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Feeling Like The Elephant In The Room

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For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with weight. I have had nicknames like moti (fatso), elephant, saand (bull), hippo hurled at me under the guise of humour. I have been excluded from dance competitions, plays and sports in school because I didn’t ‘look’ like I was up to the task. I was always the girl who boys called ‘sister’ because I was ‘SO cute and roly-poly’. And even the year I worked out like a crazy person and lost 30 kilos was a crappy year because it was good, but it wasn’t enough.

If I had a rupee for every time someone came to me with health advice out of ‘concern’, I’d be a fucking millionaire. And, mind you, I don’t doubt your concern. I don’t doubt it at all. I just don’t understand how anyone can gauge anyone’s health (or lack of it) by merely glancing at them. It baffles me how whenever I’m at my very best in life – living a clean and healthy life, with the full support of my family, a loving relationship, an upward moving career graph – one random, thoughtless and sudden comment about my weight can make all of it come crashing down around me. I am, as I have realised, very sensitive to sticks and stones and words apparently.

However, this is not just my story. There are tons (oops!) of overweight people in the world who are made to feel like monsters in their own body by everyone and everything around them, including their own families! In fact, Julie Murphy’s bestselling book Dumplin’ is a treat to read because it explores the trials and tribulations of Willowdean Dickson, the main protagonist and narrator who, despite being big bodied, decides to participate in the local beauty pageant, run by her own demeaning mother, just to spite her. The book in no way paints Willowdean as a saint. She builds walls around her to defend herself from rejection, brutally jeopardises her first relationship because she genuinely believes that Bo, a boy she likes, deserves better and is a complete shit to her attractive best friend Ellen because the pageant begins to mean something to her and Ellen has the potential to win. Her reactions, though, are way too normal and REAL to sideline.

I remember my first foreign trip as an adult to Vietnam. The country was amazing and the friends I travelled with were the best! But, all of this paled in the face of the complete and utter discomfort I felt at not looking as good as them. Not in a dress and definitely not in my beach shorts. I still regret every minute I spent dwelling on my fat body than on enjoying the trip.

It is common knowledge that everywhere in the world right now, people who aren’t conventionally thin are slowly and steadily made to feel like imposters in their own bodies. The first assault comes in the form of glossy magazines, detox teas, diet fads, fashion, films and television series. I mean, as amazing as the sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S. was, the representation of ‘Fat Monica’ is just so horribly cringe-worthy! And that’s just one example.

The second assault comes from friends and family who tend only to focus on your weight, no matter what your achievements may be. When you meet a friend after a really long time, you are always first subject to an analysis of your physical form which may or may not gradually gravitate towards enquiries about the rest of your life and work. I have also often come across a group of very thin people who complain excessively about being fat which is just a really shitty thing to do, by the way.

And finally, the third assault comes from the self. Us. Ourselves. Allow me to explain.

A person struggling with weight is always aware of it. We don’t need reminders because we see ourselves in the mirror every single day. I know how hard I have tried to shed the weight until I reached the lowest point of zero fucks to give. Some bodies miraculously transform from the effort and when I see these transformations, I genuinely feel really happy for the person. I know a lot of my friends and family members who pushed against the tide, day in and day out and emerged victoriously. However, there are also people I know, myself included, who have pushed themselves and seen small results and are okay with those results because they make us feel good. Yes, we aren’t stick thin, but the glow on our cheeks makes us happy. But, somehow, people can never believe that we can be happy with ourselves the way we are. Society is conditioned to believe that flab on the body equals an extremely unhealthy person with high cholesterol and high BP and a very sedentary lifestyle. And if you argue that you suffer from NONE of the above, they are quick to warn you that it will happen sooner or later. And while this may be true, I personally don’t think it pertains only to people with weight. It is exactly this perception that forced me to look for a quicker, easier option. I admit I was attracted to the idea of weight loss pills for a really long time and have even stayed up nights thinking about liposuction. If exercising wasn’t cutting it, surely these options would give me the body I longed for, right?

Thank GOD I got over that phase. A lot of people don’t.

British actor, model, activist and founder of the ‘I Weigh’ movement, Jameela Jamil recently released her interview with Sam Smith where they discussed their gruelling experiences with body shaming, especially being in the public eye. The interview was heart-breaking, to say the least, but made me realise that even celebrities can be victims of body shaming. Jameela has, in the past year, faced a LOT of flak for calling out celebrities who promote detox teas and weight loss products that are responsible for setting unattainable beauty standards for young people around the world. She has even filed a petition to ban the airbrushing of celebrity photos in magazines, a task no one ever took on before. She has no qualms about flaunting her marks and flabby bits in magazine cover shoots. However, she is just ONE celebrity voice fighting against a system that pushed her to starve herself as a teenager and almost killed her in the process.

But, things are slowly changing. Women are speaking out against all forms of discrimination. Body positivity, as a movement, is gaining momentum and more and more people are fighting to be accepted the way they are. ‘The Mindy Project’, a show produced by and centred around Mindy Kaling (another favourite), was a breath of fresh air when it released because it gave people like me hope. Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ was another on my list because it represented her, the chubby friend, as just another normal person with normal people problems. Recently, actors like Amy Schumer and Rebel Wilson are slowly making their way from being the fat, funny side-kick to lead roles in movies. This is, in no way, a small feat even though it’s still restricted to Hollywood. I hope Bollywood sheds its bias against weight someday, too.

Ultimately, it’s about how you can change things individually. As a person who doesn’t have weight problems, you can start by asking about your overweight friends work or relationship instead of commenting on how they look. You can stop giving health tips or advice without fully understanding what their issues are. You can listen to them crib about their weight but tell them they look good anyway. Basically, the next time you see the elephant in the room, as much as you may want to, suppress the urge to address it.


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  1. Shambhavi Pant

    A lovely piece addressing body shaming and victim psychology. I have been overweight with pcos since a few years now and I find it relatable on many levels. We need more icons like Jameela Jamil in popular culture and our real lives.

    1. Tara Bhatnagar

      Thank you so much for reading this Shambhavi. I am glad it resonated with you and yes, I do believe we need to start a conversation around this. We need more icons and we need to be each others’ support system and icons as well. Hugs to you.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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