You think I’m fat? O.K.
No, really, it’s OK. It should have been okay for the longest time that I fought it, but better late than never, right?
Some of you might think I’m being sarcastic and will be driving to a more inclusive and body-positive point soon. Well, you’re right and wrong. But the blame probably falls on me for now because my auto-playlist shuffled to ‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber and it’s messing with my tone here. Should probably switch that off.
There. Better. So, I’ve been down with a long-running viral fever since early April — we’re talking the works, people — and Sunday night I got up with fever and chills, got scared and got test for ‘that which shall not be named’. Results awaited. It’s Tuesday here, and I’m feeling better after downing upwards of seven pills daily. So I began doing what every slightly anal retentive person does when they feel anything more than the baseline human emotions of hunger, thirst and slumber — I started cleaning. Not that anxious, ‘gonna-dust-everything-in-sight-then-collapse-in-a-cloud-of-hay-fever-induced-sneezing’ sort of cleaning. More like, ‘the room looks dirty and I’m no longer depressed enough to live like this so I should clean up a bit’ type of picking up after myself. And then I went for a shower. After having a much-needed cry about how miserable I have been this month (I also lost my job in late March) I was just looking at myself in the mirror, applying some hair serum, when I started playing with my hair a little. Just flipping it around, having fun with it and…smiling at myself in the mirror. I realised then how long it had been that I had done that — just enjoyed my own company for fun, had fun with myself.
Most my days in the past year or so have revolved around animals (my very serious, very time-consuming and extremely expensive “hobby” being feline rescue and aid) and when I’m not doing that, dreaming about when I will finally break the cycle of feeling anxious about a cat, finding a solution, treating myself to good food, promising myself to work out again, feeling anxious about another cat’. The answer has evaded me and today, I clearly eat my feelings. Today I am also fat, in at least one meaning of the word. I’m about 27–30 kilos overweight. A ‘me’ at my healthy weight would be somewhere around 57–63 kilos. This is magazine talk. A more realistic me would weigh 64–68 kilos on a good day. Gotta keep those almost double Ds somewhere! Today, if someone called me fat, I’d say, ‘yeah, okay’. I wouldn’t go shake hands with them or anything (well, wouldn’t do that anyway because of ‘you-know-what-‘19’) and congratulate them for their honesty, but I would in a way understand their opinion’s inspiration.
But here’s the thing — I’ve been called fat almost all my life. Counting out the years that were spent blissfully ensconced in the safety of my family, close friends and very close relatives, all of whom were lovely and kind and unproblematic in the worst of times, the rest of my life has been an ebb and flow pattern of being called fat, then thinking that I am fat, then leaning in to the idea, realising I am not fat, going about my life and being called fat by someone. That’s two vicious cycles in one article for ya. In case anyone’s counting.
I am a 37 year old Indian woman. I don’t know anymore what accounts for broad-boned, heavy-set, wide-backed or whatever else abstractions we have come to associate with women’s bodies like we are pieces of wood to be kept on shelves according to our dimensions and uses. I have a round face. And I have a big belly brought to you by very delicious wheat beers, lots and lots of Thums Up god bless them and Lays chips like my happiness depends on it. As a typical Indian body type (again, I feel a little wrong using this phrase but I have seen more of my type of bodies than any other in India so I will run with it and apologise to anyone I am offending, or leaving out. Not my intention) I have always had a bit of a rounded off tummy but it was sexy and never something I had to hide in spanx or worry about while selecting a dress for wedding season. It is now.
But here’s the thing — whenever I got ready for an event, no one ever mentioned my weight. Even today when I am at my biggest, when I get ready to go somewhere, it’s like something immediately changes about me and everyone forgets that I am, among other things, fat. I’m not complaining either way. When I feel or think that I am fat, that’s the only time it counts.
And so, here’s the thing you came here for — people call me fat because of who they are, not because of what weight I am. And it has taken me almost two decades of visceral self-assessment and analysis to figure out and accept.
Hurt people hurt people
I repeat this line to myself a lot. I recognise that since society and culture everywhere weaponises being any weight that is not media-accepted, people who want to hurt or intimidate others often use this verbal weaponry and sadly in a lot of cases, these attacks do land well. Calling someone a skinny bitch or a fat cow are equally as hurtful and it is because people know that the subject must have this insecurity in-built already that they can go after it so well. However, what I have lately been realising more and more is that people who talk like this are themselves hurting a lot more. It could be social ineptitude, loneliness caused by marriage, spousal abuse, long-term mental illness, familial unrest, their own issues with weight, lack of income or lack of freedom, but it is always something enduring and deeply settled in their minds so much so that they don’t even feel it causing discomfort inside them. So they grow more and more bitter and do what is easiest — project it onto others.
