Fat shaming often rests on rotten ground and unfounded beliefs that lead to unwarranted biases and trauma.
I grew up from being a fat child to being a fat woman. To proclaim freedom is often not the same as living it, and maybe that’s why Kerala-based travel vlogger Sujith Bhakthan’s video about the fat-shaming his wife, Shwetha, faces hit home. He voiced so much of what I had been thinking of, and did it without being patronising or condescending.
I also grew up hating the word ‘fat’ because it was, at its crux, the essence of everything that was wrong with me. A single word was the judge, jury and punishment because it was allowed to overtake and consume every other identity I built for myself. So much of this fear came from the expectation that I had to, eventually, look for companionship. I had to ‘settle down’. I had to make myself a certain way because somewhere, sometime down the line, a man would deign to offer me the honour of his companionship – only if I shrunk enough to allow him the space to be the bigger one, of course.
While waves of body positivity and self-acceptance swarmed my internet circles and self-love became the mantra everyone swore by, the quiet nagging emotion of ‘but… will someone else love me too?’ refused to die. It’s easy to claim that you don’t care what anyone else says or does, but when you’ve been conditioned to think of romantic companionship as the lynchpin of all your success, it’s difficult to disengage.
As the world grapples with how it understands obesity in the face of what is called (rather hyperbolically) an ‘obesity epidemic’, one thing stays constant: how the Indian middle class speaks of and interacts with fatness. Middle class morality, which often confuses its privileges for its authority, is especially vicious when it comes to anything that threatens its perceived ‘betterness’. A lot of this fatphobia often rests on rotten ground and unfounded beliefs that lead to unwarranted biases and trauma. Research has corroborated these observations, whether it is about discrimination at the workplace or terrible medical care. Fat discrimination is often masked under saccharine sweet coats of concern and worry, and comes from incredibly close quarters.
People who attack fat people don’t want the ‘best for us’. They just want to feel righteous in their own bodies and contexts. Nothing else. Their ‘concern’ doesn’t stem from care for the fat person, but care for the contexts and perceptions that the fat person’s fatness disrupts. By categorising a fat person as an aromantic, asexual creature, people are comforted by the privilege of their conventional bodies. Considering fat people are visibly different, it’s easier to other us. This othering is incredibly successful and dehumanising.
When Fanney Khan debutante Pihu Sand spoke about how she was fat-shamed, an outpouring of support and commiseration came her way. The pattern was heartbreaking. Successful, creative, talented individuals have to keep justifying their existence because they don’t find their size on a ‘normal’ store’s rack. They’re reduced to their weight because that’s the easiest way to dismiss a person.
Body-shaming doesn’t forgive anyone. Women’s weight, men’s height and everything in between is apparently fair game for self-appointed custodians of morality and rightness, who can gauge a person’s worth by estimating their body stats. It’s easy to slap labels like ‘lazy’ and ‘hedonistic’ on people who don’t look too much like us. What’s difficult is to hold a mirror to society and expose the double standards.
To say that fat should be ‘accepted’ or ‘celebrated’ might be a leap too big, but is asking people to mind their own business too much? It would be nice to take public transport, for example, and not have someone ask me ‘have you tried this particular fat burning capsule?’ (I’ve tried everything, but that’s a column for another day). It would be nice to live in a world where I don’t have to constantly seek permission for my body. It would be nice if people around me made the effort to let me be.
The author is a poet.
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