People who profess to know me have often told me that my belly may be big, but my personality is bigger. Thereby implying that when a person first meets me they are able to see beyond my being fat, to the person I am and generally like me for it. I am humbled at the consideration proffered me.
Another time, when I had lost a considerable amount of weight, I ran into a senior from college whom I didn’t quite remember but she did me. I’m hard to miss. (Pun intended) So, she spots me, says hello and goes on to say, “You’ve lost a lot of weight, haven’t you? I always admired you in college. I remember how you used to be EVERYWHERE, doing everything, flitting all over the campus; never conscious of your weight!” I was lost for a response, but I managed a thank you.
As much as I truly appreciate the people and the intent behind these statements, and I do; it is only now that I am coming to fully appreciate the kind of prejudice that there is implicit in those.
By now I mean after having conceived of The Ignominy of Being Fat.
As a writer, an idea after it makes itself known to me, festers in the recesses of my brain for a while. There it marinates in the juices of my imagination; absorbing flavor. Thereafter, I begin talking about it. In conversation with people I think may act as condiments and spices to the marinating idea, it evolves. Only then do I sit in front of a computer screen, hammering away at the keyboard, presenting with élan, the finished product. As with most ideas, if it is a continuing piece, it gathers flavor, depth and dimension with each subsequent offering.
Seldom, if ever, has it so happened that the idea gets completely taken over; or rather it takes me over to the extent that I know I have no control over all that is going to be unearthed and expressed.
The Ignominy of Being Fat has been one such idea. It started simply enough. I am fat. I am in the process of getting healthier of which losing weight is a part. I realized being fat goes way beyond the extra weight we carry. I simply wanted to share the experience of having lived my life being “fat”. It was meant to be a tribute to the fat girl I know I will always be, no matter what number the weighing machine shows.
It is no longer just that and it started changing the moment I began talking about the idea. The second step of my process, if you remember. It was phenomenal. I felt and still do feel like Jack must have upon discovering the magic beanstalk!
Cutting to the chase; here’s what happened. The more I spoke to people; the more they had to say to me. The fellow fatties spoke with such impassioned fervor it felt as if a dam had been let open. These conversations happened over the internet, on the phone, across a table with a cup of coffee. Some of them shared experiences that we could both laugh over; with many I realized the pent up frustration in being labeled fat and all that goes with it is much the same for all of us; with ALL of them I realized that Being FAT is not spoken about – not in so many terms.
Our Being Fat is couched in euphemistic terms by strangers or acquaintances; thus showing their good breeding and social tact. By the most well-bred, the fact of our being fat will be conscientiously avoided in conversation. It would be mortifying for them and therefore for us, if at all a topic is brought up; be it shopping, sex, sports, food, dance, exercise, and a gazillion more of them, that allude to the handicap afforded to us by our ginormous size. Unless of course we save the day by glossing over parts of our experience that is most personal, most real and most genuine to our interactions and engage in rhetoric that is mercifully fat free; and also impersonal and inauthentic. This superficial engagement that denies a very relevant factor of our social experience is one that replicates itself with even our friends and dear ones. It becomes a way of life.
Before I cast aspersions at this farcical façade that subtly undermines our being; I must look at what the alternative scenario looks like. Every time we start speaking from the heart and are frankly direct with our friends and family, often we are greeted with one of three automatic responses. Either we hear a sympathizing pep talk about how we should not let our self-confidence flag and/or how looks are not everything. Or we hear bitter recriminations about how it is all our fault and largely “undoable” and we should stop complaining and do something about our weight; all in the name of tough love. Lastly, there will be those who will tch tch in sympathy and nod along, then list out all the EASY ways in which one can lose weight and keep it off. My god, the condescension inherent in that; it stumps me how they don’t see it.
Seeing this, well, the euphemisms suddenly start looking good.
The biggest thing that I realized however isn’t as easy as making the choice between continuing to pretend with a world that seems determined to look the other way or to suffer the indignity of well-intentioned advice that presupposes a shameful condition in you. The horror that I was faced with as I spoke to more and more people is that for a lot of us it isn’t easy talking about being fat. Talking about being fat isn’t just about making the choice to confront people with the reality of our experiences but also about looking into the mirror and not finding anything to be SHAMEFUL about.
