When A Stranger Asked Me ‘Have You Put On Weight?’ So Much Fat Phobia!

We as a society have so much in-built fat phobia that we don't hesitate to comment on others' bodies and even consider fat people lesser humans!

Let me share here two scenarios that displayed the fat phobia of strangers towards me that were really annoying.

Scene 1

‘Hmm… Have you put on weight?’

I was seriously thinking about my upcoming exams the next day, when my thinking was suddenly disrupted by a middle aged lady, who seemed to be an acquaintance. I remembered to have met her at a wedding sometime ago. She said, with a look of disapproval on her face “You have put on some weight from the time I saw you last.” Taken aback, I politely replied in a confused tone, “Yes, slightly aunty.”

“Are you a total rice-eater?” she asked further.

“Not very strict Aunty… I eat everything,” said I.

“Dear, you cannot go on like this. You have got to lose weight for good health,” she continued… I left the room with a heavy heart.

Scene 2

This happened five years ago when I was getting into my car after visiting my friend’s house… A two wheeler driven by a woman came to a screeching halt near me.

‘OMG… is anything wrong with her; does she have any medical issues for which she needs urgent help’ thought I… I looked at her in a bewildered and enquiring manner…

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“Ma’am, this card is for you … my business card.” So saying she extended a card… I took the card automatically.

“Actually Ma’am, I am into weight reduction business and do not use any chemicals. My treatment is 100 percent herbal Ma’am Your weight will go down considerably. Please give it a try …”

I was shocked but not totally surprised at the intrusion in my private affairs. I could feel anger rising in me because a stranger thought that her suggestion would be appreciated and welcomed by me. I felt totally helpless as this was not the first time anyone had suggested this to me…

We think it is our birthright to fat shame others…

Fatness is one physical feature which cannot be concealed and hence any Tom, Dick and Harry on the street will take it as his or her right to give unwanted advice. Because it is a universal opinion that being fat is a CRIME.

This unsolicited weight-loss advice is rampant in all societies – elites or otherwise. These constant suggestions are rather exasperating and come from known circle of people – relatives, friends…. Fat people are terribly conscious of their figure and have tried every kind of diet and this type of advice puts them off.

…and no-one notices more important things due to the fat phobia

Saksha, all of 20, feels that weight bias may be the reason why no one saw the depressed look on her face. This happened when she was suffering from insomnia while pursuing her Master’s degree. She just skipped her food without paying much heed to it and it was then that her weight started to drop drastically… yes; she had lost nearly 10 kilos in 3 months!

Saksha’s sudden weight loss did not raise a red flag in her social circle. Her friends and teachers were all appreciative of her new figure and thought that her weight loss was a ‘sign of good health’. On hearing the comments from her circle that she looked prettier and healthier now, Saksha started linking fatness with ugliness. As a result, gaining weight again haunted her.

But what was Saksha feeling? She felt terribly weak and depressed; the type of feeling which she had not experienced before. She could not think straight and could not concentrate much on her studies, as a result of which her grades started dropping…

We’ve so normalised the ‘thin’ body that we no longer see the problems with fat phobia

“You’ve lost weight!” appears to be a harmless statement, but it does create uneasiness when you hear people passing judgments about your body. Substantial changes in lifestyle to lose weight do more harm than good and affect the metabolism and immune system. Despite all this, weight loss is always considered a positive sign, irrespective of how it happens.

We find that media has exalted the thin figure with skinny thighs and slender waist as the ideal female body. In an advertisement on green tea (not linking to an ad I don’t agree with), we see a woman striving hard to lose her belly fat. She feels guilty on eating a piece of cake during her dieting period. She is seen being advised by her ‘fit’ friend to drink green tea on a regular basis as “it is a proven fact that Green tea helps in reduction of belly fat.”

Sometime ago Green Tea ads had nutritious terminologies linked to the product which included “zero calories”,” increased metabolism” etc. These promotion policies magnify the objectives of the product and give rise to unnecessary expectations by the buyers.

