“To all the people who have been offended or amused by my weight – Yes, I am ‘fat!’ And, no, I don’t care what you think about it!” A funny look at fat shaming.
I have technically not been not fat since the 9th standard. What I couldn’t have guessed at that age, however, is how much that fact will continue to affect people’s perception of me, and sometimes even of my capabilities. Since those clueless school days till today, I have had casual jibes thrown at me by friends, acquaintances, and sometimes even absolute strangers, commenting on my apparently non-ideal proportion of body fat.
This was a helpful male friend commenting on a picture of me in a sari, disappointed that I had no chance of looking that good ever because I had now grown bigger. I must mention that this great insight into my slipping beauty/life standard had come apropos nothing. I had expressed no doubts about my body. I had not mentioned that photo that I had posted long ago on Facebook. I had just been quietly sipping my coffee. But then, randomly commenting on women’s bodies is a favourite pastime of many men and women, even of some whom we have befriended.
Another male friend, otherwise perfectly interesting and open-minded, used to take great pleasure in fat-shaming me, especially when he began to discover how riled up I would get at his comments. He would deliberately bring up some or the other photo I had posted online, praise it first, and then put it down saying something to the effect of – “Oh but you do look rounder/healthier in that one.” Or “It would have looked even better had you not been this big”.
Even an ex-boyfriend (when not ex-, a class of people that you want to believe won’t judge you) would feel completely comfortable flinging that word at me once in a while, albeit wrapped in some barely-clever euphemism.
There have been many such instances, of course, and their effects are mostly momentary. But when they begin to pile up, you realise that they have insidiously chipped away at your self-confidence.
You start noticing the complete absence of sleeveless tops in your wardrobe, even though you know you would like wearing them.
You realise that you have to think hard to recall the last time you felt comfortable dancing in public, lest someone should be mortified by the sight of your non-supermodel posterior.
You realised that you subconsciously avoid certain sections at a clothes store because you just know that they won’t stock your size, or worse, you won’t look conventionally good in them anyway.
And that’s when it hits you – this subtle war on your perception of yourself is on in full force, all the time! And that you are slowly, but surely, losing.
I have thought about this for years, this malevolent charge that the word ‘fat’ carries in its belly. ‘Fat’ is still one of the most vicious insults that you can direct towards a girl or a woman. It guarantees an instant reaction or at least an embarrassed wince. In worst case scenarios, it inspires supplementary jokes by other like-minded souls around, so that the insulted party is forced to smile along, while at the same time imagining the merciless carpet-bombing of all the jokers around. The word inspires a mysterious sense of glee in the speaker, even if s/he is not necessarily non-fat either.
‘Fat!’ is like a war-cry. It is the death knell to all the charm, talent, and intelligence you may have imagined you possessed. It nullifies everything. If you are ‘fat!’ then you are done for. Your dating pool dries up to become a small cup-full, and you get unceremoniously dumped by fashion brands. You become the target of unsolicited advice on losing weight, again from random folks. People will regularly crease their brows in concern over how you look older than you should, unhealthier than you really are. And let’s not even get started on marital prospects. In that zone, you are made to believe, only the thin have the right to step in and stake any claims.
If you are ‘fat!’ then you have automatically become ‘auntiji’, which is a slightly nicer way of saying that you are not ‘do-able’.
So there it is – you are ‘fat!’ so you have no right to aspire to sexual agency, dating, or marriage.
These thoughts hit me anew when I read an old article titled My Friends Deserve Better Than Fat Talk by Alyson Penn. This piece is reflective of the sentiments that a lot of us have had at some time or the other, of frustration at perfectly smart female friends obsessing over cellulite and love handles while the world burns and churns with far more important issues.
‘Fat!’ is a problem because it compresses our worlds into one little narcissistic matchbox. It is that poisonous little thought that keeps gnawing at you even when you are in the midst of talking about other stuff. It is what makes it easy for so many men and women to bypass all that you have said during an argument and body-shame you as a legitimate put-down. Because, hey, if you are ‘fat!’ then clearly your arguments don’t matter, and the easiest way of shutting you up is to slag off your body.
‘Fat!’ is a problem because it sneakily takes away from girls and women the need to connect to the larger world. It drills into girls the need to starve and shave away some of their cognitive abilities, rather than eat well, stay healthy, focus, and grow intellectually. It makes the woman’s body her ultimate source of expression.
‘Fat’! is not just a problem because most women want to be able to wear what they want without being shamed or judged for it. It is a problem because like too many patriarchal dictates, it reduces women to a sum of their body parts. This slur (yeah!) constantly seems to remind women that no matter what they achieve, read, study, write, or enunciate, they do not hold up to the right degree of femininity if they are ‘fat!’
This comes into focus when a woman is preparing for the show fair of husband-scouting when she gets reminded ad nauseam to lose weight, even if temporarily, to look more attractive. Brides often go on ridiculous diets just to fit into their trousseau, sometimes bought or stitched a size smaller, you know for motivation.
So much being said, we haven’t even waded into a rather fundamental question – what is ‘fat!’? This term is so culturally subjective, has always been. It has changed contours even across generations. What was normal in the 1940s is probably a strict no-no level of fatness today. For Indian women, it is an impossibility to compete with the Caucasian or Antipodean body type. Even within those cultures, there is a multitude of body types that is just too much of a hassle for the media to portray, so what we get instead are the same photoshopped, pore-less, long-legged, and unnaturally tanned bodies as the ideal of global beauty.
So how do you fight this? How do you deflate the word ‘fat!’, no matter whether you identify as female, male, or think beyond the binaries?
Should we ignore such comments, or simply laugh them off? Should we pre-emptively body-shame ourselves before anyone else starts on it?
Or should we just stop thinking of this word as an insult already? Yeah, you have more mass than maybe what misguided souls think is ‘appropriate’ or ‘pretty’ or ‘sexy’, but seriously, who cares? Is that what you aspire to? Wouldn’t you rather be considerate, generous, intelligent, compassionate, and imaginative? Wouldn’t you rather be valued for your creativity and your industriousness? Wouldn’t you rather make your words and your actions your legacy?
So here it begins.
To all the people who have been offended or amused by my weight – Yes, I am ‘fat!’ And, no, I don’t care what you think about it!
I have lots of other things to lose sleep over.
Image source: shutterstock
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Shruti Sharada (She/Her/Hers) is an award-winning Queer Feminist Writer and GBV Activist.
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