Author's Note: This one is like a sunny monsoon morning; with skies like they've come fresh from the laundry and dappled sunlight filtering through the scattering clouds...
This duality that I realized I have been living with came as a surprise to me. The realization created deep anguish within me. I felt like the worst kind of step-mother; neglecting one child at the cost of the other. The neglected child being my body. Obviously. For those who may be tempted to assume that this neglect is caused by over eating or me engaging in “fat-inducing” behavior, I have two words; resist temptation. There’s more to my split personality than simply that. Allow me to explain.
At some point in my life my mind became analogous with “me” and my body just a vehicle to carry my haloed mind. Much like Descartes I have given some thought to the beginning of this duality in me – the mind versus the body. I remember while doing my masters in psychotherapy I was reading about the history of testing for intelligence and how the term “Idiot” was “scientifically” employed by psychologists to label “retards”. Once a child was labeled thus, that was it. No one would really expect him to be good at studies, or learn things easily. The smart children would repeatedly be favoured by the teachers and families, given opportunities for growth and achievement, unlike the dumb ones who’d have been a waste of time and resources. The idiots would get dumber and those who labeled them thus would go, “Aha! See?” There may have been no malice in those who neglected them thus, their parents may have loved them – but they were “idiots” and “idiots” they stayed.
My body and how I have perceived it as well as treated it may have suffered from a similar fate. Ever since I was a child I learnt that I was the smart one. I was independent, resourceful, logical, creative. I was good at writing and dancing, and cooking. I was the one who came first in class or at least in the top 5. As a child you learn to play to your strengths. Value the things you’re good at. Trade and bargain with your parents and your peers based on those. It is no surprise that I greatly value my ability to be creative and to intelligently interact with the world I inhabit. My body though, was the idiot. Definitely not my strength. I wasn't the pretty one. That would be my sister. Oh, I would be prettier than her if I lost weight apparently because I have sharper features, or so I was told. I never did though; never enough anyway. So I remained the intelligent one and she the pretty one. I was not the “sportsperson”, my sister was. That I always wanted to be, that I was the one to find Shaitan Singh bhaiyya and start learning basket ball with my friends didn't count. I wasn't built like a sports person and so sports continued to be something that’s “not for me”. If you've noticed a pattern here, a certain pandering to cliches and boundaries – of defining thin as beautiful, fat as unathletic, of restricting pretty to not very intelligent and intelligent as a compensation for not being beautiful– then you are spot on. Sadly, truth is that these points of views are deeply rooted in our collective conscience. A lot of people will probably not say so out loud, but our expectations, our subtle messages all point to the same bourgeois beliefs. And so it continued. Don’t get me wrong, I never felt “unpretty” or that I had been dealt a raw hand. If anything I continued to feel blessed for my many pursuits and interests in life, and I felt beautiful – I have beautiful eyes and an expressive face, a graceful carriage when I dance. The rest of my body I was apathetic about. I was neither ashamed nor proud of it. And more than anything I believed that I had the body I had and it was NOT my strength. Even my dancing was always perceived as a creative rather than a physical expression. My swimming was just another thing I did. All of this was just the way it was, and so it continued.
For the longest time I did not realize the extent to which I favoured my mind over my body; how disconnected I was from it, and how in so many subtle ways it cost me. The realization first began with an accident in which I broke my clavicle; into three pieces. (I just like specifying that! :P) For two months my left arm was completely immobilized. I had itchy armpits, from the figure of eight brace, that I couldn’t scratch. I couldn’t wear most kinds of clothes. I couldn’t pull up my jeans one handed (I figured a way in which I could use the doorknob to hold it up on one side as I pulled on the other, but it took me a while). I could not ride my bike. I could not chop vegetables to cook. Even washing my ass became an exercise in ingenuity! It was a very physical space for me to be in and every living moment brought me more in touch with the fact that this body is MINE, and it does more than just house my brain.
