Life | The Wellness Of Being

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The Wellness Of Being
Text by Sandhya Mulchandani and Illustrations by Ramya Ramakrishnan
Published: Volume 20, Issue 7, July, 2012

With changing times, Sandhya Mulchandani inspects the drift in the health quotient, joins the remodelling bandwagon and examines the effect it has on her wits

I remember as a teen being taken to ‘tea’ to the home of my mother’s friend. I can still recall spending the afternoon gaping in awe. Up until then I thought all moms wore saris, were necessarily plump, big bosomed and cuddly…and there stood this willowy woman in slim pants, cropped top, short styled hair and heels! I vowed at that moment that this is how I’d look when I turned 50 - which just goes to show how naïve human beings really are.

So, with the big 50 a few months away, I decided to take stock. Raised on the belief that prolonged interludes with the mirror would turn me into a hearing and speech impaired, I’d rarely taken a good look at myself and decided to get myself a full length mirror as a birthday present. Mirrors never lie but thankfully they don’t laugh either, for what I witnessed was pure horror! I’d obviously not accounted for god, genes and gravity.

It was a moment of revelation that forced me to pay close attention to the changing world around me. Open Delhi Times and every woman on Page-3 is in a short dress, knock knees notwithstanding. Go to a wedding and the bride’s mother appears in a bustier gown, and let’s not even talk about the bride. It just seems that women in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s are all indeed getting more nubile and svelte as they age. How do they manage this? How do their bodies turn so taut, their faces so unlined? How did these women cover the journey from the Punjabi bagh darzee into the Giorgio Armani dress? This obviously needed further investigation.

Very quickly I realised that the answer lay in what is being touted as ‘wellness’ or more importantly what goes on behind the closed doors of wellness clinics. Here bodies are redefined and minds reprogrammed as the emphasis is on thin, thin and thin. How had I missed this revolution? I’d spent years firm in my belief that I was a woman who fit the Indian ideal; fashioned after the voluptuous apsaras of yore like Menaka and Rambha in Lord Indra’s court. I, like many women, was confident in the knowledge that men liked buxom. So what then has changed: why are bosoms being downsized? Why are ‘luscious thighs that should look like smooth banana stems’ being sculpted into thin spindles? Why are ‘the three-folds on the waist’ being suctioned off?

I found my self-assurance shaken, my confidence shattered. As growing crowds congregate to worship at the altar of youth, not to seek to be young is seen as a cardinal vice – as a loss of control over one’s life. Does this need for youthfulness emanate from the need to be healthy or is it just a matter of body? Does thin and svelte guarantee a better life? Was it a statement of wealth? Did it mean having a better sex life? Do men really find 50-year-old women with 30-year-old bodies sexy? This obsession takes on a momentum of its own. Fanatically we emulate movie idols – testosterone and vitamin injections, rigorous workouts, growth hormones and surgery – anything at all in an attempt to arrest ageing. Not that any of this is new, in 1500 B.C people were ingesting tiger gonads to rejuvenate themselves, it’s just that the quest has assumed epidemic proportions as just young isn’t enough anymore, it’s got to be the ‘perfect’ young!

Once the thought enters your head, it gets firmly affixed like a parasite in the brain. And then begin the endless rounds from naturopathy clinics in Kerala to detox clinics in Manila, from plastic surgeons to cosmetic dentists, from laser therapies to invasive treatments. Of course I jumped onto the bandwagon. Who doesn’t want to look young forever? I ate lettuce, drank lemon water, trained two hours daily and had so much anti–ageing cream slathered on that I should have gone back to the womb. Three months later, I was a few kilos down with shining skin and a completely messed up mind. Fatigued and frustrated that with all the effort my dress size hadn’t budged, why was I obsessing about a few milligrams? Why had I got swept away by the flow? Why hadn’t I paused to think? Wasn’t ageing about grace and beauty, acceptance and wisdom? Wasn’t being fit or fat more a social conundrum rather than an actual reality?

Is wellness then a state of body or mind? Since my body refused to fall in line, I decided that wellness must be a state of mind. No one knew it better than our ancient sages like Patanjali and Sushruta who are known to have pioneered the basic principles of plastic surgery including rhinoplasty and even labioplasty! Patanjali’s yoga sutra of course advocated holistic wellness of integrating the body, mind and soul that’s now come back to us in its Hollywood avatar. So while pre-occupation with health, wellness and beauty is not new, explored and experimented on from time immemorial, what needs to be redefined is the approach. Embracing change with equanimity is the corner stone of Indian philosophy, so I decided to check out whether I’d feel any better by accepting the inevitable.

Wellness fundamentally needs changing one’s mindset (sure, easier said than done)…. Rather than attempting the impossible task of turning back the clock, we can reset our minds, for wellness indeed resides in our brains. It’s not about how you look but how you feel and how you think that keeps one young, happy and well and this is for life! What does wellness actually mean? Defined as ‘an active life-long process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a more balanced and fulfilling life’ it really has nothing to do with body, weight or age. The key is the ‘process’ of constantly seeking balance, understanding and improving our lifestyles. So, shouldn’t we try to redefine what’s beautiful rather than blindly chasing society’s airbrushed definition? Having done that, am I feeling any better? Had anything changed? I’m actually grateful that this whole exercise pulled me out my complacency…. I no longer believe that looking like Menaka is an advantage; clearly I pay more attention to what I eat and how I dress but more importantly my self confidence has been fully restored. Having pulled out of the mini marathon, I no longer feel the angst and pressure to compete, I’m comfortable in my own skin and mentally stable.

It’s going to be a long long time before fat once again becomes beautiful unless we migrate to Mauritania where obesity is so revered that young girls are held in ‘wife-fattening farms’ and force fed; in the interim surely we are entitled to seek and define our own levels of well being without being constantly judged and junked.

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