Being fat is not something that I’ve come to terms with; it is still a word I hate using for myself or for anyone else. I have been told at various times in my life that the word ‘motu’ is used endearingly, with no concern for the fact that it pierces like an arrow.
What does it mean to fall in love as a fat girl? For me, the struggle has been primarily to accept that I am worthy and deserving of love. I was fat before I hit puberty. I don’t remember a time I haven’t been fat, and I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been told — that it is only out of concern for my health that family members, friends, and even the occasional stranger tell me — to lose weight. But I don’t think I realised what it would mean for my love life until I started thinking about boys in a romantic way.
At 13, I realised I was supposed to be interested in boys. I wasn’t for a while longer, but it was the ‘done’ thing, so I also picked a seemingly acceptable person and made a convincing story of why he was the object of my affections. Initially, since I had not been present in the class where I presume they explained what crushes are, I thought that was the end of that. I liked a fella, if asked, I could point to him, and so had the ticket to the hormone show all around me. Eventually it dawned that there were some additional steps like ‘going out’ and so on.
It was at this stage it became apparent that my body was a bit of a ‘disadvantage’, to put it mildly. It continued in this vein for a few years: no one really told me that being fat was a problem, but I could see from my interactions with boys that it was. I was told I ‘waddle’ when I walk, I insisted on wearing clothes that were three sizes too big, I was aware in an inchoate way that my body was affecting my interactions with boys.
Wait, this is not a story about the world trying to put me down while I remained steadfast and confident in my worth. This piece is not full of anecdotes of other people being cruel to me (even though some have been) because my struggle with my weight has been mostly internal. No one made me hate my body, but at the same time, everyone did.
Once when I was still in school I decided to take up a very drastic diet or decided to stop eating entirely, or some other idiotic thing, and my friends got completely up in arms about it. It was quite sweet, really, but even then, despite their support and affection, I didn’t quite believe them when they said I was perfectly fine as I was. I know why I didn’t believe them: partially because it is impossible for someone who is not obviously overweight to understand how being fat affects your daily interactions with the world; and partially because of the ever-present doubt I had about my self-worth. I would say that this is the biggest struggle that falling in love brought with it — I had to accept that I was worth loving, and it was a shockingly difficult journey.
But among my many privileges, and despite my ‘fatness’, falling in love has been my greatest privilege.
I’d be lying to myself if I pretended that it does not make me happy to have found love as a fat person. I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that there is a special pleasure in having found it when others who have every ‘advantage’ of beauty, haven’t. I know that doesn’t paint me in the best light, but I’d be lying if I said I never resented my skinny friend when she talks about how “she needs to lose weight” or when my beautiful friend cries about how “she never looks good in photos”. I know what you are thinking: just because I think she’s beautiful and skinny does not mean she does not have her insecurities to deal with. And most of the time, I know that’s true.
Most of the time, I can look my friend in the eyes and tell her that I think she’s perfect but if she wants to lose some weight maybe it’s a good idea to take up some form of exercise. Most of the time, my friend’s complaints about not looking good in photos only encourage me to take better pictures of her, but not always. Sometimes, when I have just come back from five hours of shopping where I have found perhaps two things that fit me and none that look good, sometimes when I have just endured another talk with a concerned relative about my ‘health’ — I want to look at that beautiful, skinny friend and scream. And it is in those moments of weakness, in those moments of self-hate, that I find myself relishing that I have something she doesn’t.
Why am I talking about myself at my malicious moments instead of talking about my struggles and how valiantly I push through them, eating apples and doing crunches? Because I’m tired of the two-dimensional, stereotypical life that fat people have to live. I cannot speak for everyone, but for myself — I’m tired of the fat sympathetic friend I’m supposed to be, the ever-apologetic fat person who apologises for the space she takes up by telling all and sundry about her new diet plan and her new exercise regime. I’m tired of the jolly fat friend who uses her own body as a punchline before anyone else can and pastes a pained smile on her face when people tell her she’s so brave to wear a short dress.
Let’s instead talk about love.
I met my partner in college. We had been friends, of sorts, for a long time before we started dating, and we started emailing initially over shared interests: TV shows, books and many other things. Being law students, we connected on serious issues like our views on the death penalty, socialism, feminism; and at the same time, we also connected over our shared sense of humour, something which is still one of our strongest bonds. I remember that the first email he sent me was about a show we both enjoyed, which was being renewed for Yahoo after having been cancelled.
For about three months, we talked primarily via email. Occasionally, we would go out, watch a movie or get drinks, but we emailed multiple times a day. Recently, going over our email threads, I found that in the first 6 months, we had sent over 5,000 emails. Some short one-liners, some others, long and full of silly and endearing details.
Every time we met, my sense of connecting with him, of falling for him would grow stronger, but still struggling with the idea of someone having romantic feelings towards me, I kept assuming that our relationship was entirely platonic. He was, and still is, so different from the kind of people I was used to, especially the men I know. Most of the men I knew when I was in college were the kind to rate any and all women out of 10 and consider it fair to ‘play devil’s advocate’ to feminists just for the sake of an argument; who would think nothing of bullying classmates in the name of pranking a friend. Two of my close male friends at the time (fortunately no longer in my life) were prime examples of such behaviour.
