“Girls shouldn’t lift weights. You’ll look like Sunny Deol” said every Aunty ever.
Ahh, fitness and nutrition. You know it’s good for you. You’re well aware that having a healthy lifestyle can mean good things for your career. But why is it so hard to implement? Turns out we Desis have a few limiting beliefs that are unique to the culture we grew up in.
Today, we shed light on the misinformation and resistance towards nutrition and fitness.
Of course, this post is not meant to put Desi parents on blast and say it’s all their fault. The goal is to make people aware of the behaviors and myths. Because that’s the first step to making meaningful and healthy lifestyle changes.
FOOD MYTHS AND BEHAVIORS
Ok, so we gotta start with food. Food is like a religion to us. There’s so much culture, tradition, and emotion tied to food. It’s how we bond with others. All our family gatherings, festivities, vacations center around food.
But, there’s a downside …
Guilt and shame
We express our love through food, which I have no problem with. I absolutely do the same. What I’m not on board with — the force-feeding and emotional blackmail you’re subjected to if you dare decline food.
Sometimes you’re genuinely not hungry. So having someone put food on your plate and force you to eat is a stressful ordeal. Especially when it’s followed with “I made this especially for you, beta”.
There’s also a lot of skepticism about diets, even among younger generations. If you tell people you’re on a gluten-free diet, get ready for all the shaming and eye-rolling coming your way.
Believing all Indian food is healthy
Yes, we mostly cook from scratch and use ingredients and spices with lots of nutritional value. All good things. But there’s a general lack of awareness about food groups and macro/micronutrients. We’re not conscious of how many carbs, fats, proteins, we’re consuming and in what proportions. Everyone’s bodies process things differently. Being vegetarian or getting your calcium from dairy isn’t suitable for everyone.
Try telling your grandma that, though, and be ready for one tight slap!
Prioritizing frugality over clean eating
I get it. Life as an immigrant is hard. Like so many others, my parents had to be frugal. But even now, decades later, old habits die hard. They don’t really see the value in buying organic food.
Why shop at “Whole Paycheck” when Costco exists! Oh wait, what’s that? Costco also has industrial-sized packets of bhujia disguised as trail mix? We’ll take the lot!
Gotta say I don’t hate my parents’ Costco binges, though. I have been known to forage in their pantry every time I go over.
Most Desis equate being thin with being healthy. Exercise means cardio or walking because the ultimate goal is just to lose weight. There’s very little emphasis on weights, building muscle mass, stamina, strengthening your bones.
Of course, let’s not forget the body-shaming — there’s tons of it to go around. True story, Pavi and I went to India last year to set up meetings with a few Indian YouTubers. We mentioned this to our Uber driver in Mumbai who immediately said, “I hate Mallika Dua. She’s so fat!” Umm, sir. I fail to see what this has to do with her brilliant content or talent. I didn’t mention that this person was himself very heavy-set, and his declaration came with no sense of irony or self-awareness. Boy, bye!
Fitness is not valued
As Desis, fitness is not high on our priority list. What does make the cut — academics, career, and family. Everything else is secondary or entirely unnecessary.
In fact, there’s a real stigma around taking care of yourself because it’s seen as vain or frivolous. People often lack a support system when it comes to their weight loss journey and they’re even discouraged from it. “Why do you want to look like some heroin?”
Fitness is not a habit
Yes, people are more health conscious now. But most of us didn’t grow up in households with strong routines around fitness. Most of our parents only start to take care of their health once something goes wrong — usually in their 50’s and 60’s. But by then, it’s really hard to form habits that stick. This, in turn, becomes learned behavior for us.
Why not start early with some preventative maintenance and create lasting routines?
FINAL THOUGHTS (JERRY, JERRY!)
In creating this video and article, we did a fair amount of research. We also interviewed a lot of friends and acquaintances about their experiences.
A common theme emerged…
For the majority of us, our beliefs and values around nutrition and fitness come from our parents. We then pass these values down to our kids.
But it’s time we became aware of our beliefs and made changes where necessary. You know, before it becomes learned behavior for the next generation.
The 9to5 MisFits are a YouTube duo made up of 2 best friends, Pavi Dinamani and Namrata “Nammy” Sirur, who happened to be unemployed at the same time for different reasons. Realizing that there was so much comfort in having a “buddy” to navigate this uncertain phase with, they decided to give others a virtual buddy in the form of their YouTube channel and create a support system and encourage an open and honest dialogue about unemployment.
Social media has stretched a number of news headlines:
“Social media rots kids’ brains.”
“Social media is polarizing.”
Yet those most affected by social media ideals are the teenage users. Apps like Instagram and TikTok perpetuate an image of perfection that is captured in pictures and 30-second videos. As a result, many young women chase this expectation endlessly. “Her” personifies this perfection in an unattainable figure the narrator has always wished to be. These ideals deteriorate mental health, create body dysmorphia, promote a lack of self-esteem, and much more. Even so, social media is plagued by filters and editing—much of what we hope to achieve isn’t even real. Therefore, young women, much like the narrator of “Her,” strive for a reality that doesn’t even exist.
When she walked into my life
Her smile took up two pages of description
In a YA novel.
My arms could wrap around her waist twice
If she ever let anyone get that close
Her hair whipped winds with effortless beach waves
And a hint of natural coconut
Clothing brands were created around her
“One Size Fits All” one size to fit the girl who has it all
With comments swarning in hourglasses
But when sharp teeth nip at her collar,
She could bite back biting back
And simply smirked with juicy apple lips
Red hearts and sympathy masking condescension
“My body doesn’t take away from the beauty of yours”
“We are all equal, we are all beautiful”
A sword she wields expertly
Aphrodite in consistent perfection
Cutting remarks with sickly sweet syrup
And an innocent, lethal wink
When she walked into my life
She led my life.
My wardrobe winter trees
Barren, chopped in half
Unsuited for the holidays
Mirrors were refracted under in my gaze
Misaligned glass was the only explanation
For unsymmetrical features
And broken hands
Still I taped them fixed
Over and over
Hoping to mold stomach fat like wet clay
Move it upward
Instead of sagging beneath a belt on the last hole
In the spring
She would stir me awake at 2 AM
“You need to be me”
Lies spilled from her tongue but
Fabrication spelled dichotomy
And I drifted farther out to sea
When she walked out of my life,
I was drowning.
Reliance had me capsized
Furrowed brows and glances away
Like spectators of a shark attack
They can watch but the damage is done
They clung to my mangled pieces
But I was mourning too
Today I looked back at my mirror
But glass turned into prism
Broken pieces rainbow
Colors coating clothes
She didn’t pick
She wasn’t perfect
Just lost at sea
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“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.
I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.
We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!
Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.
If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.
But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.