Recently, I cut off ties with a bitter, loud middle-aged woman whom I had been forced to befriend because she is part of the management which helps the animal shelter I work with. She had caused a big uproar on social media a year ago and the shelter is still picking up the pieces from the backlash. She had called some women awful things and those women had the power to really go after the shelter (misguided vengeance but you can’t reason with evil and also, more to my point here, this seems like a chain reaction set off by the woman) and they did. She did apologise later but by that time the other party had done the damage and indeed, they kept up the vitriol months afterwards, going even deeper into the personal appearance-based attack mode, proving that there were ‘good people on both sides’ [wink wink]. The woman blamed her anxiety medication and/or wine for her extreme reaction. Ring any bells, anyone? Me, I think if your first instinct while under stupor or high on meds is to insult a woman based on her weight, you didn’t just think of that, you had that locked and loaded and were just waiting for the right time to lower the safety on that pistol. I also know for a fact that the woman really values her youthful looks and is very mindful of how she comes across to others. Anyway, I blocked her off because she yelled at me for something that needed a much lower emotional quotient and did so in a WhatsApp group which in quarantine is equivalent to a public yelling. Earlier that month, she had also tried to project her own personality onto me by calling me overly sensitive and too emotional to be given serious responsibilities. She is literally known in the rescuer circles for these specific ‘qualities’, but there was no reason for me to point that out to her. All told, good riddance, and I don’t need that energy in my life.
It’s a sign of great insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar .— Anaïs Nin
Another reason why I think people have called me fat without really knowing me or anything substantial about me is to perhaps make me feel so insecure or small right off the bat that I wouldn’t be able to see any flaws in them. Assuming they have flaws and I, insecurities. I’ve had random women at the salon touch my face and remark how I would be so much prettier if I lost some weight. More than once. A man who more than once tried to molest me as a teen commented how I was growing fatter and fatter in my 30s. He is morbidly obese but who cares about that. Hey, as long as he strikes first, I won’t be able to say anything about how he forced himself on me in his neighbour’s designated statutory rape room, right? My not-so-close friends and their significant others have felt completely rightful remarking how I have gained weight when they see me after a long spell. One of my brother’s earliest girlfriends once told me that I should think about losing weight. She was fat too but I chose to keep that secret to myself. I would run out of energy and forget the point I’m so painstakingly trying to make here if I decided to regale you with all the instances when someone who should not have called me fat, did.
But here’s the thing — I think I believed them almost all the time. Whether I was in between long, arduous treks and at my ideal rock-climbing weight, whether I was swimming in despair and loaded up on anti-depressants, whether I was running 8 kms every day because the fuckboi I was dating liked me a certain size and not a centimetre over that (he dumped me when my sadness took over my life and I started gaining weight and hence I demoted the fucker from being anything else to, well, ‘fucker’).
People have called me fat all my life and looking at my photographs from my teens, 20s and now 30s, I am hard pressed to believe them. TODAY, that is. And so I started thinking how and why and where and at what point in the conversation people chose to bestow me with the adjective. I don’t remember. Am I in touch with these people? Yes and no. None of this matters. All that matters is all of these comments were not about me. They were about them. They were saying something about themselves when they were talking about me. It was their own insecurities, their fears, their emptiness and struggles that they were projecting on to me. I was just the target board for them to practice aiming at their issues with the darts of their words. I can’t think of one single person with whom the talk about them calling me fat led to a better, more positive conversation about how they cared about me or how they would like me to join them in losing weight, together. Heck, no one even gifted me a gym membership on my birthday. So, empty talk, eh?
Does this make them all monsters? Do I delete them from my socials and lose their numbers? Should I let them know how I feel/felt when they called me fat? No. And that’s not the point of this realisation. I have my struggles, they have theirs. Having insecurities is not unique. Literally, everyone has them. That’s how human consciousness works. We love and hate parts of ourselves and some days are worse than others. You, reading this, might also have such days and I’m sure there have been similar instances in your life too, albeit with different topics or subjects. The point is, now that I understand this proclivity of people to do so, I can brace myself better, and shake off the negativity much faster and more easily. I’ve worked hard on becoming self-aware enough to understand how my emotions, words, reactions etc land on others. I was always über careful to begin with, carefully measuring my responses when angry and making sure never to take out my anger on anybody who did not cause/deserve it. But now, I can add this little piece of knowledge to my repertoire of ‘being a person’ as I move along the path of self-acceptance, discovery and mindfulness.
So here’s the thing then — today, if someone calls me fat, unceremoniously, in an unsolicited manner to either provoke or ‘advise’ me, I’ll just say ‘Okay’. Not because I think of myself as fat. Not because they now deserve to call me fat because I am. But because all they are doing at that time is revealing themselves a little to me. They are exposing a raw square inch of themselves and asking if I will join them in this socially-accepted sword fight where we both hurt each other for other people’s entertainment. They are, if none of that applies, at the very least, asking me acknowledge that they have certain fears and insecurities that are pinching them at that moment, and that the only thing they can do to feel better is to call me fat and so I should let them.
You see, I know that I’m not going to fix anyone by calling them an asshole or doing that punky thing of putting my palm up to their face and saying ‘show me where I asked’. I’m not going to be able to engage with this person who is already hurting, in a calm, productive dialogue about how it is important to acknowledge their feelings, good and bad, before they come out the wrong way. People who go around spewing venom are not looking to get their acid teeth removed. They are looking to sting. So, for now, till the world fixes itself and stops producing people who hurt others for no reason, I’m going to let this happen at least with myself. It doesn’t hurt me as much now.