If you are a writer, you know of times when you have a concept in your head, you know what you want to say, have an inkling of how you want to say it even; yet the words refuse to flow. If at all you force yourself to sit staring a computer screen (or a piece of paper), all you get for your efforts are words strung together awkwardly- stilted in speech. However, maybe that’s just how they sound to you because you know that’s not the best you can do. I was in a similar quandary when it came to writing about the experiences of a fattie (namely me) dressing up. Now, I am sure my fellow fatties already have a fair idea of what is to come, and can’t wait to nod their heads and chuckle at remembered “dress up moments” of their own as they read through what I have to say. It is for the non-fatties that I felt a compelling need to be, well, compellingly concise.
What finally jumpstarted my creative engine is a nightmare! I just heard from my mother this morning that my cousin brother has been blessed with a lovely baby boy. Then, during my afternoon siesta, I had a dream about the cousin, his bride and their engagement ceremony. True to nightmare form, I was so busy fiddling with my camera, taking pictures that I forgot the time. There I was dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt that hung on me while guests started pouring in. I next saw my own sister and mother walk down the staircase in true diva style; they were dressed to the nines. It was then that it struck me that I had to hurry up and get dressed! The nightmare wasn’t however in the passing whispers and ogling eyes as I stood there conspicuously and unflatteringly dressed, surrounded by people who could have walked off of the sets of a Dharma Productions or Yash Raj “Sagaai”. No, the nightmare was in the palpitating heart, sweaty brow, and shaking hand that pulled out outfit after outfit from the cupboard; oufits that didn’t fit properly, or the tops and the bottoms didn’t go together, or the ones that did fit weren’t dressy enough! All the while the clock ticked, the ceremony went on, the need to hurry up increased, frustration mounted and despair set in. It was with that feeling of despair in the pit of my stomach that I woke up; creative juices flowing I thus declared to myself, “That’s it- DRESSING UP is a nightmare!”
What lends credibility to the seemingly hyperbolic statement that I just made is the fact that the nightmare I just described isn’t of the variety of dreams where you end up going to work naked or you see yourself turning up at school prepared for an English paper only to find out that it’s Mathematics that day! As horrifying as those dreams are, they remain in the domain of dreams. This one however, is based on an oft repeated experience; the frustration and the despair remembered, not imagined.
Being a Fattie, I have had much time to ponder over the variables of dressing up. I have come to the conclusion that if one is a fattie, and not a nudist, one would fall into one of three distinct categories; “The Wall Flower Fattie”, “The Offensive/Repulsive Fattie” and “The Creative Fattie”. Not that these are water tight compartments; most probably fall into each at different times.
The Wall-Flower Fattie is the nondescript one. He is the one who has a wardrobe full of things that sort of fit and are probably bought for the very same reason. As there is no personal input in the selection of the clothes; they lack character. Those are then probably thrown on with a sense of “what’s the point anyway!” and not surprisingly therefore, the way this fattie looks is never remarked upon. All of us, being the vain creatures that we are, are suckers for compliments. The one joy this fattie has never probably experienced is the joy of being complimented on his looks. When compared to the next one, one might think that it is a good thing.
“Yuck! Look at that!”
“What? Who are you talking about?”
“There baba…that girl over there. Sheesh, how can anyone dress like that?”
“Oh, yeah. Yuck! What was she thinking? Didn’t she look into a mirror before stepping out?”
It was intriguing enough that I looked. I saw a definitely overweight girl, wearing low slung jeans and a greenish-blue spaghetti strapped top that just barely covered her belly button. Needless to say, rolls of fat hung over the waist of the jeans and the spaghetti straps didn’t help the flabby arms and overflowing bosom. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t repulsed - I just saw. However, it was intriguing to notice that my friends were in equal parts repulsed and embarrassed. I found that curious. I can also acknowledge that we judge things by a certain aesthetic standard. Now, I don’t mean skinny v/s fat. I mean that there’s a certain intangible something that makes certain things beautiful and others not, some objects aesthetically pleasing and others very definitely not. Philosophers have long debated what that something might be, yet nothing has been concretised yet. Form? Symmetry? Content? Colour? Contrast? Dramatic effect? Proportion? Ah well, it’s all very subjective, yet we seem to be able to instinctively and collectively assign “beautiful” to some things. Rolls of fat; blatantly displayed, without shame and concern for appearances, very definitely fall into the other category. Hence, the revulsion. As much as I could intellectually and even instinctively acknowledge that she didn’t display her body most aesthetically, I couldn’t join in the derision (warranted or not). After all, it could have been me.
