'They Would Call Me Baby Elephant': 4 Women On Being Fat-Shamed – HerZindagi English
Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault
Being body-shamed, especially for being fat, is an everyday reality for a lot of women. “Your arms have become chubby”, “You should exercise more”, “Don’t eat too much food”, and “You can’t run” are not casual statements, they can be triggering to hear. They can evoke insecurities that can last a lifetime.
Fat-shaming can deteriorate one’s self esteem and create a negative body image. This perception is only enhanced with movies and television shows where women see models and actors with “perfect” (tall, thin, and fair) body types and shapes.
Advertisements promote conventional body standards by not only hiring slim models, but also by promoting products that can “help one lose weight fast”. Commonly called the diet culture, this phenomena conditions girls from a young age to look a certain way to be accepted by society.
Here are four women, who shared their personal stories about fat-shaming with us:
Pranshu Mishra, a Pune University student, said that she was always overweight. When she was in preschool, everybody considered her cute and chubby, but that changed over time. “As kids we are often pampered, however after a certain age this chubbiness turns into weight issues.”
In third grade, she wanted to feel included and appease her peers, instead she received rebukes. “Other students told me that I could not play with them in the recess period, so much so that they did not even share the ball.”
These comments were not only made by her peers though. Once during class, a teacher pointed out in front of the whole class that Mishra was overweight and needed to be more active.
Mishra wishes she could tell her teacher that she was in the football team too, which would negate her teacher’s incorrect assumption about her. She felt embarrassed and disturbed. This type of bullying affected her mental health. Other students would also make derogatory nicknames for her. “They would call me baby elephant.”
In highschool, Mishra went for a state-level football competition in Gujarat. “In the semi-finals, the other team players called her heavy and assumed that they would not win. They were so over confident,” she said. Funnily, the other team lost the match, which just proves that weight does not determine agility and strength.
Mishra was eventually diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) due to genetic factors and her stress levels. She felt under confident and that pushed her to develop an exercise regimen.
After shedding the kilos off her body, she advises others to exercise to be healthy. “One does not need to lose weight to look a certain way. The only fitness is working on your lifestyle habits.”
“How do I explain 25 years of my life to you living like this,” said Harshita Arora, a manager at HCL. At the mere age of seven, Arora’s mother used to take her to the gym. And then the kids in her class also started teasing her.
Arora’s mother also had the same body type, and all her insecurities were passed down to her along with it all. “My mother would share horror stories about her marriage–how her in-laws and husband discriminated against her which affected her happiness.”
Arora began understanding how her weight affected her relationships with her family and friends. At a dinner party for her mother’s birthday, Arora was wearing oversized clothing to feel comfortable, which led her aunt to remark on her appearance and say that she should give up western attire. Only this time Arora decided to speak up for herself and made her aunt go quiet.
After years of struggling, she has accepted who she is, but she feels that twinge of insult on a subconscious level. “When the stereotypically pretty and skinny girl while clicking a picture shares that she feels fat, I don’t understand how out of all the girls she gets to feel this way.”
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“Have you seen those teddy bears in Archies gallery which have a hefty price tag? I feel like one of those. People look at them, whisper something, and walk away,” said Pooja Sukhwani, a plus-size model.
Sukhwani is outspoken about her weight on social media and advocates for plus-size people, but as a child she was still struggling with body image issues.
She was a devotee of Lord Shiva and would volunteer at the local temple. “As I was sweeping the floor, the priest placed his private parts (on me) and lifted my skirt.” Sukhwani did not understand what was happening, but just felt something awkward behind her.
“I was innocent to believe that being religious would prevent such things from happening,” she said. Today, she recounts the event and feels that incident made her feel like a piece of flesh.
She also encounters various micro-aggressions on a daily basis. “There is always this one shopkeeper, who before even asking anything says ‘aapke liye nahi milega’ ( we don’t have clothes available for you).” Finally, when the shopkeeper did get clothes stitched for Sukhwani, he charged ₹10,000 extra.
She believes that the only unconditional love one can get is from a dog. “They don’t judge you on your size, shape, weight, colour, hair, or anything.”
Being a “daddy’s girl”, she feels that he would always understand her, however on the topic of marriage their views differ. “As much as I love and respect him, I don’t understand why he wants me to get married. He is scared as to who will marry me because of my weight.” Once, she liked a boy a lot, but he was extremely rude to her and exclaimed that she should go to the gym.
She said that even media portrayals are demeaning when it comes to representing fat people. “The show Decoupled on Netflix is supposed to be funny. In an episode it shows how the lead character’s ex-girlfriend is conventionally pretty from her upper-body, which makes him want to make his wife jealous. But, he wants to stop his wife from meeting her as she has a ‘big butt’.”
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Riya*, a mental health advocate, said that the drugs she uses for her mental health causes a lot of inactivity and lethargy. “I keep lying in bed in the mornings and do not feel like getting up.”
In turn, this has caused her to gain weight. When even her near and dear ones meet her they incessantly criticise this change. She has also internalised the constant remarks on her weight, which affects her mood. “I don’t even weigh myself anymore. Looking at the weighing machine makes me feel depressed.”
Her own husband and mother-in-law also make comments on her weight. The social-conditioning is such that her husband tells her to work on her fitness. The wedding season is a real torture for Riya as she finds the whole process of buying clothes strenuous.
Recently, this weight gain has fractured her intimate relationship with her husband. “I don’t think my husband considers me attractive anymore. I keep ruminating,” she said.
She feels the worst part is that things she should feel excited about, like beach holidays and vacations in expensive resorts, make her loathe the experience because of other’s perceptions of her body.
*Name was changed upon request for confidentiality
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