From being an obese child and a flat-chested teenager to growing flesh again as a middle-aged mother, my life seems to have come full circle.
That the world isn’t kind to fat people is something I understood long ago. Luckily, I had wonderful friends who helped me see that I was much more than a fat child. They were honest, loving and loyal. “Motu, scholar hai, yaar,” they said—(Fatty, you are smart, friend)—glancing at my test papers and asking if they could study with me.
I absorbed both Fatty and Friend. There was no trace of mockery or bitchiness in the way they used their words. They accepted me as I was, and so I accepted myself. They were thin and I was fat, but we were on the same side.
Back in the 1980s, I didn’t realize that my nickname was part of this phenomenon called body-shaming, which has played havoc with the minds of young people everywhere. I hear it has led to bullying, discrimination, unhealthy eating habits, and even depression in boys and girls who are unable to understand why others can’t accept them the way they are. Fat or thin, tall or short, flat-chested or large-breasted—most of us seem unhappy about ourselves because the world today expects us to have perfect bodies.
Why did I not succumb to these pressures? Why did I feel accepted, not discriminated against? What did my friends do right so I grew to love being called Motu, so I barely noticed that I was different despite being called fat?
Geneviève Dubois, a certified nutritionist and author of Gigi Eats Celebrities, says in a 2015 story in Shape.com that love is a powerful antidote for those who are shamed for their body weight (or lack of it). Dubois says that having a strong support system of family and friends can help “put the pounds into perspective”.
Dubois is right. My friends loved me. They didn’t shy away from how I looked. I was different, but valued. None of them told me anything about weight loss. They embraced me unconditionally, thus telling me it was okay to be the way I was. I would have crumbled if they weren’t as affectionate and level-headed.
We see differences in the way animals, birds, flowers and trees grow. We know the skies aren’t the same everywhere. We love black, moonless nights as much as we love the light of a blazing sun. We know that tall, wild grass looks as enchanting as the petite petunia flower. We understand the beauty of fertile soil as much as we enjoy the barrenness of moving sand dunes. We have accepted differences in species and habitats, elements and planets.
Why then are we so keen to spot differences in body weight, the color of our skins and facial features? When nothing outside of our species tries to “fit in”, why are we expected to? Why are we so struck by differences that we need to point them out all the time? Why do we want everyone to look the same?
The world thrives on differences, not similarities. Imagine a world where everything looks the same. How would you tell night from day, tumult from stillness, earth from sky? How would you tell young from old, pain from joy, frown from smile?
Our obsession with physical differences is as disturbing as our tendency to neglect subtler—and more important—aspects of our lives, namely emotional health and self-confidence. Body shaming has destroyed many a life and turned absolutely lovely children, and some men and women, into manic people with mental and physical disorders. Many of us grow up feeling ashamed of ourselves and are afraid to let go of our complexes even in bed with trusted partners. We fail to listen to our bodies though we listen to every other detail about how best to manage them. We go on dangerous crash diets and swallow pills. We glare at the weighing scale every week. We are paranoid, wretched and afraid. And our children grow up the same.
The teenager in me lived in fear—skipping meals and counting calories—but age has brought a certain composure that protects me from falling apart as I grow heavier by the day. Fat—my oldest foe—threatens to make a comeback and I have decided to fight my way through. I am ready, but this time, I will listen more carefully to what my body says. I will aim for health, not for an hourglass figure. For I know who I am and what I need. I know my roots and my genes.
To all those who continue to suffer for not being able to “fit in”, your fight isn’t against yourself. It’s against powerful cultural notions and decades of mental conditioning. It’s against a crazy fixation with bodies, which will fade only if you stand up for yourself and learn to punch it in the face. It’s not only about letting go of panic and fear, but also about holding on tightly to your self-esteem, individuality and inner peace.
Photo: Avinash Kotekar/ Model: Ujjwal