I’ve been battling my body for most of my life. It’s been a source of shame, something best hidden away and covered up. But as you may have seen this week, with my naked photoshoot, things have changed.
I’m proud to be an older cover girl, making a stand as an Asian woman, celebrating my curves. For a long time I’d been brainwashed into thinking my body would bring shame on my family.
Being splashed across OK! magazine in just a towel was, I was told, a very brave thing to do.
But I didn’t feel brave – I felt empowered.
It comes at an important time because next year I turn 50. I wanted to put all my insecurities and hang-ups behind me.
I have short legs, small boobs and a curvy bum – the total opposite of a waif.
Over the years my skin has been riddled with psoriasis, then I had my issues with endometriosis, failed pregnancies, IVF, weight gain. More recently, the menopause saw my waist thicken and my skin age.
For most of my younger years, I did not have a connection with my body. We had a rollercoaster relationship.
My feelings were compounded by the fact I come from a conservative Asian culture, where women are judged on their clothes – whether they were from a good family or bad one. Girls who wore the headscarf and dressed modestly got the highest respect.
Those of us who wore jeans and let our hair hang down were seen as loose or trouble.
The message from the community for girls was very clear – your modesty is your reputation and that of your family’s. And if you do not conform, there will be consequences, ranging from excommunication to murder – so-called “honour” killings.
I felt that injustice very deeply as a young girl.
I started to rebel at 13, after being molested by my uncle. He took advantage of a culture where women could not speak of abuse for fear of bringing shame on loved ones.
I’d been wearing my traditional salwar – loose trousers – and my kameez tunic when he abused me. I realised then that clothes would not offer me protection.
I dedicated my mag shoot to Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch who was murdered aged 26 by her brother for “bringing shame on the family” because she dared to speak her mind and refused to be controlled by conservative norms.
My brothers respect me for my photoshoot and for being the strong, independent woman I am.
Sadly I knew many people in the Asian community would be incensed by it and would turn on my poor mum. I love her and would never set out to hurt her.
But for me, as a mother now myself, I wanted to do my bit to ensure that women create a better future for themselves, where they are respected for who they are, not how they dress.
We should never be afraid to show our true selves.
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