If you are imagining me standing amid empathetically nodding, generously proportioned fellow fatties, all of whom you expect are at any moment going to respond with an encouraging chorus of Hi Gurleen, then you are mistaken. I must apologise for causing the confusion. After all, it’s not unexpected that you might imagine a statement like that to be a precursor to an introduction about a rehabilitation program helping fatties to stay on the straight and narrow. A platform to laud the efforts of those who are trying to mend their lives; who recognize the utter depravity of a continued “fat-laden” existence; who dream of one day being past their days of gluttony and sloth. Oh, and of course, that would be the healthy way to be.
I therefore realize that the very subjective sense in which I used the statement (which I would like to believe is a product of deep insight and genius level profundity) is not apparent. Allow me to rectify the situation.
My name is Gurleen and I am Fat, just like I am Indian. Similarly, I am also a woman, a Punjabi and living in the 21st Century, among a number of other things. In a fit of naiveté and callousness I may well declare factors such as these irrelevant to who I truly am, and in an intellectual utopia I may be right. These however are immutable facts defining my being simply by providing the framework within which I exist. These provide me with the perspective from which I experience my being; whether I am conforming to the concepts or facts these represent, fighting against them, or trying to forge a unique identity besides these. Sartre called it facticity.
To simplify the matter, look around.
Ever been part of a mixed group where two (or more) people of Marathi descent find each other and suddenly burst into incomprehensible (to the others) cackle oblivious to the dazed looks of their fellows? The same would be true of two malayali’s or gujju’s or…well, you get the drift. Such is the draw of a common tongue that repeated reminders of the fact of their incomprehensibility wouldn’t deter them from cracking jokes (which when you ask to be explained would be shrugged off with a “Well, there really isn’t an English equivalent of such and such word or phrase.”), or sharing anecdotes or lapsing into it in the midst of a heated debate
I won’t even try to describe the sense of profound relief a Punjabi would feel in finding a fellow Punjabi to share in his “WTF moment” when he finds himself in a place and surrounded by people who actually wake up early, do proper pooja’s, don’t consume alcohol and don’t eat non-vegetarian food on the “auspicious” festival of Diwali. Also expected, are nostalgic remembrances of “real Diwali’s” back home when friends and family would gather at home in the evening, may or may not do a perfunctory pooja, and then the festivities would begin; flowing alcohol, multiple varieties of chicken, mutton, sometimes fish and almost always rajma/chole/maa ki daal, matar-paneer, card games and the customary “let’s go all out” fireworks! Sigh, the delight.
Then there are the “I love my India” moments one is wont to feel every once in a while. Especially when coming across a fellow Indian on foreign soil. (Not that that is uncommon.) I do feel that the sentiment is immortalized by Anupam Kher’s retort to the caustic comment directed his way by Amrish Puri in the film Dilwaale Dulhania Le Jayenge, “Hum toh hindustaan ko apne dil mein liye ghoomte hain…”
Also, many of my non-Indian friends have found relief in shared wonder/chagrin/indignation as they discuss observations like how a lot of Indians tend to measure distance in time. Yeah, it bamboozles them when you reply with, “Oh, just about 20 minutes.” to “How far is A from B?” Or the infamous Indian nod! The number of times they have to ask, “Is that a yes or a no?” apparently gets old real quick. Then there’s how strangers are addressed as Aunty or Uncle as a matter of routine.
One’s religious background, nationality, communal roots, language and gender most often have a strong influence on one’s sense of identity. They also bind together those sharing one or more of these in a strong sense of community. A sense of community that I believe comes from a shared “culture”.
Ask your trusty friend Wikipedia and it will tell you that culture is that which distinguishes life in one group from life in another group; mental content, norms, institutions and physical objects, among other qualities.
Coming from that, I am more FAT than I am an Indian, or a Punjabi or (very definitely) a woman. Being over-weight may be a health hazard, obesity might be a disease, but FAT is a community and being Fat is a psycho-social phenomena.
I realized a curious thing about being FAT though, having been a life-long fattie. Most communities engender in their people a sense of pride and belonging. What else would qualify the over-zealous acknowledgement of the same? Being Fat, however, most often breeds a sense of ignominy. Which, leads most people to avoiding the acknowledgement of the fact altogether. I need not point to how utterly rude the epithet “Fat”, especially if it is fact, is considered. I’ve enjoyed many a chuckle over the more colourful and inventive phrases; “khaate peete ghar ke”, pleasantly plump, generously proportioned, voluptuously beautiful, chubby, big-boned, plus-sized, full-figured…and what not.
Such is the personal shame and social embarrassment in open acknowledgement of the physical fact that often fellow Fatties don’t acknowledge even each other. Now isn’t that tantamount to treason? Seriously, imagine being on foreign soil, coming across a fellow national and resolutely refusing to refer to each other’s very marked sameness. That the sameness is marked is one thing that can’t be challenged. No matter where a Fattie is from, we have all heard, seen, felt and experienced life from a very similar viewpoint; that of being fat. It may have influenced us positively or negatively, but influenced us it has. That is our shared culture; from dating, to eating, to shopping, to sex, to family functions, to interfering relatives, jeering strangers, weight-loss plans, and so much more.
Being Fat means we have been in some very amusing scenarios, some hilarious ones. It means we have had some very quirky experiences, and some poignant ones. Like every community we have our stereotypes. Like every community we can either take offense, or take them with a pinch of salt. The thing with taking the salt is that it leaves us free to fun around with the big noses on which those stereotype tinted glasses rest. The humour we add to the recipe guarantees our hearts and conscience remain light, if not our bodies. With a light heart we are more likely to see ourselves clearly; see to the person behind the weight, observe the interaction of that weight with our society, and the resultant dynamic that we know as the community of FAT that so influences our identity.
Henceforth, every time the word FAT is used, it will be used to mean the sense of community, identity and psycho-social phenomena just described. (As opposed to the physical fact of being over-weight, unless specified.)
Fattie is a word being used to describe a person who belongs to the aforementioned FAT community.
This brings us to what The Ignominy of Being Fat series is all about.
The Ignominy of Being Fat is an exploration of the experience of being Fat. This is an offering I share with Fatties and non-fatties alike. Fatties can only exist together with non-fatties. Without them, we cease to exist. Hence, to talk about one is to talk about the other.
Through this series I hope to capture the ignominy of being fat and serve it to you with a healthy dose of humour and the customary pinch of salt. I endeavor to communicate, sensitively and accurately the nature in general, and my experience in particular of being Fat.
What I hope to achieve through it is simple really; to chronicle my journey of weight loss.
Today I weigh 112 kilos in my stockinged feet. The challenge is to lose 50 kilos in the next one year.
It’s going to be a mighty tussle, one I admit I am looking forward to with much trepidation; and even more excitement. I am curious to observe how it might change my perspective and experience of the world. In fact, losing 50 kilos is almost like losing a person. This chronicle in its entirety is also an ode; a dedication to that person – The Fattie.
I hope you will cheer me on as I travel this path. I hope that you will laugh with me as we reminisce and examine some of the more ticklish aspects of being fat, while allowing yourself to feel the poignancy of the parts less so. Lastly, I hope, this journey will make the experience of life richer; for fatties and non-fatties alike.
I know that it definitely will for me, after all, no matter how much weight I lose; being Fat will remain a part of me. Much like Chandler said to Monica, “Ah, you’re still just a little fat girl inside aren’t you?”
-The FAT Chick