I don’t know if that day the girl felt self-conscious of the way she looked, if she thought she didn’t look very good, if she felt comfortable wearing what she was or if she genuinely liked herself in those clothes - fact is that she offended a lot of people. Such is the plight of the offensive fattie; he is never sure what will offend. Some might be offended by rolls of flesh in plain sight, others by tight clothing, some by daringly displayed cleavage or a clearly outlined beer belly, and yet others would take umbrage at the mere fact of them being different. No matter where he draws the line, if at all he draws one; there will always be someone who is offended and someone else who is repulsed.
This is the stuff those nightmares are made of because no matter how much you want to express yourself through your attire, or to feel well-dressed, or put-together an outfit you like – fact is that sometimes you will utterly, miserably fail. Not because you don’t know how, but because you will have no choice! Therein lies the need for creativity; to make sure the instances when you succeed outnumber the times you fail. One reason that’s important is considering these are the creative types, when they succeed they usually make a statement or draw compliments; when they fail however, it rarely escapes the radar, and lands squarely in the “What in hell was he thinking?” category. Needless to say, that’s not nice.
It takes creativity and resolve to not give in when faced with the fact that there just isn’t enough choice for you out there. For some reason, clothing manufacturers overlook the fact that you exist. The ones that specifically target you; the plus-size, full-bodied segment of their consumer demographic…feel that the most appropriate clothing for you would be tents. Seriously - ill-fitting, shapeless tents.
Dressing up for a party you know of in advance will give you a glimmer of hope, after all you sure can find SOMETHING in a week? Thus will begin a search for that elusive dress or a skirt or a sexy top. You will find a skirt you like, but no top that fits will match with it. You will find a dress that slips easily over your bosom but rides up your backside. More often you will find one that you know if only you can slip it past your best asset, it will fit perfectly. Finally, you will end up with a skirt and a top in a risqué colour combination…it’s not classic, but hey, it works…or er, does it?
There is this one time I remember finding a lovely black full-length skirt with a bold pattern of roses snaking across it. I just couldn’t find a top to go with it! So I wore a black spaghetti on it, and over it draped my mother’s shawl that happened to be the exact same shade as the roses. I then secured it with safety pins, so it would work instead of a top. That gave it a charming kimono-ish effect. I knew that it had worked when I walked into the auditorium with my parents (it was a play that we had to go for) and received a text message almost immediately, “I don’t know what the hell it is that you’re wearing, but it looks really good on you!” It turned out that a guy friend was sitting in the crowd.
The times that we don’t find that creative solution and are stuck with clothes that are not what we would go for, but ok, they aren’t bad either; we run to accessorise. Those amazing pair of earrings, a nice bangle, a great bag, a quirky scarf, or shoes…oh man, the shoes! God help you though, if you are fat AND have big feet. I also remember doing nail art, having a pierced nail, and wearing big elaborately painted bindi’s.
The one time I remember clearly landing in the “what was she thinking?” category (and no, I didn’t realise it when I got dressed. I thought I looked fine!) was when one day in college I was feeling a bit 60’s! So I wore a pale pink skirt that was a slim-fit till the knees and then flared, teamed it with a white sleeveless top and a shrug (honestly, that was the only top that matched), tied a pink and white striped scarf around my hair (head band style) and finished with platform shoes and PINK FEATHER EARRINGS! Clearly, something about that may have been a little over the top. “What are you WEARING?” in an incredulous tone, was what most friends favoured as a greeting to me that day. Ah well, you win some you lose some. After all, everyone loved it when I dressed up as the sea! ;)
The absolute worst however is getting dressed for an impromptu outing. When a friend calls and asks you, “Hey, we’re catching the 9:30 show. See you there in an hour?” you know you are doomed. You stand there looking into your almirah hoping that something would click, because, you know, the one pair of jeans you own is in washing and it’s not as simple as throwing on the first matched set that you pull out. There is no such thing as matched sets! If there is one thing I wish for, it is for non-fatties to realise that fact.
