This winter, we received a heartfelt email from a community member named Akanksha. In it, she shared her struggle with anorexia, loss, and self-confidence, and reiterated the importance of fashion for all. Touched by her kind gesture, we asked Community Specialist Bridget to reach out to Akanksha to thank her and allow her to share more of her empowering story.
In Customer Care, we get to build connections with ModCloth community members from all over the world. We’re always so honored and happy when ModCloth has found a spot in a customer’s heart, and if we’ve been able to serve someone, even in a small way, or helped make their day, then we’ve done our job.
During this last holiday season, we received a wonderful message from a customer named Akanksha. She reached out to us about her personal struggles with body issues, tragedy, and how, over time, she’s worked to love herself through fashion. We were so effected by her story that we reached out to her to see if we could share her inspiring words with you. Here’s what this amazing community member had to say. – Bridget
You grew up in Saudi Arabia. Tell us more about your experience and what brought you to the US?
I think growing up in Saudi Arabia shaped the person I am today in life-determining ways. For instance, I wasn’t allowed to play sports, so my hobbies consisted solely of reading, writing, or watching TV. Everything I read and watched was American, and that’s how I ended up in the US today. I studied very hard in school so that I could escape that stuff and earned a scholarship to go to college here. That was eight years ago, and I’ve been here since.
You’ve mentioned struggling with body image issues — can you talk about your experience?
I was brought up in two cultures (my parents are Indian) where women are trained to be the “other.” I think that belief ingrained itself in my very body, so that I never accepted my body as something I could and should love. Anorexia is frequently misunderstood as a disease of the privileged—no one who cannot afford food should voluntarily starve themselves—but my family is very much from the third world, so the fact that I spent nine years consumed by such a disease seems confusing and counter-intuitive. It isn’t just the media that creates these encumbrances for women, though. It’s all society. I spent most of my early twenties in and out of the hospital. I feel like I’ve lost whole portions of my life—certainly of my memory—and even as I’m working on rebuilding them, I believe my energy, strength and metabolism have been impacted in irreparable ways.
What is the best way that someone can help someone struggling with body image issues?
Read. Educate yourselves. We’re lucky that we live in a world where information is so easily accessible and arguably free. When I was little, everything I learned was from giant encyclopedias called “Tell Me Why!” It disappoints me that we have the world at our fingertips now and don’t use it well. And after reading, question. Talk to people whose opinions are different from yours. I keep talking about eating disorders because I feel a responsibility to educate, being from a third-world country where treatment for most mental illnesses doesn’t exist and doctors believe they can slap you into eating and you’d be cured. Most women I know today aren’t “normal” about their eating. It’s frightening to see that we live in a world where this has become the new normal. Malala Yousafzai keeps talking about education, and she’s right, because she’s seen what its dearth can do. Stop complaining about school, and do your homework. You can’t imagine what your life could be without it.
Describe your relationship with your body now and what has helped you heal?
I was lucky enough to be supported by professors and friends in the States, and have spent a lot of time in intensive treatment. I still struggle. One way I’ve found some peace is through comedy. I always found relief in humor, but during my anorectic years, I totally lost my personality—carrying a conversation was difficult enough then, let alone making jokes. With weight, my personality and humor started to return, and they’re what convinced me to stay. They’ve helped me intensify my relationships with others and reason what I want to do with my life. I was studying to be an astrophysicist for years, for instance, but now I’m pursuing comedy, something my Indian family has a hard time with. But when you tell people, “hey, I almost died!” they tend to shut up and leave you alone.
In your email, you mentioned how this past year has been particularly trying for you. How you have found strength and gratitude among so much heartbreak?
Life is one long tumble, and it’s got level after level of new monsters with ever-increasing capacities out to destroy you. You have to remember that you got to the next level, and it’s that same strength that’ll help you get out this time. It can be hard to do in the moment. I’m blessed that I have a beautiful mother and sister, who, even though they live seven thousand miles away from me, in India, have always helped me level up.
How have your life experiences helped you to grow as an individual?
There’ve been times where I’ve felt ready to chuck it all. It wasn’t easy growing up in harrowing environments and then moving here all by myself. I feel really alone sometimes. But then again, each step helped make way for the next one. Watching those American comedies helped me fit in in America, which helped me make friends that saved my life, and now I’m chasing comedy dreams. Life can come full circle. The things that seem like threats can become your biggest allies. You just have to be careful about what you take and what you choose to leave behind or throw out.
What role has style played in your relationship with your body and sense of self?
I was obsessed with clothes as a kid—in Saudi Arabia, there wasn’t much I was allowed to wear that wasn’t covered by a thick black cloak. I had to dress to be invisible, and this struggle continued through childhood. Then anorexia happened, and it was very cemented by my love for fashion—I could finally wear things I hadn’t worn as a child, now that I was the size of a child. During initial recovery, I stopped buying clothes because now that I was gaining weight, I believed myself too ugly for pretty things. Only recently have I returned to shopping for my (now much bigger) size. I find beauty and comfort in it. Style is your personal handwriting, it’s how you communicate with the world. It’s art. I take great pride in being able to express myself through it, because so many women don’t have that option. One of my friends says that it makes perfect sense that I’m so loud and flamboyant and without-filter now, the very opposite of the “proper lady” I was raised to be. It’s a good think, I think, because I still can’t stand up straight or keep my elbows off the table.
What does the future hold for you? What are you looking forward to in 2016?
Hopefully, good things! I’m taking classes at The Second City, going to school, working full-time, hosting trivia, and tutoring, so my plate is very full. In 2016, I’m hoping to use what I know well. I mean that in every sense and direction. For instance, when I looked at the photos I was going to send in for this feature, a part of me wanted to change my responses because they sound so confident about my body, and I wondered if I don’t have a right to feel so confident about it. I am much bigger now than I’ve ever been, after all, and I don’t feel confident a lot of the time. But then I decided to stay with what I’d said—to use what I know well. To love my body for everything it does for me, for not having given up on me even though I’ve been so unkind to it for so long.
+ Thank you so much, Akanksha for sharing your story. Have you struggled with self-confidence? What advice would you give to others struggling with the same thing? Let’s help support one another.