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Finding Freedom ~ Urvashi Sharma




In April, this April of 2023, I was convinced. I was convinced I was setting things right, and that I’d finally been able to address what was going on with me. Little did I know that it was the beginning of a story that would only reach its climax at the beginning of July.


In August of 2021, I moved from my home in New Delhi to a boarding school in Virginia in the United States.


The year 2020-2021 was one full of change: from the pandemic and online school to making lasting friendships that I would come to desperately hold on to in the two years to come, I was at my happiest.


When I moved, I was fifteen, full of romantic ideas of what my new world would look like.


I’d never consciously made a friend before, and so I wasn’t worried in the slightest about making new friends. I assumed they came naturally, akin to breathing, in a way.


You were alive and so you had friends. Just by being. There was no equation in my fifteen year-old brain, no narrative that connected friends to self-worth or food.


Fast forward, I’m there. Junior year of high school. Bad roommate, no Indian Indians*, no one to comfort me with their intonation of what to do yaar. I was introverted, and junior year was hard. I wanted to get into the college of my choice, and so I focused on studying.


In the process, however, it took me a long time to realize how unhappy I truly was. I drifted inwards, inwards, inwards.


Suddenly, from Friday night dinners at my favourite Thai restaurant with my grandparents, I found myself terrified of eating anything except fruit.


I lost more and more weight, and it was never enough. I reasoned that if my body was small, if I was small, I would shrink and nobody would ever be able to reach me.


The problem never was the food. To all the skipped breakfasts, to all the candy thrown in the trash, to all the oranges I peeled in a frenzy, to my body who openly cried out time and time again, this is your love letter.


In April, I thought the phase was passing, that I’d sorted out my issues with food. The reason?


One of my friends from school in Delhi came to D.C. to visit me. We spent the day walking and talking around D.C., and it was in this simple comfort of a conversation with someone who truly knew me and cared about me that made me realize what I’d missed out on for long. She was gone in a day, however, and I still had two months till graduation.


April showers didn’t bring May flowers, and I spiraled even further. My rules became more rigid, two oranges turned into one, and I wasn’t me anymore. I was irritable all the time, had no energy to hold a conversation, and launched into an immediate panic whenever family members suggested eating out.


In June, graduation came. I walked, red roses in hand, clad in a white dress, full of anxiousness about how I would manage to conceal my lack of food intake on a day of celebration. I managed.


Fast forward to a week later, I am in India. I had convinced my parents to let me go on a solo trip, to see my friends one last time before I moved to Michigan for college. Instead of becoming my haven as I’d expected, however, in India, I spiraled further.

A smiling toddler with dark black straight hair with an adult woman with dark black hair
Our storyteller's childhood photo with her mother (Credit: Urvashi Sharma)

Indian culture involves commentary, as is already widely propagated and known. There is a commentary on one’s body, lifestyle, beauty (or lack thereof), ability, etc. Throughout my life, even before this season, I’d always been on the receiving end of the skinny comment.


I was perfectly healthy, I ate ice cream multiple times a week just because I wanted to, and still, my body was public property to be commented on.


I will never understand how— or why— others begin to imagine that they have the authority to tell you what is right or wrong with your body.


June in India passed quickly; the comments were similar, although by then they’d become laced with deep concern.



The "you are too skinny" comments became "your body is beginning to eat its muscle too", and because I perceived them as an attack on my body, I carried forward with a newfound stubbornness.


Step counts entered the picture, my hair began to fall out, I lost my period, and a perpetual state of exhaustion crept into my bones.


I returned to D.C. thinner than I was when I’d left, and my mother despaired when she saw me.


In the short weeks to come, I would be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, have labs done every week, and have lengthy debates with my parents about whether it was okay for me to go to college.


I never thought I’d break out of it, I never thought I’d be here, here in October, sitting down at a coffee table to write this, not thinking about food and about the orange I was allowed to eat at noon.


I rediscovered the joy of breakfast, and I am eternally grateful to my body for a second chance. I am still healing, but I’ve come a long way.


Being on a weight gain journey in a weight-loss centric society is hard, and the “fad” of eating disorders on social media frustrates me to no end.


Only a few weeks ago, I had my first ice cream again for the first time in seven months, and my joy knew no bounds. Mint chocolate chip ice cream in the biggest waffle cone felt like the most precious gift to myself, and tears sprang to my eyes.


Throughout my journey, I particularly noticed a lack of representation for South Asians struggling with eating disorders, and I want to help contribute to that community.


You are not alone if you are struggling. Your body is beautiful just as it is now, and absolutely nothing should dictate why you eat or what you eat.


So, to my beautiful body, although I am only beginning to show you love after a very long time, you are extraordinary in all of the things you do for me.


Thank you for giving me my concentration back, my energy back, my life back. Even on the bad body image days, I will never skip a meal, never take away the nourishment you deserve, never again.


************************************************


Note: *Indian Indians refers to Indians born and raised in India


© Urvashi Sharma and © Gulabi Stories

** Story and photo shared with storyteller's and parental consent



STORYTELLER BIO:

Urvashi (she/her) is a seventeen year-old (quasi first/second generation) immigrant from Mumbai and New Delhi, India, who has lived in the US for the past two years. She is a first- year college student, avid reader, and Maggi enthusiast.


LOCATION:

Midwest, United States and South Asia





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