Dressing up is not fun. Actually the lead up to it is so exasperating that any fun that might have been had, quickly winds down to a brisk let’s get this over with attitude. There are a few times that I have been reduced to tears, literally. All the joy and exuberance of looking forward to a dance or a party or meeting friends for dinner slowly ebbing away in the face of the realisation that you have nothing to wear! Nothing you would like to anyway. The discarding of dress after dress after dress till you find something that will “do”. Ah, but when you do find something, and once you’re dressed, the joy slowly creeps back in.
Sometimes or someday, however, it will not be so difficult. Or mayhap you will have reached a pinnacle of spiritual evolution and will simply not care about being appropriately dressed. You will feel pretty and look pretty. You will look like you. You will brush off the effort of “finding” something, and take joy in primping up when something is found. You will dress for yourself, the best you can, and will not be weighed down by considerations of what you do not have or cannot do. There will be no effort involved in keeping up the morale. That day you will notice something curious.
When you look away from the mirror and look at another person standing next to you; a mother, a sister, a friend perhaps, and you joyously ask, “So, how do I look?” You will be greeted with a response of “Jaisi hai waisi hi lagegi na!” (You will look only as you are!) This will either be with spoken with embarrassed briskness or pained honesty. Oh well, the phrase you hear may well be different, but probably not the sentiment. You will then realise that you are expected to KNOW you aren’t beautiful, not in the physical sense anyway. You could be that when you do lose weight, but till then, you are not. And those who love you the most will probably be the ones to remind you of the fact with utmost frequency and sincerity. You are expected to know and to feel duly ashamed. Why you will notice it then is because till the time you don’t truly believe that the physical fact of being over-weight aside, your worth isn’t tied to your body mass; what they are saying will only be an echo of your deepest sentiments. You won’t be able to differentiate because yours, theirs and everyone else’s opinion will echo the culture of ignominy being Fat breeds in.
Some tell me there’s nothing wrong in that. That it is the best form of self-motivation; temporary self-loathing, or shame or the insidious ignominy. I don’t think I could ever see eye to eye on that.
I have a cousin. She’s one of the most phenomenal people I know. When I am compared to her in family gatherings, and I usually am, I feel proud. She has also been on one diet or the other for as long as I can remember. She has been THIN, really thin, then gained weight, then lost some, then put it back on – over and over and over again. The last time I saw her was at our sister’s wedding. She had flown in from a far way off, she was excited to meet with her family, and she was over the moon with joy at the prospect of seeing her sister be married…it was most heart-warming! She had brought with her a choice collection of the most beautiful of sarees to wear for the occasion. She had matching accessories with each. She was oh so excited. She had also put on quite a lot of weight since the last time we saw her.
As is customary, everyone had a “let’s try out our outfits” before the big day session. When she wore the saree, no one saw awesome, nor did they see her. They saw the weight. The people who loved her most looked her square in the eye and asked her if she had lost her mind. Fat people do not look good in sarees they said. (The exquisite nature of those be damned, so be damned the care and joy that went into picking those out) No, you are not going to wear that. What has become of you? Look at yourself! Do you need to be told all of this? Don’t you know it for yourself? First, the joy evaporated. Then she cried. They had words. Then she agreed and gratefully allowed one of the others to accompany her on a shopping trip to buy material for a salwar-kameez and gave it to be stitched in one day flat. My awesomely phenomenal cousin whom I love dearly; who’s the life of every family gathering, hugely independent, successful in her career, and happily married.
Of course, I wasn’t there when all this transpired. It happened in the one day I missed being there because I was stuck at work. It was my mother, who upset by the incident, called me to vent. She reckoned that I would have had something to say about that had I been there. I got there. I too had put on a lot of weight since the last time they saw me. I went through my share of lamentations with them. I heard too that I need be ashamed. I nodded assent. Then proceeded to wear the saree I had picked out for the wedding.
No one can tell me that it is better to lose weight because I am motivated by shame and disgust, that it is good if I look into the mirror and hate what I see. Especially if I can achieve the same objective, because I love myself so.
-The Fat Chick