Last year, I promised myself that I’d show up to celebrate all my close friends at their weddings.
As a woman in my late twenties with friends of similar ages, I knew that this meant scheduling the required mental, emotional, physical, and financial bandwidth at least two or three times a year. I was ready to make this commitment, a few upcoming weddings in tow.
But come March, the COVID-19 pandemic seared through the nuptial plans of my friends. While some opted for quick court weddings, the ones with grooms and siblings outside the country postponed the big day indefinitely.
In January, emboldened by the hope of second chances woven into a new year, the latter picked the idea of a wedding back up. And thus began my first ever wedding season and the endless outfit planning that comes with Indian weddings.
While prepping for my childhood friend’s bachelorette party, I noticed that none of my dresses fit me the way they did pre-pandemic. I soon realised that neither did my go-to black and gold saree blouse or any of my soft, shimmery kurtas. The clothes stretched across my hips, thighs, and arms in ways that looked and felt unfamiliar. Yet somehow, I stood before the mirror, enveloped by a horrifically familiar feeling — shame.
I spent my teenage years battling the lethal eating disorder and anorexia nervosa. So the sensations that follow weight fluctuations—the kick of going down a size and the devastation of the opposite—were not new to me. Over the course of my twenties, I recovered from the illness, moving from a thin to a fat body. But undoing my internalised fat phobia, the racist, patriarchy-induced belief that fat bodies are wrong bodies, is still a work in progress.
On the flip side, recovering from an eating disorder helped me form an intimate connection with my body and mind. So when the shame took over, I sat myself down and processed that this feeling came from being raised in a world where women’s bodies are expected to always look the same, the thinner, the better. My overwhelm was less because my body that was cooped up at home for months had naturally gained some weight and more because I hadn’t worn these clothes in a year and didn’t expect the change.
A few days, two of my mother’s silk sarees, and a couple of new blouses later, I felt like I fit in my skin again. I packed my hard-earned confidence and headed for my friend’s wedding, honouring my promise to myself.
On the first two days, I noticed the scrutinising focus on a woman’s body that pervaded the events. I was uncomfortable to hear women announce their weight gain in the same breath they said hello, as though the admission was meant to pardon the space they were going to take up. From self-deprecation of fat bodies to passive aggression towards thin bodies, the celebrations were rife with a desire to shape, tame, and control us.
At the end of each day, I scrubbed off every fatphobic comment I heard, reminded myself to focus on my friend, and showed up once again. But nothing could have gotten me ready for the final day.
On the day of the wedding, I arrived early to help with preparations. I spent the morning lifting and carrying heavy trays of fruits and sweets, running from one room to the next to make sure everything was in place. A couple of hours in, I was ready to get dressed. My heart flushed as I looked at the silken yards of deep violet and gold I was about to drape myself in, it was stunning.
My thoughts were cut short by my friend’s grandmother, who squinted her eyes and frowned at me, “You’ve gained weight, haven’t you?“
Taken aback by her question, having no recollection of meeting her before, and confused how to answer the elderly woman, I could only say, “Yes, a little, aunty.”
“What are you eating?” she went on, “A lot of rice?”
“I eat everything,” I said, trying to get away from her as soon as possible.
“You have to lose a little weight,” she continued, relentless. “You must lose weight.”
I grabbed my saree and left the room, saying I needed to get ready. Her disapproval lingered, a stench that clung to the silk like a curse. No one who wore it could feel beautiful now.
The wedding had only begun and I was not willing to accept defeat to fatphobia. So I got dressed and headed to have breakfast. I would not skip a meal, even if my hunger cues were now hard to locate.
But despite my best efforts, the day got progressively worse. My thin friends took the liberty to comment on old batchmates who had gained weight and their approval rang loudly while noticing those who lost weight. People around us often stopped to wistfully sigh at slender women, letting them know how fortunate they were to have the perfect figure. They were encouraged to eat rich mysore paks and add more ghee to their rice. It was only a certain body that was allowed the softness of ghee and the sinfulness of starch.
I did not have that body. So through it all, I held my head up and smiled, the penance of a graceful posture that fat women are expected to pay for occupying the amount of space we do. It was only when I got in the cab to head home that I shriveled in the backseat, bursting into tears.
That evening, I spoke to a friend about the painful ordeal of the past few days. After hearing what happened, she mentioned that she now dreaded the next wedding she had to attend.
“My body has also changed,” she said. “I don’t want to have to go through what you did.”
I hated that my experience made another woman afraid to show up in this world.
“It won’t be the same,” I said. “I’ll be there with you.”
I told her that even when I did not feel beautiful, my body and mind helped me witness my friend’s special day and acted as instruments of service for her. And while no one deserves to endure such pain, coming out the other end only made me cherish my body and mind more.
Also read: 6 Things Your Fat Friend Needs From You
I wish there were an easier way to move through this world in a fat body, in a body that has gained weight, in a body that doesn’t fit the patriarchy’s unattainable ideal of feminine perfection. But while we work to undo the ubiquitous construct of fat stigma around us, let’s look out for the ones we love and check ourselves along the way.
Remember that people’s bodies change over time, particularly so while moving through a global pandemic. While considering health, know that weight stigma has proven to cause more harm than weight itself and as fat activist Aubrey Gordon often says, health is personal, complex, incidental, and transient.
So tell yourself that all bodies are good bodies and a fat body is not a work in progress. Most of all, think of the human beings these bodies wrap themselves around. Find a way to see them, to stand up for them, and to choose kindness. You could be the difference they need.
Soumya John is a Bangalore-based essayist who writes about identity, mental health, and emotional intelligence. While not advocating for radical kindness, she indulges her penchant for creating new words. Clonklere is her latest creation. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Featured Image Source: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg