Content warning: body shaming; fat shaming; mentions of eating disorders; mentions of PTSD
Fat. That is not a word that ever encourages a good response from anyone hearing it. Since god knows when, fat has been equated with unhealthy, displeasing, unaesthetic, and ugly. We’ve seen/read people compliment someone by saying, “You’re beautiful even though you’re fat.” As if being beautiful and being fat are two mutually exclusive things with just a few exceptions. As if someone cannot be beautiful or handsome or good looking just because they’re fat.
Fat people face a lot of scrutiny everywhere, but women especially more so — at least, in my experience. Women are expected to be shaped into the perfect mould that society has created for them — smart, intelligent, virtuous, but most of all, beautiful and pleasing to look at. That’s something that needs to be unpacked separately, so for now, we’ll concentrate on the beautiful part of the equation.
Growing up, a large part of my life has been dictated by my looks. As if being fat wasn’t a bad enough thing in this society already, people always assume things about me that are far from the truth. Like the fact that I eat too much, or that I’m a lazy person who just sits on her butt the entire day not even moving a finger, or that maybe I eat a lot of junk food and sweets, which of course, is all false. But, it’s what everyone assumes.
Apart from assumptions, there is also a lot of open body shaming in social circles as well. There have been various instances where I’ve been on family get-togethers and some relative will make a comment about how I shouldn’t eat xyz thing because I’ll put on even more weight. There have been so many times when I’ve received unsolicited advice about how to lose my weight so that I can start looking “pretty”. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has told me I’ve lost weight and meant it to be a compliment, something I should be proud of.
The Indian Society literally expects women to be perfect, because if they’re not, who will marry them? This line of thinking — as well as the notion that someone who is fat is not perfect because they’re aesthetically displeasing — has been an issue in society for so long. It’s also the reason why even my parents don’t shy away from fat shaming me. They always make comments about how I’m gaining weight and that I need to exercise to shed it off. My dad would say that I shouldn’t eat so much cheese or butter, or that I shouldn’t eat any kind of dessert. They want me to lose weight just because. If me being fat was somehow affecting my health, and if it was medically advisable that I lose weight, and then they expected me to do so, I would’ve understood. But, their reasoning is so fickle: because that’s what society has taught them. And because they’re members of this “society” and need to live in it, they need to abide by these unspoken rules, which means I need to abide by them, too.
No one ever thinks why someone should not be fat, just that they shouldn’t be. And they won’t shy away from telling this either, disregarding what effect their words might have on the person on the receiving end. How it might affect their mental health is never taken into consideration before spewing all this nonsense. A lot of eating disorders that people experience are just because of such thoughtless, cruel words, and yet, nothing about body shaming has changed in all these years, at least in the Indian society.
This blatant shaming aside, there are so many instances of subtle fat shaming that someone might not even give it a second thought unless they go through it. One of the major ones I’ve noticed is related to clothes. Whenever I go shopping, be it at malls or independent shops or even street shops, they won’t have clothes in larger sizes. The trendy, cute, pair of jeans that are being worn by almost everyone at college? Well, you can’t wear them because your waist size is a little too large for these manufacturers. Let’s not even talk about how cramped up so many of the places are, especially in big crowded cities. Changing rooms are so small that someone with a larger body size may feel super uncomfortable there. Chairs at restaurants are, at times, a size too small, or seats in public transport aren’t large enough. We never even think about these things because they’re not that big, but for a fat person, adjusting to all these little things is not easy.
Don’t even get me started about the lack of rep in media. A fat character is assumed to be not pleasing to the eye, especially when the media source is visual (movies, tv shows, music videos etc). Have you ever come across a fat lead character? Have you ever come across a fat character who hasn’t been made fun of even once because of their appearance?
Case in point, Thor in the latest MCU movie, Avengers: Endgame (2019). He’s the literal God of Thunder, a king, an Avenger, the person who killed Thanos, the big bad when no one else could. And yet, for most of the movie, he was made fun of because he was fat. It did not matter that he was going through so many issues in the aftermath of the fight, probably suffering from PTSD, and needed help in coping. He was just reduced to comic relief. A literal OG Avenger who has a trilogy under his belt, who is so much more worthy (worthier??) than his counterparts — and yet, he was doled out with this treatment in what was initially supposed to be his last movie in that particular universe. If that doesn’t scream fat shaming to you, I don’t know what else does.
Fat shaming has become such an inherent part of our world that no one even thinks twice about it. It’s normal for people to shame others for this. This sort of outlook has bled negativity into the lives of so many people, including mine. Even now, when I know how wrong all this is, I still have body issues and I’m not always comfortable in my own skin. I have grown up, listening to people tell me that me being fat is not right, my entire life. I’ve been fat since I was a kid. I don’t remember ever not being fat. And I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t looked down upon because of it either.
It always amazes me how people can find the time to be offended by someone being fat, especially when literally everything else in the world is more important than you thinking that being fat is an issue. And yet, despite this, everyone has made it into such a huge thing.
After so much negativity surrounding this issue, positive representation is something that is very much needed, to take things in the right direction, to show people that being fat is not bad, that it’s not a curse, or something that needs to be cured.
The first time I heard about Sandhya Menon’s There’s Something About Sweetie, I literally wept. There she was. A fat main character. A desi, fat main character. I don’t think that someone who is not desi can ever understand what having that little bit of positive rep meant for all desi fat people everywhere. It showed us that being fat doesn’t make you worse off than anyone else, that fat people are just as deserving of love and happily ever after as anyone else, that fat people can do whatever they want to do, including being an amazing athlete. It hammered the message that being fat is not what dictates you.
Similarly, there was once a show, Mahi Way (2010), where the lead was a fat woman who lived life on her own terms irrespective of being criticised for her physical appearance based on societal standards. That show was such a breath of fresh air. I saw myself in Mahi at every turn and it was so empowering to see her fight for herself. (PSA: You can catch all episodes of this absolutely amazing show on Netflix!)
Isn’t it bad that I can only think of two instances of positive fat, desi rep in media? I don’t even know if there are any more of those. But, there definitely should be. Because fat people’s lives should not be dictated by their weight, but by who they are outside of their weight.
Augvocate for the Day
Pragati is 20-something-year-old weird human who loves to fangirl. She reads, watches movies and TV shows, and listens to music, but mostly, she cries over her feels. She loves to talk & would love to connect with you, so don’t hesitate to shoot her a message!
This guest post is part of a month-long collaborative series called Augvocacy, which is shorthand for August with an advocacy. Essentially, this project aims to bring together like-minded individuals — be it bloggers, authors, or readers — in actively forwarding a particular advocacy. All contributors to this project are referred to as Augvocates — and each Augvocate will share their thoughts on my blog from the 1st day of August until the 28th. Find the rest of the Augvocacy 2019 posts here.
For this year, Augvocacy hopes to discuss and encourage the importance of amplifying Asian voices in books and in media. While this particular call brings attention to the oftentimes-ignored demand for more authentic Asian representation, it also aims to debunk the bigoted view that Asian cultures are a monolith and to shed light on the nuances of struggle, privilege, and identity within and across our own communities. Learn more about Augvocacy 2019 in this post.
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 What are your thoughts on Pragati’s take on body shaming and the need for better fat representation in media?
🌻 Do you agree that oftentimes, fat characters are used by the media for comic relief?
🌻 Have you ever read a book or watched a film that featured positive fat representation? Do you have any recommendations?