This weight bias is not a mere term, but the fat phobia is well woven in our culture and we find that weight discrimination is part of our society. Seating arrangements in aircrafts, cinemas etc. are not designed for those with bigger or fatter bodies; and there are certain dresses which are not meant for large people…. It is rather dehumanizing and jeopardises the mental and physical well being of obese individuals.

We stereotype fat people as lazy, useless, unintelligent, sexless,…

Gone are the days when being fat was a sign of health and wealth. Times have changed. Much of this fat phobia or ‘weight bias’ rest on baseless beliefs and inadequate grounds which lead to unjustified prejudice and harm. It holds on to the false belief that obese people are basically lethargic, have low IQ and do not possess will power. ‘Fat’ is one word that is the judge and punishment as well, as it easily outstrips and swallows all other identities of a person. Fat phobia is very often camouflaged under incredibly sweet coats of anxiety and concern and it comes from people who are very close to us.

Yet another thing is that this concern of others does not come from their ‘so-called concern’ for that individual, but it is for the contexts and perceptions that surround the fat person; fat phobia. Perceptions include that of obese persons being asexual and non-romantic.

It is taken for granted that obese people are solely responsible for their condition, which is caused by binge eating and lethargy. Pictures portraying them as representations of obesity epidemic are absolutely humiliating. Certain health issues faced by obese people are more because of stigmatizing experiences than obesity itself. Several obese people avoid going to the gym or doctor for the fear of being ridiculed. Also, the extent to which we are obsessed with avoiding fatness is seen in the huge volume of searches for diet food on Google.

Fat people aren’t always ‘unhealthy’ and could also be due to reasons beyond their control

It is of utmost importance to create awareness that several varied factors result in obesity and it is not all about exercise and diet – and that not everyone who is obese is due to same reasons.

It is to be understood that as long as individuals with bigger bodies have no health problems, losing of weight is not all that essential. A person being fair or dark; tall or short; thin or fat – is usually determined by the individual’s genes. Then again, our metabolism is governed by not only genetic factors but by other factors that include hormones, insulin etc. Some of these factors can be controlled by regular exercise and diet but controlling the collective effect on the body appears to be very difficult.

We need fat acceptance of all body types, not fat phobia

The movement of ‘fat acceptance’ exists almost in all parts of the world. What is fat acceptance about? Fat acceptance is that basic thought that we need not worry about our size and be the way we are, as our bodies are not an indicator of our integrity and character.

Two awesome women, Pallavi Nath and Ameya Nagarajan began the podcast Fat. So? – This is a podcast wherein one comes up with how one feels residing in a plus-size body. Its goal is to focus on making available and accessible conversations revolving around fat ladies. The podcast speaks about mental health, fat phobia, and fat liberation and tries to shake off the stigma attached to plus size.

Self-confidence and positivity about oneself is of utmost importance. There is no ideal weight as such. One need not feel ashamed about the size of the body, as each one of us is different and there is no comparison between any two individuals.

I fully support the mindset that one’s body need not be beautiful and magical. But I resort to a body-positive approach where in one celebrates one’s body and all that it is capable of doing. The term ‘body positivity’ definitely does not mean ignoring one’s health, but that one need not hate one’s body if it is not thin enough which is ‘considered’ to be healthy.

I do not say that fat is to be ‘welcomed’ or needs to be ‘celebrated’. But it is in the interest of the society that we do not pass comments on a person’s weight as we are clueless about what that person is going through; whether they are trying to come out of an eating disorder or facing body shaming….It is only if and when we stop passing judgments about obese people, that people of all sizes and shapes will coexist peacefully without the uneasiness of being under weight scrutiny.

It is to be understood that a healthy heart rate, cholesterol levels, levels of stress and lung capacity are all measures of fitness level irrespective of body weight. Loving one’s body starts with the acceptance of the fact that self-esteem and confidence are not be linked with the bodily look of a person, which may be either fat or thin. Let not others’ judgements about your body force you to transform yourself without your wish

To quote Fat activist Aubrey Gordon, “health is personal, complex, incidental, and transient.”

Image source: a still from the film Dum Saga Ke Haisha

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