2012 ISV Magazine Scholarship Finalist: Gunisha Arora

Green walls, bright white tube lights, the weird smell, the feeling that what I thought was bad, could be worse. It was all so familiar, and yet I was filled with anxiety.

Each time I visit a doctor, I am engulfed by – “How will this appointment change my life, or will it not like all the previous ones?” Different doctor, different problem, but each time it comes down to the same thing – “Miss Gunisha, would you please stand on the weighing scale for me?”

I don’t remember NOT being fat.

The first time that I ever stepped on that scale was 7 years ago when I was accepted at Amity University for a five and a half year Integrated Masters course in Biotechnology. I wanted to look like every other college-going Delhite – Smart and Confident. I’ve always considered myself smart, but my bulkiness always obscures my confidence. I am five feet and three inches and weighed 75 Kilos back then. I had to lose before college started, and so I joined a weight loss program where they limited your diet and attached machines to you for an hour each day to burn the fat. In a month I lost 5 kilos, but with these 5 kilos I also lost all hope that I am ever going to “NOT BE FAT”. It was certain that I could not follow such a strict diet and not eat all my favorite foods in the world like rice (which has always been a weekend treat back home) or Maggi (my favorite evening or late night snack).

Graduation day at Amity University December 2011

After my first enrollment on a weight loss program, I have spent the past 6 years without ever caring about working on my weight seriously. The weight was like a part of me and although it made me uncomfortable at times, I had learned to live with it. I’d turn around when someone would call out “Fatty”, although it wouldn’t be me they would be calling out to. Nobody ever teased me, as I never was disproportionately fat or bulky; but inside me, I despised my body. The double chin, the protruding stomach, the thick fat arms; I could never find bangles or rings my size.

Each time I visited a doctor for anything big or small, from ankle twisting to skin problems to high blood pressure, I was told that if I didn’t lose weight, my problems would only aggravate. Each time, I’d hope for that moment to be a major life changing event. I would hope for the doctor to say something that would truly inspire me or awaken me somehow. But it always ended on the 5th day of workout with a pizza and a little talk with me on how this was a completely useless effort.

Last year when I was accepted at NIU for PhD in Biology, it was the luckiest time of my life. In the span of 6 months, all my dreams were coming true. I had not only found a chance to pursue my passion, but also found my soul-mate. Not even a month before arriving in the U.S., I found my life partner, Jey. We both knew this long-distance relationship would be tough, but nothing had ever felt so right. Love is my only God and I have faith in it. I believe that love can make miracles happen.

With love finding its way to me, I feel like I’m at the top of the world. I forgot all my weight worries. Maybe somewhere in my heart I was under the impression that nobody would ever love me because of my bulkiness, but it turned out I was so wrong.

One year went by, and on one hand as Skype kept me close to my loved ones, on the other hand I was sinking into the American habits of eating – Burgers, Pizzas and pancakes became a regular treat. I bumped up from a size 12 to a size 14. But I was enjoying my life to the fullest – research, good food, long talks with my loved ones. I never felt odd about my weight since I came here. Instead I felt completely normal, I didn’t have to search for an XL and be embarrassed as there’s always a XXXL in stock. It’s like the proverb, “I wept because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.” I lived in denial of my weight.

I don’t even remember why but I had a complete blood test done 3 months ago and the doctor showed me my results: not only were my glucose levels high and so at a risk of diabetes, but I was also on the verge of hyperthyroidism. And again the same thing – “Miss Gunisha, would you please stand on the weighing scale for me?” After the weight loss program 7 years ago, I hadn’t weighed myself – and now I was a shocking 81 kilos, and the BMI calculator on the internet showed that this was NOT Normal, NOT Overweight, but OBESE.

Visiting my sister in Tennessee in June 2012

The doctor advised me a few things which I tried to follow. This time when I gave up and ordered a pizza – half way through it, I couldn’t help but force myself to throw up. It was the worst thing I ever did. If there’s any symptom of any disease that I have always hated, it’s not pain, not fever, but vomiting – there’s nothing worse. And yet, here I was forcing myself to do the same. I didn’t want to be obese, I felt like I was killing myself by eating that pizza.

On the other side of the world, things were moving pretty fast. Jey completed his Masters and is now an Assistant Professor. His parents intend to get him married soon. Things like love and marriage work very differently in India; it’s up to the parents to announce a commitment and wedding. I am here in the U.S. but my culture, my values run in my veins. We both had told our parents about how committed we were in our relationship, and our parents being the wonderful parents we know, posed no objections. But the decision of marriage depends on our parents believing us to be ready to take the plunge, and also of course live with these long distances for a couple more years.

The Indian society is such that people like to boast about their well settled son-in-law or how beautiful a daughter-in-law they are lucky to get. Jey loves me and I know my outer appearance would be the last thing on his mind; but his parents don’t know me, they don’t love me – at least not yet. I don’t want them to feel unlucky, I want them to adore me and accept me willingly as their daughter-in-law.

Jey and I have known each other for a year now and we’ve been on only one real date when I visited India for a little while. It was the 19th of December, 2011; the most beautiful day of my life. I realize that I want to put an end to this one date per year plan; I want to be a part of his life, a part of his family. And this must happen the right way – with everyone’s willing acceptance, with love and faith in everyone’s heart. I intend to be the perfect wife for Jey and the perfect daughter-in-law to his parents and not have them wonder if they could have found a better wife had I not been in his life.

My love inspired me to do it, to lose weight – and this time I am determined. My sister once told me that I have a very strong will power and I never believed her, but now, I hold on to that thought and am eager to prove her right. I finally bought a weighing scale to check my progress every other day. A friend told me about this low carb Atkins diet and I considered trying it out for a month and to continue only if it worked for me – and it worked, like a miracle. In the past 2 months, I’ve seen myself coming down from obese to overweight and now getting closer week by week to NORMAL. I’ve lost 11 kilos – and so, back to my weight 7 years ago, but this time I am not going to stop. Jey has always supported me – his compliments not only make me happy, but encourage me to better my way of life and move towards my goal.

Sometimes a whole week passes by and I don’t lose at all. I won’t lie and say that I don’t lose courage, because I do – it might not sound very hard, but it takes great strength, to not eat a cake when everybody is, when all you can drink is a glass of milk and as much water as you like, to pre-define your menu every single day (to make sure to not exceed the carb limit), to walk past all your favorite foods at the supermarket. At times like these grumpiness sets in, but Jey has never failed to cheer me up. I do take a break now and then to satisfy my taste buds. But before I meet Jey, i.e. in 4 months’ time I want to reach my goal – when looking down, I want to be able to see the ground between my ankles.

August 2012

In the past three months, I’ve grown as a person, not only has my confidence improved a little, I feel more sure about myself. And what matters the most, I now know I can do anything! I know that one day, I won’t be embarrassed to wear my swimming suit and do my favorite thing in the world – swim! I’ll be able to dance as freely and openly as I do in my bedroom, anywhere I like. I’ll be able to wear all the beautiful clothes I always wished I could. And most importantly, one day my husband would carry me in his arms, and I wouldn’t be worrying about his back.

I knew this even before losing weight that I’d make a wonderful and dedicated wife to Jey and daughter-in-law to his parents, but I never felt ready to meet them. Now I know that when they meet me for the first time, I will be ready and will have done everything possible to ensure they accept me into their lives of their own accord.

With a smile on my face now, my life is moving ahead into an opening of hopes and possibilities.

Guinsha Arora is a student at Northern Illinois University studying for her doctorate in biology. She was a finalist for the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship sponsored by International Student Protection. 

View the winner and the 10 finalists. 

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