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It’s Just a Bikini: Body Image, Bollywood, and Loving Yourself

Growing up in a household with immigrant parents, I had to tiptoe around many social issues. School was for learning, not fun extracurricular activities. That meant no sleepovers, school dances, afterschool programs, and definitely no boys.

I accepted many of these restrictions without question. They were my parents—they knew everything. As I grew older, I noticed a lot of my friends doing the things that I wasn’t allowed to do: wearing tank tops, letting their hair down, being on a team. I tried asking them how they had convinced their parents to let them do these things, but of course, my friends had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

After many years of negotiating with my parents, my sisters and I were finally able to accomplish our own personal victories, things that seemed so mundane to our friends. We joined the tennis team, the cheer squad, and student government. We could let our hair down, wear shorts, tank tops, and thanks to the new pool in our backyard—bikinis.

Years later, I convinced my parents to let me move out of the house and attend UC Davis. I was ecstatic. Pushing all of those limits and boundaries was finally worth it. However, soon after, I realized my accomplishments were under attack. An extended family member had decided to call up my mother and inform her that we had posted a “dirty photo” on Instagram—a photo that my parents took of my sisters and me in bikinis on the beaches of Waikiki. Here is the photo:

Obviously, we didn’t see anything wrong with this photo. After years and years of testing and setting boundaries, my parents were ok with us wearing bikinis, especially on a family trip. Yet this one phone call from a relative destroyed years of progress and advancement. Everything my sisters and I fought for was gone. My mother became upset with us as if she forgot nearly everything we had established.

We see tons of sexual images in the media, not just in Hollywood, but also Bollywood. There are so many attractive actors and actresses that are not only talented, but also beautiful and yes, sexy. Why is it okay for glamorous Hollywood actresses to wear less, but when a less famous girl or woman wears shorts, all hell breaks loose?

For many young girls, this can cause body image issues. I remember hating my body for many years. I always felt as though I was being shamed for wearing shorts or anything that didn’t completely cover me. It took me a long time to realize that I should love myself because this is the only body that I have.

If it weren’t for the fight that my sisters and I put up as children, we would never become the people that we are today. It might take a lot of effort, but standing up for what you believe is right is such an important part of growing up. Anyone with a close-knit extended family knows how difficult it can be to please everyone. Many times, you’re so busy making others happy that you forget about making yourself happy.

I love my heritage. I love my culture. I also love the country I was born and raised in. The constant struggles we face as Desi-American first generation children is one that many of our other friends could never relate to. It’s what makes us different, but it’s also what makes us unique.

Hey everyone! My name is Chandni and I first came to Davis as a transfer student. Now that I'm in my final year, I've learned a lot about campus life in a really short amount of time. I'm an economics and psychology major and I love animals! I love meeting new people, so if you ever see me around, come over and say hi! :)
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