Fat – and how to mitigate it – is all around me at the moment.
Yesterday, a friend told me she’d had a gastric bypass operation – and thanks to complications including infected incisions, she’d lost a staggering 35 pounds in three weeks. She’d been feverish, horribly bloated, and spent hours in the emergency ward trying to heal her incisions. Friends told her she looked fantastic though.
I’ve just come off a Viber conversation with a good friend – someone I’ve enjoyed bantering with for years about our fluctuating waistlines and love of all things food. After losing a lot of weight thanks to a hideous bout of food poisoning in India earlier this year, he’s been determined to keep it off, so he’s currently weighing himself every day. Our conversation went something like this:
Me – Isn’t that a little obsessive?
Him – It works for me and it’s really helping to keep the weight off. I know you go to the gym and eat well but you never seem to lose any weight.
Me – (slightly crestfallen). Really? Do I look big?
Him – Well, I’m not going to lie. You don’t look trim.
He’s right. I don’t look trim at the moment. I have a body that’s generously padded at the best of times, and it can go from thin-ish and curvy, to buxom and out there, and to – god forbid – plump and matronly, or just plain fat – by the time you’ve eaten that cupcake. Over the years, I’ve been the butt – pun intended – of many a boob and butt joke, mostly affectionate banter from friends that I’ve had no problem going along with.
But I’ve also been the recipient of many intrusive comments – or what’s commonly known now as fat shaming – from everyone from my mother, who has always been obsessive about fat, to assorted Indian aunties and uncles. In Egypt, where I live now, I’ve had to listen to a number of random comments about my weight and body – both positive and negative – which have led me to conclude that (wealthy) third worlders are actually worse than first worlders where fat’s concerned. The ultimate status symbol in the developing world is a trim toned bod – the skinnier the better.
Being an unmarried woman provides more grist to the mill. I have been inspected by random Indian ‘aunties’– we use the term very loosely in the third world – in a manner not dissimilar to how a farmer, I imagine, would inspect a cow at a farm show. One of these aunties actually popped in to pick my mum up for lunch when I was back in England recently. Her exact words to me were: “Hi. You’ve put on weight. Ok, bye.”
The truth is, my weight does fluctuate – horribly. I wish it didn’t, and I wish the majority of my life wasn’t spent wishing I was 10 pounds– or more – lighter. I wish parts of me didn’t wobble and I didn’t spend far too much time in front of the mirror inspecting said parts, or asking the immortal question: Does my bum look big in this? (which is rhetorical, if you hadn’t figured that out already.) I wish I was one of those women who could eat whatever I wanted without gaining a pound and look good in a burlap sack, if that’s what I wanted.
If fat symbolises a kind of lazy wanton decadence and greedy self-indulgence, thin represents control, discipline and a willingness to conform. There are no fat heroines, and even fewer fat role models. There is a lushness and rebellious sensuality about a fat woman’s body, in fact, that seems to threaten the very foundations of our society. Fat women, in particular, seem to deserve to be shamed.
So, as we consume more than ever before as a society, we applaud weight loss and diets even more, to the point where perceptions of what’s acceptable have become horribly skewed. Thin isn’t about being healthy any more but about being a Size 0. Thigh gaps and clavicles have become fetishised. I’ve been at parties when dangerously skinny women – medically underweight and borderline anorexic – have walked past, to envious sighs of approval from some friends.
I can’t count the number of compliments or approving looks I get when I’ve lost weight, and the general sense of dread I feel when I’ve gained. The majority of conversations with my female friends touch on weight or diets, which I’m sadly as guilty of bringing up as anyone. Most women I know, even the very slim ones, believe they’re not thin enough or toned enough, even when there’s abundant evidence to the contrary.
The fact is that my thin periods haven’t necessarily made me any happier over the long term and they definitely haven’t meant I’ve been particularly healthy – at times the reverse, if anything. Some of the happiest, most rounded people I know – in every sense of the word – are overweight and they’re no less beautiful or confident for it. Their ability to be comfortable in their own skin in the face of overwhelming disapproval is something I both envy and applaud.
Because while I generally abhor political correctness, I can’t help feeling that fat-shaming is one of the last socially acceptable forms of bigotry. I’m not interested in thin shaming any more than I am fat-shaming and I understand the desire to be thin – I’ve lived that my whole life. But I wish we were kinder and a little more sensitive about how we went about it, both on ourselves and on others.
In my own life now, I strive constantly, and sometimes desperately, for balance, to battle all the negativity out there. I try not to take on board the comments I hear, whether positive or negative. I aim for strong rather than skinny – to eat well and to move my body as much as possible, since time and experience have shown that this works for me. If a friend wants me to celebrate their weight loss, I try also to point out that he or she looked great before.
It may be difficult to believe at times, but we are so much more than our bodies.