point.” Mum chuckled. “You’re not obligated to confine yourself to these terms beta. They exist to help you, not to confuse you. Why take a shower when it’s raining outside? The world is full of possibilities. If these terms assist you in expressing yourself better, use them; but it is absolutely okay if it otherwise too. Be true to yourself and ask if this is the best you can do. If the answer is yes, you’re doing great. Call yourself what you honestly think of yourself. The rest of the world will identify you likewise, and hopefully, the world and you would be on the same page someday.” I went back to figuring out a way to construct a firm answer for the question “who am I?” It’s when I realized that I was a girl who did not want to answer this question. I was just happy to exist the way I do. “I’ll get back to this when I truly find a definition that does justice to who I am”, I thought to myself.