It happened ever so slowly. Like falling in love. But veering onto a painful, tragic kind of love. Almost like a loss. I started feeling less fit and exhausted almost all the time. My clothes felt constricted and sometimes my breathing began to feel restricted in them.
I had always been skinny and now, suddenly, I had curves and bulges. I would remove a button or two after a meal. It felt as if a Boa constrictor was slowly devouring me, at the speed of one-pair-of-a-jean-size a time. And I felt helpless.
I was hot, irritable and bothered all the time. I assumed it was the usual suspects — Vitamin deficiencies, stress (under which I was drowning), Thyroid (which I had), Diabetes or PCOS.
Thanks to my busy job, it wasn’t until I was well over 15 kilos overweight that I even noticed myself in the mirror. It all came to a head when a local variety MCP (Male Chauvinist Pig)-cum-colleague from work asked point-blank, “You have two children, right? You went away for 5–6 years at another firm and are back. You were thin back then and now you are (a hand gesture akin to a chicken dance), so I assumed you are married with children.” At this point, I was far from married or in a maternal way, but I casually replied that I was neither.
This was the second man who was neither a close friend nor a confidante to comment on my weight in the same week. In both cases, I did not react because I knew it came from a long line of an exacting patriarchal narrative which made it ok to make snide jokes and assumptions on women, weight, and matrimony.
However, unsurprisingly, the cruellest jibes often came from women around me. An ex-colleague told me, “Look at all that flab on your face and arms. This is a surprise. You were the last person I thought would put on weight. I mean, look at you!” Or a female relative who told my spouse recently, “You met her when she was slim, now she has become fat. She was beautiful before, now she is just… fat.” Or women in my extended family who earlier lovingly fed me when I visited but were now feeding me frantic talks on shedding those ‘extra kilos’ - albeit quickly.
~My fall down the rabbit hole of shame
After being in denial for about a year, it all came to pass when I had to give away 7–8 pairs of jeans which did not fit me anymore. This was the single most tactile experience that woke me up to the new reality of my weight or my being overweight! A visit to the doctor confirmed Thyroid and the fact that my work stress, late nights, junk food binges and lack of sleep were slowly clawing their way into my health, in the worst possible way.
From denial, I skipped fast to the ‘acceptance mode’ to avoid facing my weight gain and slipped and stumbled right into ‘panic mode’ by now. Mere knowledge of my condition had changed nothing and I felt the walls closing in. Social anxiety and my construct of myself began to be shaken; beginning a sordid fight between the two. At this point, I failed to recognize myself in photos and hated looking at any pictures of mine and I was having a hard time telling myself that this was who I was now.
Since the change was so dramatic, I developed a defence mechanism to fend off those “Oh you have put on so much” jibes which came in multitudes, unceasingly. It got to a point where I shied away from group pictures or ever revisiting them so I wouldn’t have to see my new self. This new curvy body of mine was at odds with who I had always imagined as “me”.
I wished to fade away in people’s eyes and began to feel invisible in my new bulgy self. I would block out the negative comments on my weight. Even as someone began with a “you are becoming fat” retort, I would immediately succumb and accept this statement with affirmations simply to end the backlash mid-sentence. Acceptance was my subterfuge, although I was not ready to confront this new reality and the “new me”.
After decades of being “the skinny dreamboat”, I was grappling with fat-shaming which I realized is something so many people in our culture go through all their lives. The constant remarks, barbs, the invisibility, and relegation to a non-entity or a persona non grata simply because the society’s standards had been honed for decades by advertisers pushing their products through the slippery aspirational route of ‘skinny women’. Most often, this advertising stood proudly on the feet of toxic patriarchy which endorses this suffocating paradigm of “less is more” when it comes to female bodies. Mind you this paradigm also spills over to women’s desires, reproductive choices, opinions, sexuality, and emotions.
