I HAD NO IDEA THAT THE PERFECT IMAGES I SEE EVERYDAY ARE DIGITAL ILLUSIONS
The effect media has on a teenagers’ body image is immeasurable. Each year, thousands of teenagers use diet and exercise to conform to an image that has been created by the media. For many teens, becoming a model is the ultimate goal. Being worshiped for beauty can become more important than scholarship or being true to oneself. Stacy Zeiger
This story comes in a response to last year’s post Dear Daughter Your Father’s Back is Broken. A reader who wishes to remain anonymous contacted me regarding her ordeal and after much hesitation and discussion, she asked me to share a brief version of her story on this blog. This is to create awareness of how image manipulation in media is influencing young minds and leading to unrealistic body image ideals. This story comes in honor of NEDAwareness Week 2015.
Please respect all stories on this blog. These stories have been written with the permission and cooperation of the people involved and their names have been deliberately changed to protect their identity.
“For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.”
In dim light I look at my wristwatch, o.k. 65 more minutes to go. It’s nearly one in the morning. I look at my small bag all packed with essentials I need for my stay in Mumbai. ‘Pack light, we’ll buy everything new, New Life, New Start’.
In one hour my life was going to change. I wait for a miss call on my cell phon. I was then going to walk down the stairs, out of main gate, down the narrow street and into black Toyota.
The house is dark, my family is asleep. I’m freezing. My hands are clammy and my legs lifeless. I look outside the window, street is empty. What if someone sees me? I panic.
I try to focus on My Facebook Friend. My Facebook Friend, who recites beautiful
poetry to me over the phone on the net, who said my eyes were deeper than ocean. Who said I was like a fine work of art more beautiful than Aishwariya rai. I was mesmerized by him. ‘Your so lucky, you’ve found your Prince,’ my friends would tell me. I couldn’t believe it, what happened in the movies was happening in my real life.
Beautiful Aishwariya how I longed to be like her? How I wish I had her lifestyle, London, Milan, Paris, Mumbai, Dubai. World was her oyster. She had a perfect life.
Every other girl in India wanted to look like her. Girls at College said my eyes were exactly like hers, they said my skin was exactly like hers. Now all you have to do is lose some weight and you can give Aishwariya rai run for her money.
It seems just like yesterday, when I watched her movie at friend’s house and I was mesmerized. Her movie was a blueprint for how girls should live. My God, how can anyone look so perfect? I looked at TV screen in daze. I want to be like her. I just want to be like her. Over night, I became a girl with big dreams.
Only 15, I went on my first diet to have a body like Aishwarya Rai’s. At school, I would go without lunch.
She was my role model. I would read all her interviews and I had many scrap books filled with her pictures. In my room, away from everyone, I would copy her walk and her talk.
One day my friend uploaded my picture on social networking site. I had many comments, so many messages people telling me they had fallen in love with me, so many poems and love messages. I was Miss Popular.
At home, it was world cup time. My brothers were glued to TV screen. India was going to make it to final, was the hope of many. I carefully logged onto my Facebook account and read all those beautiful messages sent by my Facebook Friend. For two years, this special person sent me poetry, songs, and greetings. He never missed a day. My heart melted at his tenderness and we changed numbers.
What started out as an innocent friendship turned into something serious. I started to fall in love with him. He gave me warped view of what I can achieve in my life. Mumbai was waiting for me- A city of dreams.
So what was preventing me from living my dream?
My Family. All bounded by rules. All very obedient to my father. A man of very very few words. A man who commanded respect. A man who studied in an institute, where only few can study. A man who went through years of intense training to become a man he was today.
My Facebook Friend felt so sorry for me. Some days, I would break down in tears at his caring attitude. He said He was sent to this world to make my life complete. O My Facebook Friend was so sensitive, if I was upset, he was more upset. If I failed to attend his call, he would have sleepless nights. He taught me many things about safety, how to keep our Friendship secret, How to attend his phone calls, how to use webcam and how to message him in dark hours of the night.
He said my family would never agree to my freedom, I was living in a prison. My father always dropped me off to college. My brother always picked me up. I always had a chaperon. He told me he worked hard and was working night and day, so we could go to Mumbai and live my dream life.
