About one or two years ago, I happened upon a blog entitled, “The Body is Not an Apology.com”. It was started by Sonya Renee Taylor, a fat positive, big black woman with the mission to empower fat, black, and queer people to live more freely, openly, and proudly.
I don’t check the blog content regularly, but the name stuck with me then, and stays with me now:
The Body is NOT an Apology.
This phrase became a personal mantra in my Junior and Senior years of high school, when dances, parties and the ever-constant pressure to have long, flowy hair, light skin, a flat stomach, and other “traditional” (Read: primarily colonial legacy) beauty standards that these events brought with them pervaded my ecosystem. As a short-haired, dark-skinned black girl with a lil belly, a strong sense of social justice, and a quick, intelligent tongue, I do not fit this narrow idea of feminine beauty.
I come from a family of curvy, sharp-tongued, kinky-haired, and mostly dark-skinned women. I often remind myself of the beauty of my family when the pressures of beauty standards I will never, and never want to fit become hard to carry.
The Body is NOT an Apology.
It took a lot of self-encouragement to put on a form-fitting dress and to wear my short, kinky, beautiful natural hair to events, but I did it then and continue to do it anyway, despite the fat phobia, white supremacy ideology, and female objectification that creep insidiously into the minds, words, and actions of strangers, friends, family members, and at times, even myself.
The Body is NOT Apology.
Here in India, one of the many complex beauty standards is that a little stomach fat is widely considered healthy and flattering. Learning this surprised many of us in the cohort, and it became all the more layered when we learned that “Motu” (chubby) can be both an endearing nickname and a snide one. However, in most contexts, those considered beautiful women here tend to have a little stomach fat, and it is considered normal, healthy, and a part of what makes them beautiful. Indian beliefs about the body, and about different bodies, are complex and varied, but this fairly universal idea is food for thought for a lot of Westerners.
The Body is NOT an Apology. Fat bodies are NOT an Apology.
Some other widely-held Indian views about the body are not food for thought, but are damaging colonial legacies to actively and forcefully fight against. One of these is colorism, which has led to the popularity of the poisonous skin lightening cream Fair and Lovely, and has prompted many group discussions.
Uniliever, the company behind Dove in the States and Fair and Lovely in India, needs to stop selling the lethal toxin of white supremacy ideology.
The Body is not an Apology. Dark-skinned bodies are NOT an Apology.
There is a new Hindi-language TV serial called Karthik Purnima, which tackles colorism and caste through a progressive lens. A dark-skinned woman and a light-skinned Indian man fall in love, and they face backlash from their society and loved ones because of it. As far as I know, It’s the first of its kind here. I’m highly invested in the success of this series, but watching it is difficult for me, because it reminds me so much of the challenges I also face due to nothing other than my skin color.
No matter what obstacles I may face here and at home because of my melanin and that Purnima will face because of hers;
The Body is NOT an Apology. Our MELANIN is NOT an Apology.
My sense of self is constantly challenged by the fairness worship and blatant racism that many people, often strangers, project onto me here and to a lesser extent, in the States. Is it bolstered, however, by Sydney, Pia, Anna, and Tejas’s encouragements, by Lauren telling me that I look good in yellow (which is a color invented for black women, in case you didn’t know), by Shanta Ji (our Program House chef), and Sarah wiping away my tears when the pressures of being so visibly in contrast with widely held beauty standards becomes too much of a burden to bear alone. It is also bolstered when I remind myself that my body is beautiful, that I am on this Earth for a reason, and that I was designed to be, and continue to forge myself into the best version of myself that I can be.
The Body is NOT an Apology. MY BODY is NOT an Apology.