On a lazy, early morning, I was cycling to school when I spotted the tall, pretty girl from my class walking in front of me. I had always admired her. “Look at her long legs and how slender and beautiful she is!” I’d think to myself every time I saw her so this time, I decided I’d ask her the question that I have always wanted to ask. “Hi, you! God, you HAVE to tell me this – How do you manage to stay so slim?” I asked her as I slowed down next to her and she took a minute to register my presence. She then smiled at me and proudly responded, “Oh, I just cry for an hour every night after dinner. That does it!”
Now as a young teenager I did not realize how sad and problematic that is. I thought instead “Wow! I am going to cry myself to sleep from now on!” which with time I realized, is stupid. My body, like a lot of people, has been one of my biggest insecurities in life. The fear of being FAT has always had enough power to cloud all my judgment. When I heard through a friend that a senior in school said to his group of friends that he thought my legs were sexy – instead of seeing it as sexist objectification, I saw it as encouraging validation. I have skipped meals, insisted on going to the gym even after vomiting every day after a workout, sucked in my stomach till I developed cramps and have hated and criticized every inch of my body for a long, long time. Last week after I came home from giving a talk to a bunch of college-going students about embracing our vulnerability and how talking about our imperfections, embarrassment and shame can be helpful to us and others around us, I knew I had to write about one of the biggest insecurities that haunt me and many that I know.
Fat shaming is around us at all times and it is more toxic than you think it is. Fat shaming exists as the ‘harmless humor’ in the posts a friend shares on Facebook, as punchline jokes on your favorite sitcom, the loving nicknames for a friend or family member or in the times when the only, brightest compliment one can think of is “You have lost weight!” and Oh, how faces light up when someone says that. A person made up of complex neurons, imagination, laughter, sensations, poetry and the stardust that creates a universe and all that our society boils its happiness down to is, “You have lost weight.” It’s a shame. It’s an epidemic.
I recently visited a friend of mine at a very serene hill station here in India. I was meeting her after about six years and was going to stay with her for a whole weekend so naturally, I was excited. I wondered if she had changed in the way her eyes sparkled or the tone she spoke in and if she would be a reflection of the breathtaking, blue hills that surrounded her. I met her and I was pleasantly surprised that she hadn’t changed at all; she was as enchanting and chirpy as always. But even as an exuberant girl who lived amidst magnificent nature and had so much passion and qualification – she would often complain about the weight she had put on, her dissatisfaction with the way her arms looked or how a certain photograph made her look ‘fat’. It was even more saddening to me when one evening, she excitedly sent a picture of herself in the dress that I had gifted her to her parents and the first thing her mother said was, “Your legs look fat!”
When I confronted one of my friends who was popping pills to help herself lose weight, she said to me “I want to be fit, not fat.” Now this is where all misconceptions and ignorance lie. The parallel line distinguishing fat from fit is not based on facts and health studies but instead, ignorance, stigma and irrational, societal standards. If we were more aware and really concerned, more of us would know that there is no definite connection between fitness and the body shape of a person. In a study conducted by U.S and European researchers, published in the European Heart Journal, overweight and obese people were found to be at no greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease or cancer, compared with ‘normal’ weight people, as long as they were metabolically fit despite their excess weight.
Now let me tell you what really is more unhealthy and harmful than being fat. It’s the fat shaming. I personally know of many people who justify their criticism and harassment of overweight people about their body or eating behavior, as a means to motivate them to start eating less, exercising and in turn losing weight. But this wide spread ignorance causes so much harm than you can imagine. Did you know that fat shaming can actually result in higher risk of obesity? In one study of 6,157 people, non-obese participants who experienced weight discrimination were 2.5 times more likely to become obese over the next few years and in the case of obese people experiencing this harassment, were 3.2 times as likely to remain obese over the next few years. What’s even sadder is that the constant fat shaming dressed as concern, seemingly harmless jokes or just pure hatred is putting completely healthy individuals at higher risk of depression, eating disorders, reduced self-esteem and causing unnecessary mental stress. Is it really worth it?
Last month my sister and I flew to my father’s residence for the weekend. It was that time that I talked to him about my daily struggles with anxiety and depression that come with my diagnosis of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He nodded a couple times while I talked to him about it and maybe let out a few “Hm”s before I finished. When we were about to leave for Bombay again he came to us to say goodbye. I assumed maybe now he would say something about my psychological disorder or at least be sympathetic but instead, he said to me “Try to lose some weight this time.” And that got me thinking – when in my reality, my mental health is causing me more problems and contributing heavily in strengthening my limitations compared to my weight and even then, I’m getting more concerns about my flabby stomach, meaty arms or thick thighs…. then are you REALLY concerned about my health?
I hope you understand that in no way am I endorsing obesity but I definitely am speaking up against fat shaming. The thing to understand here is that no positive change can stem in a person from insinuating complete hatred or loathing for themselves. We all need to love every inch that makes us and look beyond our bodies. FAT is NOT a synonym for unhealthy. Fat is beautiful, complete and a natural way of being. In fact if you really do care and want to make a difference, instead of shaming someone and making them feel bad about themselves, be kind and give a person the space to love, embrace and exist exactly unchanged, as they are and maybe, you will find kindness in them as they let you love, embrace and exist just as YOU are. After all that’s what you ultimately crave for, don’t you? I understand. Me too.