We devise a plan. I spend three months monitoring my family’s routine. At 3 am my father would wake up for a prayer. And then he would wake my mother up and later he would make his way down the hallway and wake all of us up for Dawn Prayer. He was so militant about his timings. We rose at Dawn and went to bed after the night prayer. Every night after night prayer, he would visit each of us in our bedroom for 5 minutes. He would repeat same questions, ‘How are you, Do you need anything?’
I see a miss call on my phone. He’s calling. My heart skips many many beats. My legs start to shake. My hands go clammy. Butter fingers. I wipe my forehead with my scarf. I cover my face with niqaab/veil.
I don’t know how I managed to unlock the wooden door leading to porch area. With shaky hands I try to unlock the cast iron gate and someone puts his very firm hand on my hand. My mind freezes, I see dozen stars, slowly slowly I turn around and I see my father standing beside me. I could feel his hand imprinting on my hand. I wanted to slide to floor, cover my head and disappear, or did I wish for the ground to open or the sky to swallow me, I have no memory.
Few hours later, or few centuries later. He walks into my bedroom. I’m sitting on the floor still draped me in my mother’s voluminous burka.
I know they’ve read the letter I left for them. ‘Forgive me. Don’t look for me, I’m with someone who loves me very much. Don’t call anyone, I leave with my own free will. Please be happy for me.’
My whole family is outside. Did anyone offer their morning prayer? I have no idea.
And then someone drops a bomb. ‘His name is not Ali, but Parkash.’ I wanted to scream ‘you all are lying’, but words wouldn’t come out.
He then starts crying, ‘ your mother, my mother and their mothers never left a house without head covering and you want to dance with different men in the filthiest industry of the world. do you know how they treat women there? What woman has to go through to earn temporary fame and money’? Do you know young girls like you are vulnerable to predaors outside. I thought we were doing things right, but we are not. Real life is what we live, what everyone lives, where we work, do our duties and protect our families.’
He then enters a small room downstairs. Seven long days, he stays there.
Finally he comes out of seclusion. I’m forgiven. They set conditions. Becoming a Movie star is not an option. He won’t allow that. No contact with Facebook Friend.
I stay prisoner in my home. I reach my target weight. For years, I dreamed of losing that baby fat, and now I had, but I’ve lost many things in return.
I don’t protest. My Facebook Friend is no longer a gentle kind hearted poet anymore but an aggressive man who phones us non-stop. I shouldn’t have told him everything about my family. Bed time is no longer after last prayer of the night, everyone has stopped sleeping.
And then they give me my freedom. I graduate from girls college and I get married. I move to other side of the world. They respect my wishes, I get a liberal and broad minded husband. In west without veil, I try to live my dream. Reality is harsh. I’m not like her.
And then one night I jerk out of my sleep, my heart is in my throat, there’s blizzard outside, power cut, everything comes to stand still. After three days, power is back and I receive a news from Aishwariya Rai land, my father is No more. I’m such a fortunate daughter, I miss funeral of a father who petrified me with his power, but never once laid a finger on me. I could never look him in the eye, because he saw too much. When he was alive he was the strictest man on the earth, controlling, full of power. For years I resented him for my problems. Now when he’s dead, he’s a man who saved me from something very ugly, very terrible, he’s a man who provided for me, gave me shelter, security, respect and protected me from world outside. He’s a man who took me to school and college. He’s a man who made sure I prayed and did my Homework. He’s a man who forgave me and taught my family about forgiveness too. He said I was answerable to God.
My husband tells me about women safety issues in India. My hands are shaking. I don’t want to think about that night. I don’t want to think about my Facebook Friend ever again. I do ask myself few Questions now.
What if I had left home that night, then where would I be today?
My father, a man who studied in one of the top institutes of the sub-continent, expert in theology and sciences of Qur’an, how would he have stood this trial?
What would have happened to so many of my brothers?
How did my father wake up that night, same night I was leaving home with my Facebook Friend? How come I never heard him, saw him?
I am the lucky one. My running away plan was foiled. I was lucky that night my father woke up and saved me from something very terrible.
If my father was alive today, I would have told him ‘you were so right, life is not a bollywood movie, don’t be arrogant of your beauty it fades and man grows old, what remains forever is human soul’.