“You’re beautiful.” He told me as he picked me up from work one day. Granted, I was wearing one of my favorite dresses which looked flattering as it emphasized my curves quite well.
They call it curves– the slight depression on our sides, between a wide expanse of hip and thigh, traversing north towards where the valleys are. They call it curves, the semi-loop which defines the massive protrusion, half the moon, that is our butt. They call it curves, the soft lump of flesh coating one’s should-have-been narrow shoulders. Curves are classic, curves are beautiful, but I snapped at him-
“No, I’m fat! How can you not see that?!
This year marks the 13th year since I committed myself to never going back to the horrible situation I was, at 15. It started with heavy dieting, then not eating at all. I thought it’s normal when I had my first huge crush- huge, around the size of my high school uniform which barely fit anyone in my class because it’s beyond XL. Then I decided to stop eating, at all, and relied on fluids for days, while swimming at least 2 hours a day. I was on a bad shape and my paediatrician told me I will die if I didn’t eat. I didn’t budge. Then she told me I’d stop schooling if I get worse. So I decided to eat.
But when everyone’s away or asleep, up comes the incessant finger, toothbrush, hair brush, chopsticks, or just about anything that would trigger my gag reflex. This, followed by an overdose of laxatives and diuretics, right after.
I went home one day and fainted on the floor. I was rushed to the hospital and pumped with meds and sustenance I only saw in movies. I thought it’s normal, for years. My paediatrician didn’t tell me what it’s called, but she told my mom, and it made my mom cry.
Karen Carpenter had it, apparently. Mom loved the Carpenters. She loved me.
After weeks of consultation, I was told I’ll be alright 10lbs heavier from my lowest point. I felt alright, until I went back to wearing clothes my normal size. I thought I’ll be alright too, since my crush dumped me anyway and I felt all my efforts were futile. But I wasn’t, for long. Since I was brought back from the land of the dehydrated and dying, I’ve since developed an anxiety over swimsuits, shorts, and anything that will reveal ample skin because- with a normal BMI – I thought, and I’ve always felt that I am fat. I’m ugly.
He sighed his sigh of surrender, and said, “You’re not fat. And fat does not equate to not being beautiful.”
That night, I walked up my weighing scale and confirmed that I am exactly at the middle point of my normal BMI. I was once at the tail end of underweight, and while it is an obvious illness, I was proud of it. That night, I wished I were 5 pounds lighter. Or maybe 10. Or perhaps, I can be 73 pounds again?
It’s not just me who’s having these “first world, fat girl problems” in a developing country where being over 5’5” and below 110 pounds is the standard for beauty. I’m not the only one who went through months, then years of self-deprivation and extreme exertion to get that “beach body”, only to go smaller, then smaller still, because fitting in an XS is never enough.
Having people with whom you can share these things with in the early 2000s is quite hard, but with the rise of social media and connected networks, I was able to find people who shared the same curse- and who, like me, have been actively recovering, and fighting it since.
It is hard. Despite advocating body positivity and always being that pillar of strength people go to to ask for help when they feel ugly and not worthy of the term “pretty”, I can’t help but also succumb to the occasional state of self-doubt. And when I go to that stage, here are thoughts I have boldly written in my 2016 The Giving Journal that I always run to. It is written on one of the notes pages in March, before Viktor Frankl’s challenge to find one’s purpose, put it into action, and encourage others to do the same.
This March, I have committed myself to reminding every “fat bottomed girl” in my network who thinks less of themselves that they are beautiful individuals. Here are some of my realizations:
- “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful,” a line from Center Stage that my mom always quoted when I look healthy, but I’m having self doubts.
- Your vocabulary isn’t wider than the dictionary or the thesaurus. The word fat has never been a synonym for ugly, or worthless. Those are three different words, with vastly different definitions.
- Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Nobody is perfect enough to have the right to fat-shame or skinny-shame anyone.
- Being healthy doesn’t mean wearing a small dress size. It means taking care of yourself, having the right diet, doing the right and proper amount of activities, and being happily you- in all aspects. Being healthy also means having a sound mind and accepting your current state as a part of who you are, and not as your enemy.
- Being heavier doesn’t mean you’re ugly, either. The numbers on the scale, and how seemingly bloated or fluffy you feel for days, isn’t the sole validation of how good a person you are. Instead of worrying how many pounds you’ve gained after a lazy week, think about how many people you’ve helped realise their potential on the same week. Instead of trying to get to a much smaller dress size, focus on making your network much larger, and much stronger, so you can help more people who can help others too.
- Everyone deserves kindness, even yourself. Stop punishing yourself for something that’s not bad. Eating isn’t bad. Skipping your workout isn’t either. Depriving yourself of the joys of eating out with friends, going on an 80% water diet, sweating your ass off hours at a time in the gym to the point of throwing up may be a form of dedication… but doing this in a prolonged manner is almost self-torture.
- Genetics also play a role. We can’t always blame genetics for the things we eat and drink and don’t do, but there’s always a limit that your body can reach- and when you’ve reached this healthy limit, know in your heart that going lower conflicts the self-love you’ve worked so hard to build up.
- Being fat, staying fat, or losing some inches is a personal decision that shouldn’t be dictated by your partner, by friends, or by anyone else. You decide for yourself- not because it’s a requirement you have to do, or a way to be accepted.
- You can’t spell Femme Fatale without Fat. You can’t spell Fatal without Fat. No Infatuation. It is impossible to be 100% fat free and still exist and function as a human would. Our brain is made out of 60% fat (lipids, not adipose tissue). Fat was, is, and will always be part of the norms. Whoever changed its perception to something very negative wasn’t able to fathom its importance.
- So you’re fat. So you’re above your BMI scale. So you go to the plus size section. SO WHAT? As long as you do not have health problems, and you don’t cause other people’s inconvenience, then go enjoy life.
- So you’re single because they think you’re too big to be sexy, and they tell you you could’ve been beautiful, but you’re fat (a common quip by “concerned” relatives in reunions too). Your body isn’t theirs and their definition of beauty is well flawed. A queen does not concern herself with the opinions of peasants.
These 10 bullets help me while I’m in the verge of anxiety- after reading, and rethinking things. I feel a bit better (by 30%) and proceed to enjoying the rest of the day by 10% more… 20% more… these stack up, until I realize that hey, I shouldn’t have been hard on myself in the first place.
Got any similar experiences? Got personal notes that work? Share them back, and share them across your network. A younger version of me, or a more fragile version of you might be out there, drawing inspiration from body positive articles and photos she sees in the internet.
(And to me, from 13 years ago- kiddo, you won’t BELIEVE the adventures you had since you got your curves back. You’re able to take down a 160-pound adult in less than two minutes, and your kicks are excellent. You’re able to run after two pickpockets who stole your phone and physically arrest them before the guards came. Those fats, and muscles come in handy. Keep it up!)