Dear Ma,

I understand and appreciate the amount of work and love and labor you have put into raising us.

You and dad came to this country as newlywed young professionals, and together you were always fighting as a team.

You were twenty-one and scared and fought your way through the racist, sexist, classist, homophobic spaces of the west coast, carving a nurturing space for yourself and our family.

You are the lioness, protecting her cubs from each element that is threatening.

You and dad are the first to take on the offender when something fucked up happens to one of us, and I love you for that.

Your words are like tiny swords, each one cutting slightly and swiftly, but deeply.

What I would like for you to understand, though, is how deeply you wound me.

Every time I come home, you comment on my body. I have struggled with my body image issues since I was ten years old.

It doesn’t help me that you were the charismatic 100-lb, 5’4” beloved beauty queen of your community.

Or that even now, after having three grown children, and two grandchildren, you don’t look a day over thirty, thanks to daily applications of Oil of Olay and vitamin E.

But my body? My body is a road map of stretch marks, and I shrink and grow depending on stress, work load, my thyroid acting up, the time of the year.

Every time I come home, I am subjected to your close readings of my body.

Oh, beta, you would be so beautiful if only your belly were flat.

Oh, beta, don’t wear short skirts around the house. Nice girls don’t show their legs to anyone but their husbands.

Oh, beta, why are you single? All of your cousins are married. Your younger brothers are engaged. If you lost thirty pounds, you would find a nice boy.

MOM! You have no idea what my life has been like. I have internalized your words to the point where I wake up thinking about my midsection.

Your voice haunts me. I go to bed wondering when the weight training will start affecting change properly.

The last time I was in fantastic shape, I killed myself every day. I swam and played tennis and danced and ran five miles a day. I broke my body over and over.

I fucked up my back during a period of weight training. My body hasn’t been the same since.

I don’t drink soda, I don’t eat desserts, I don’t eat red meat, I don’t eat white flour, I don’t eat or drink any dairy, I don’t eat fried foods. I cook for myself every day, and I am doing what I need to do in order to survive.

You want to know what my pain is like? This bodily transformation I have undertaken has resulted in a pinched nerve, and a bulging disc, and nearly constant sciatica with shooting spirals of pain running from my lower back down my leg and ankles.

I could barely sleep, much less walk. I have done everything that you and dad said. Education above everything, no? Two BAs, two MAs. I finished a PhD.

All of this financed by myself, through grants and fellowships, based on my merits. And I am not yet thirty.

Graduate school has broken me in so many ways, and constantly being around blonde-haired, blue-eyed, slender, pale, privileged, entitled pieces of flesh does not help my body issues. You try living in X for five years, one of the ghostliest cities on earth.

You try teaching undergraduate students from the wealthiest feeder schools in X, who have never been in the presence of a woman of color who holds power over them.

These students look like Barbie and Ken. I cannot compete with them. I won’t compete with them. The worst part about your words is that you say them with genuine love and concern. You don’t have a malicious bone in your body.

You will tell me these things while we are taking a walk or while you are putting coconut oil into my hair. We can talk about everything under the sun, but when I react to your words with anger and offense, you claim to not intend to hurt me. You say that as my mother, you have every right to say the things you do.

I disagree. I call these microaggressions. Your biggest concern is for my wellbeing, but you seem to believe that I am starved for companionship.

You are haunting me. Your words echo inside my mind, constantly.

I don’t know if it is because there are three weddings happening at the moment in our enormous, multigenerational desi family.

I don’t know if it because you yourself are haunted by your mother’s words.

I’ve seen what Nani says to you. I’ve seen the pain that etches itself on your features.

I’m the oldest grandchild and the only single one, and I am a disappointment in spite of my many achievements.

I wish you wouldn’t bring this stuff up anymore. I don’t quite know how to tell you all of this and have you actually hear me. Crying doesn’t help. Threats to you that I won’t come home to visit don’t help. I’m tired of taking it and it is affecting my wellbeing. I wish you could hear what I am saying. I wish you would stop. I love you more than anything on earth and I wish you could love me the way I do you.



top photo by Janith Chanaka on Pexels

You Have a Body features personal essays on the the ways we reconcile our physical forms with our identities. This series explores how our bodies sometimes disagree with us, how the world sometimes disagrees with our bodies, and how we attempt to accept that dissonance.