I was constantly being told that I needed to lose weight to look good, to find a boyfriend, to be accepted.
But staying fat was probably my body’s rebellion against the society that so desperately wanted to change me. My body is a vault that stores all my secrets, all my traumas.
Yesterday while scrolling through my Instagram feed I came across a recent picture of mine that was clicked after a post-Diwali family lunch. In it I was wearing a black skin-fit top and a flowy wraparound orange skirt. I was surrounded by my cousins, all looking happy. And I looked fat. It’s the only thing I could see. How my arm fat was dangling. How my love-handles were bulging. How out of proportion my entire body was. In short, I look ugly.
I was annoyed at the wrong, unflattering angle at which the picture was clicked. Maybe I shouldn’t have sat in the front. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn that top at all. I couldn’t stand to look at the picture so I put the phone down. Went to my weighing machine, stood on it, and forced myself to look at the reading. The weight was no more than it was the day before. Or the week before. Or the month before even.
For as long as I can remember, I have been fat. Everyone I know has tried to make me lose weight. From loved ones to strangers, everyone has made my body the subject of any conversation. At my grandmother’s funeral a distant relative asked me to buy a skipping rope. “Jumping will help you lose weight.” At a cousin’s wedding, her father-in-law – who I was meeting for the first time – told my father, in front an entire wedding party, that he should make me do yoga. Manjiri should join the gym; Manjiri should go for a run. And I did all of that. But nothing worked.
But then in June of last year, I started working on losing my weight for health reasons. A medical report had sent me into a complete state of panic, the doctor said I need to lose weight or there will be consequences. My hypochondria was triggered and I spent the whole year working out as much as I could, and eating well. I managed to lose some weight and for a fraction of a second, I felt good about that. But my weight loss has since plateaued.
And I am, once again, uncomfortable within my skin. I have had a long and enduring relationship with my body. I have always been made fun of because of it. Some friends from my colony used to call me “Tun Tun” and laugh, and I’d join them, even though all I’d want to do was cry.
I was always told that my eating habits, my lack of exercise, and my lack of respect for my body have led to this. And it was said with such conviction, such loathing, I couldn’t help but agree. When the world continues to throw hatred and neglect at you, you internalise it. And I did. As I deal with the consequences of this hatred every day, I also realise how much I am not responsible for whatever happened to me. The world is.
Growing up, I was an active kid. I played a lot, from cricket to pakadkam pakadai, I swam and was good at it. I didn’t really eat a lot because it interfered with my playtime. I was basically something that any “normal” kid was supposed to be.
And yet, my body weight kept building. Much later it was discovered that it wasn’t me, but my hormones. I had hypothyroidism.
I was put on medication, but I still had to do the heavy lifting if I wanted to lose the already accumulated weight. But I didn’t. Over time, when it became harder dealing with the voices outside, I gave up. Once, my doctor prescribed weight-loss pills. They were expensive and all I had to do was pop them. I didn’t even open the box. Whenever someone asked me about them, I’d lie. A month or so later I made up some side-effects about how the pills were making me feel. I could never understand why I was doing what I was doing. I am not sure if I’d have lost weight by taking them, but surely there was no harm, right?
I went on living my life the way it was. Fearing doctor visits because they’d include standing on the weighing scale, or shopping for clothes because my small town didn’t offer much in plus size and going to the tailor always meant judgmental glances from them.
Even though these things were traumatic, I was never motivated to keep up and I wondered why. It has taken me a lot of time to realise that I didn’t have any real reasons to lose weight. Because I had already lost my battle with body hatred, I never thought that my body could ever be considered beautiful. I was constantly being told that I needed to lose weight to look good, to find a boyfriend, to be accepted. And while all these things mattered, they were also extremely hurtful. Staying fat was probably my body’s rebellion against the society that so desperately wanted to change me.
My body has been a vault that stores all my traumas. It came up during one of my therapy sessions, but it has taken a few years to sink in that I am fat because my fat has granted me, for the lack of a better word, a privilege to be invisible. I grew up holding within myself a lot of secrets. I was raped as a child for few years, by a few men. And I didn’t know what it was, or how to process it, so I kept it to myself. I kept chewing on my tragedies, kept swallowing them, and my body kept getting bigger and bigger.
I often go back to a poem called “Rice” by Chun Yang Hee that I read in Helen Oyeyemi’s book “What’s Not Yours Is Not Yours”.
Chew on your feelings that are cornered like you would chew on rice.
Anyway, life is something that you need to digest.
It has been 30 years of me digesting life. It has been 30 years of me chewing on my feelings. I couldn’t be anything but fat. My body kept making way for any hurt, any tragedy that life threw my way. And I absorbed it, like food, like sadness. It has been the nutrition my poetry needed. Or maybe it was something I told myself. It was easier to be this than anything else. With people dumping their judgments on me and blaming me, it was easier to agree with them, and live miserably, finding small moments of acceptance in that.
But for the past year or so I have been trying to fight this urge to surrender. I managed to lose whatever weight I could because this time I had to do it, or watch myself die slowly and painfully. When Jeanette Winterson said, “Creativity is on the side of health,” I believed her. I got moving. I understood that life, even with moments of intense pain and sadness, was worth living. And it has been a radical learning.
Even though I keep going back to the body hatred I know so well, like I did when I looked at that picture, I also correct myself. This time I am doing it for myself. This time I can be fat but healthy. They aren’t mutually exclusive, and so I work hard. When I work-out I feel happy. When I eat well, I can think clearly, I have the energy to do things that usually make me anxious and overwhelm me. I went to Finland alone this year, and managed to survive it, even enjoy it. The beginning of 2017 I would not have been able to do that. I would have probably cancelled my trip the very last moment like I have cancelled all my other solo trips.
My weight loss isn’t just me shedding my body fat. It is me letting go of my past traumas. It is me emptying my body of hurt and pain and replacing it with love and care. And it is why fat or thin doesn’t matter, so long as I know what fills my body is not someone I hate.