I was shocked at how many of us can not truly do that. I thought I had it bad, with that constant frustration of interacting with a society that sent me subtle and not so subtle messages about the shame of being fat. I thought I had it bad constantly battling messages of “you won’t be good enough until you lose weight” or “fat is ugly” or “fat is sinful” or “it is your fault” and a multitude of such gems. I thought I had it bad with having my naïve belief of “yeah, I’m fat, so what does that say about me apart from the fact that I have a few kilo’s to shed? Nothing” shattered by the reality that even if I don’t think it matters, a lot of people do; a lot of them with the power to hurt and undermine me. I thought I had it bad; turns out not as bad as someone who believes it of themselves.
That is what shocked me most. The number of people who cannot use the word fat to describe themselves; notwithstanding the obvious fact of them being overweight. Those who join in the hypocrisy of the euphemisms because it is safe. Those who believe that they will not be good enough till they do lose weight. Those who truly believe that they need to feel shameful about what they look like and what they look like is who they are! My god – was I shocked! The funny bit was that these people who felt that way were not a particular extreme of fat…these were people of varied weights between 60 to a 105. I remember humourlessly laughing about how my “ideal weight” is 65!
Then there are the non-fatties I spoke with; most of them my friends and acquaintances. I think they were actually quite happy to be talking to a person around whom they did not feel the need to tiptoe around the topic of being fat or feel like they were walking on eggshells; afraid of saying something hurtful or politically incorrect. I must again point out how that in itself is testament to the whole “culture of ignominy” that I keep talking about; one would not feel that way unless they saw it as existing. For instance, if I truly believed that being black was no different than being any other colour of human or if indeed there wasn’t a prevalent prejudice against “being black” then I wouldn’t think twice about “describing” a person as black. If the concept of race and racial superiority did not exist, it would be impossible for me to think in terms of political correctness or incorrectness.
Having said that, I must concede, as with race, so with being fat – the concept does exist. Hence exists the possibility of being politically incorrect. Therefore, I guess those of my friends are somewhat justified in their relief. I must also concede that conversations that begin at that point are some of the most “sensitizing” and “illuminative” that I, and in fact they, have ever had.
Then there are the Fat Nazis! They are those who are intolerant of anybody who does not fit their idea of what is normal. They are the ones who cause the proliferation of Fat HATRED! (Oh yes, that was another thing that shocked me. Just Google “fat chick” or “fat people” and see for yourself the amount of vitriolic garbage you come across. And don’t forget the images. Priceless gems; all of them.) These aren’t the ones who inadvertently fell in line with “hate fat people” propaganda, or were brainwashed by social conditioning into associating shameful with fat people; no these are the ones who truly believe that being fat is a character defect. Their mind I believe may never be changed. Nor would they be interested in being sensitized or raising their awareness. Hence, they do not deserve space or attention here, or anywhere else for that matter.
Lastly, armed with the knowledge of how so many fat people BELIEVE that they are sub-standard human beings or that they lack something fundamental that denies them basic dignity of being OR that there are so many more of them who even though they don’t really believe this non-sense anyway find it difficult to break out of years of social conditioning that tells them otherwise, I looked around and saw how very insidious the “social conditioning” is. More and more the fog began to clear and there shrouded in the mist I could make out something large and solid. What was it? Was it a house? Was it a hill? No…it was an Elephant! An elephant fed and watered by the festering shame in the belly of fat people who carry around embarrassment somewhere deep in their being, by the conviction bubbling in the veins of all of those who think to even talk about the ignominy of being fat as if it’s a real issue is slightly bonkers; for them it isn’t an issue – it’s just real. And lastly by the utter apathy and resolute indifference of those who continue to be a part of this culture of ignominy that systematically denies a huge number of people, yes, human people (:P), the dignity of being.
This brings me back to where I started, with anecdotal evidence of well-meaning people and their well-intentioned remarks stemming from something profoundly sinister; a culture of ignominy that breeds intolerance.
The ignominy of being fat, along with all its readers and supporters, is here to break the silence. To get those big Bollywood special effect fans to blow away the mist and shout at the elephant comifily sitting there, “SURPRISE!!!! WE SEE YOU!”
~The Fat Chick
P.S- I would much appreciate, if all those reading this, and nodding their heads along; all those who have spoken to me personally, written to me about this, and those who are thinking of doing so, would do so in the comments section of this page or would join in the discussion on the Facebook page BEING FAT.
Some of you will undoubtedly find it uncomfortable. To that I’d say, do it anyway; it’s time! The question is simple? Have you noticed, experienced or participated in any “Being Fat” moments? If so….tell us!