The second phase was when I had debilitating back pain. For about 6 months it severely limited my functionality. The severity of it broke my back – metaphorically speaking. The proud independent me was smacked in the face with the realization that the bloody back is literally the core of my being. I could not sit, stand, walk or lie down for the pain. I couldn’t walk to the loo or stand up to get a drink of water. I have had to drag myself on the floor to get from one place to another and if not for people who supported me then I would probably have starved to death in my bed. It sounds dramatic, and it was. It added and expanded my awareness of my body. It taught me the sheer joy of being able to move; to will my body into action. It’s almost as exhilarating as if I had wings. To be able to bike without back pain, to be able to walk around as you shop, to go about the simple joys of living – my body is me. It is my expression, my vitality. It is freedom – as vital to my being as my mind and my intellect.
Finally now, I seem to be in a phase where the realization is going beyond the “aha moments” into significant change in my perception and action. This momentum is all thanks to this blog and to the whole “being fat” exploration. The things you learn when you think you know what to expect! The things I have been learning about nutrition, and fat, and being fat and the reflection of that new learning in my experience of fatness; frankly it has me crying bitter tears of remorse for the “idiot fat body” and laughing with joy at the relief and freedom I am now experiencing. To learn that athletic ability has little to do with body weight, that body weight has little to do with real health problems, that healthy eating and healthy exercise/movement is the antithesis of dieting and excruciating workout regimes – to KNOW, and not arbitrarily believe it. To KNOW about how the body works, how nutrition works and to KNOW that fat is not equal to “lacking willpower” or discipline. And to know that I can honour my body and be athletic and have stamina, eat well and live large – with whatever body size and shape I have or will end up with - it is freeing. In fact, I remember watching a ted talk on the “aesthetics of prosthetics” and seeing how the handicap factor of a handicap comes primarily from it being “different” from the expected norm. Even having no limbs would be a handicap only so long as we kept looking at it from the framework of four limbed bodies being the norm. So it is with the handicap of “fat”, it exists only so long as arbitrary thinness is the norm it is pitted against. I will write more about this in the subsequent chapters but the relevant point here is that I am coming to truly own my body now. I am learning to call myself out when I operate from unchallenged assumptions. Or when I beat myself up for things I really shouldn’t be beating myself about! The freakiest example of it is that I don’t feel fear for myself. It is the most ridiculous thing and I know the reasoning behind it is more than flawed –but when I go out at night or bike long distances or work in “unsafe” areas I never fear sexual assault. I don’t get over that fear and do it – I just don’t feel that fear, because who’ll rape a fatso anyway? I am aware of this for some time now. I marvel at how this disregards all I know about rape and sexuality and what not – but there it is! I don’t miss the fear, and now that I have challenged the faulty premise, I am happy to keep the fearlessness and discard the underlying belief of fat=unattractive (and unattractive = “un-rape-able”, ugh!). (Just typing it makes me feel green around the gills – I KNOW how fucked up that is!)
This process of unification of mind and body is thrilling, and peace inducing. I don’t tell of the fattesian dualism with regret. It has been what it has been. With my “identity” of creative and intelligent I have gone out and left no stone unturned in my pursuit of knowledge. I have allowed myself to grow and most importantly I have sought growth - intellectual, social, emotional. I have reveled in it. I have loved myself. And now…I have a whole lot more of me to love, pamper and nurture. I am free to be athletic. I am free to be sexy, and attractive. I am free to honour and respect my body rather than punish and judge it, or ignore it altogether. Now I have a whole world of experience open to me to help my body reach its fullest potential - because it is mine, it is me. There’s no more the fattesian dualism splitting me into unequal halves – there's just ME.
~The Fat Chick
P.S - Also, to all my fellow fatties, I say…it may just be time to check whether we are in tune with our bodies, whether we are positively engaging with them. Not neutrally – but positively. It may be time for fatties to unify, in more ways than one!