“My partner, Kostas Bartsokas, and I were sitting in a beach bar at Chalkidiki, Greece. Bear in mind in Europe, summer is anticipated eagerly, and Greeks spend the hot days under the sun swimming and tanning. It is a popular tourist destination for this reason. Me too, being the Roman in Rome, was enjoying the freedom and this culture.
During the day, Kostas took a picture of me and thought it was ‘Instagram’ worthy, suggesting that I post it. So I did and in a few hours, was at the receiving end of messages like ‘shocked to see you on Facebook’ and ‘ashamed of this photo’ from my own mother. If that wasn’t hurtful enough, it was followed by an abrupt pause in communication from her end.
And even as a 37-year-old, those reactions did hit me hard! No matter my achievements till then or all the tough tides I’ve sailed through, what seems to matter more is the opinion of others. I’m a Ph.D. holder in Germany for over ten years, who’s previously worked as a Chief Design Officer, on one end. From the other, I’m a breast cancer survivor who’s been through her fair share of painful chemotherapy and radiation sessions in her prime! Surgeries, losing hair, gaining weight, and dealing with its side-effects for years to get to my pre-cancer self is far more challenging than what most can imagine. So to me, the picture I posted in a bikini is more a sign of finally being able to accept myself and by no means a call for attention.
By the way, Kostas, my partner, was and has always been supportive of it all. In fact, he has patiently walked with me through some of these major rollercoasters of life. And somewhere, seeing such contrast in the reactions I garnered made me flashback to my childhood in Chennai to some specific instances.
One is as a child, who loved swimming and was learning the sport under a reputed coach at YMCA, Chennai. I was trying to ace a skill that could’ve one day transformed to my ultimate calling. My mother, however, found it unacceptable that a girl could be wearing swimsuits casually without any shame around so many boys and did her best to ensure that I will never swim. And this is despite being picked up and dropped safely by my father, whilst having other children also there to accompany me.
Remembering that, I can’t help but be sad that in the name of culture, sometimes patriarchy and misogyny are, in fact, being propagated by women themselves. And societal conditioning does seem to have a huge impact on parents, who again, without realizing become responsible for such shaming. Now although we have a collective responsibility to engage with the global discourse on feminism, it requires a lot of unlearning. But in the end, it has to be taken to set up the right environment for the generations to come and so that other girls at least, aren’t denied opportunities based on their gender.”