The cruellest let-down was perhaps by this apparel brand that I had loved for most of my adult income-earning life. I had grown to love this brand’s progressive advertising which sang to all shapes and curves - promising a fit for every girl. I still remember looking forward to its annual festive sale which I haunted every year almost like a ritual to bag a pair of jeans.
This was my go-to brand and had worked wonders for my slight frame. Armed with this love and my new shape, I landed at the brand’s exclusive shop in a mall in my city only to be told by the shop assistant that the current size I was looking for wasn’t available.
Refusing to back down, I helpfully offered that perhaps the bigger sizes had been picked up, and I could come by in a day or two when they had restocked. His response was a rude shock to my system. “Ma’am, we don’t usually stock too many of these upper sizes. Even if you come after a day or two, I doubt we would have that size. Maybe you can check this nearby store of ours, but I doubt you will find it there also.”
And just like that, an apparel brand had managed to render me and countless others like me invisible. This led me to realize how we as women had been short-changed by the advertising and apparel industry, that sets impossible standards and contributes to the self-hatred prevalent among countless women, who were being made to feel that they “did not measure up” across the world every single day. It seemed like my inner battle with my new realities had just begun and I had a lot of unlearning to do.
After months of consternation I finally gained a slow acceptance of my new reality and also realized that my weight was not the issue, my concept of self was. I had to change that in order to override other’s opinions of myself and give myself a break. I was also having to learn to take ownership of my sensibilities surrounding weight even though social media and popular media were filled with stories, gym bods, diets or fads that promised to get me out of this ‘hard place’ that I had landed on.
bulge /bʌldʒ/ noun- a rounded swelling which distorts an otherwise flat surface.
As I recall tale after tale from this vantage point of my weighty universe, these three years have taught me some invaluable lessons about social constructs and a lot more about myself:
It taught me that weight is a colour that too many people in the world carry into their lives even when they should not. Life is too colourful, vast and beautiful for one colour to overshadow or mar every other.
People talk about change all the time, but we as a race are hardwired to reject it.
As women, we obsess about beauty, skincare, makeup and being pretty all the time, because it gives us the only real chance to be “seen” in a world where age-old norms created by men still interject and rule our current realities.
Women are the harshest critics of other women and their own bodies. This taps into decades of self-loathing, self-flagellation and denial which stems from our deeply entrenched patriarchal mindsets. This cultural tempering begins right from our childhoods and goes on to adulthood and old age. This culture teaches women to hate themselves and therefore others within the parameters of often diabolical, socially acceptable standards of beauty, ambition, and intellect. Women indulge in fat-shaming as a culture, because for centuries we were taught that our bodies, our biological clocks and our femininity is a construct which is designed around limited social constructs; therefore up for judgment by anybody else and never ours to fully own and control.
Your concept of your body is completely a mental construct. It can be broken down and reorganized, one negative barb at a time.
I have always tried to be body positive to people around me, but I had to work the hardest at being sensitive to myself and the changes in my body. On this front, I am still a work in progress.
I am punning on the word ‘fraternity’ in this piece because I found that there are countless people like me who are alone when they descend into self-doubt owing to standards made by others and lack any fraternity for support or counsel.
With body positivity, self-love and normcore movements bringing a shift in our post-truth world, I am hopeful that women are wanting better from our society and environment for ourselves. As I work on my health and try to keep my own counsel with the body that I have; I am optimistic that I will grow to love my imperfections unconditionally and someday silence my inner critic.
Disclaimer: This is strictly the author’s own views, based on her journey of weight gain & observations of fat-shaming inherent in our cultures that continue to uphold completely irrational, hedonistic and exacting standards for women.
(This blog is submitted by Lakshmi Ajay a former Journalist and a Communications Professional. Lakshmi describes herself as a minstrel at large who is looking at life and that zany moment in between. An intrepid writer pushing her own limits through words and sometimes poems, she can be found tweeting on all things making news on https://twitter.com/LakshmiAjay1 and being social at email@example.com)