So the fact that he had an incredible sense of humour but never made someone else the butt of his joke, the fact that he had never looked at a woman with a 10-point scale, was probably why I first started falling for him. It was a novel experience for me in other ways as well, because for the first time I actually was in a position where someone could be showing romantic interest in me, but because I had no experience of it, I did not know how to read the signs. Eventually, I was convinced by my friends to give it a shot and to everyone’s surprise, most of all mine, I was the one to make the first move.
In a movie theatre, I kissed him. We were watching a terrible movie – Grown Ups 2. That was our thing, actually, and still is — we get drunk and watch absolutely horrendous movies like Chennai Express (one of the better ones), Blended, Heropanti, Main Tera Hero and so on. Having kissed him, which took a great deal of courage on my part, we spent the rest of the movie in a happy and awkward sort of daze. My excellent relationship with alcohol probably deserves some credit for this, and for that it has my eternal loyalty and thanks.
After the film was over and we were walking back, I asked him if we should talk about what happened and whether this was like a one-time thing or something more serious, and he looked completely lost. It seems in his mind we had already been dating for some time, he had just forgotten to inform me. (He told me later that he had wanted to express his feelings before but had lost his nerve.)
The sticky part of dating came at this point: having an intimate physical relationship with a person. That meant having to bare myself, quite literally, to someone else. There’s only so far you can get with a sucked-in stomach when it comes to sex. At some point, a girl needs to take a breath. I also was seeing naked bodies for the first time; not just his, but also my own. In a way, it was the perfect time to be introduced to my naked body, because I got to experience it from the lens of love and desire instead of self-hate and insecurity.
Before I started dating, and I was pretty late to the game, being 22 at the time and far behind most friends in terms of romantic experience, I had heard other people talk about theirs. Now that I was in the game, one in particular stood out for me. And that was of a friend who only ever got naked under dim lights or in the dark and would put on some clothes almost immediately after sex.
The reason it stood out for me so much was because despite having an objectively (so to speak) less attractive body, I never tried to dim the lights. Mostly due to the convenience of having an empty house during the day, my partner and I had sex almost exclusively in daylight with the lights on. I felt quite proud of myself. Despite having struggled with my body almost my entire life (I believe I was skinny till about age 4), I had never tried to hide myself from my partner. It was especially complicated because I always found him perfectly attractive, and I was fairly vocal about it. Being a rational sort of person (which I still find quite irritating), he would always ask me that if he was expected to believe me when I told him he was sexy, why would I consistently refuse to believe him?
This is why the credit for me coming to terms with my body mostly belongs to him — he was always vocal about his desires and he insisted that I be vocal about mine. It took me a long time to really get there, but I did.
This does not mean that being fat never played a role in my relationship at all. We have struggled a lot because of my insecurities about my body. For a long time, despite his supportive attitude, despite how offensive this idea would be to him, I was convinced that he secretly did want me to lose weight and was not really fond of all the flab. If we have argued about it once, we have argued a hundred times, my adamant refusal to believe that he would not prefer me if I was thin. That’s the real problem though, right? I never doubted that he loved me, but I always believed that he would or could love me better if I was thin. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that if I had been thin, I would be a different person altogether.
Maybe I did not shy away from letting him see me, but I also never really believed that he liked what he saw. Naturally, this did not go down well with him. I have really tried his patience over our years together, and it is only now that I more or less believe him when he says he wants me. Being in love, being loved, has given me the confidence to believe in myself, and believe in him.
I did not know, I did not expect, that anyone would fall in love with me. Nothing is perfect now, being in love has not miraculously solved my self-esteem issues or rid me of my body fat. I still infuriate myself and my partner by sometimes stubbornly refusing to believe that he could want this body. This body that has only been the target of shame. But being in love has made me free to be imperfect, if anything. My partner knows that sometimes I will be stubborn and irrational because of years of hating my body. I told him my weight a long time after we started dating. Ages after, I told him I loved him; much after I had shared any other precious information about me, years after I had shared myself with him. This is not because I hold on to my weight as something that is more confidential than everything else, because there was a part of me that believed that the day I told him my weight, he’d leave. As if what he knew of my body was confirmed to him numerically, it would become too much. As I was too much.
You know those trite words — love yourself, love your body. How do you love yourself when your parents, your relatives, strangers on the street have told you that you can only love yourself if you are working visibly at erasing yourself? How do you love your body when it has caused you shame, bullying, taunting? I don’t really know.
I do know that I feel inherently different about myself than I used to. Perhaps the biggest transformation for me came with learning that I could acknowledge my fatness without making it a hated characteristic or a punchline.
Falling in love with someone who doesn’t love me despite my body or because of it, has set me free to do that as well. I don’t have to feel beautiful every day, and I don’t have to feel ugly every day.
I now look at my body not as the thing that’s keeping me from being my true self, but as a thing that is part of my true self. In this terrible Gwyneth Paltrow-Jack Black movie, Shallow Hal, Hal falls in love with a very fat woman because he can only see the beauty of her soul. I’m not talking about that. I think its offensive to fall in love with someone because ‘of their beautiful soul’ as if you are making a sacrifice by accepting her un-beautiful body in the process. But that is the love I once expected to have. That someone would see past my body and to the person I actually am, and find that person worth loving.
Fortunately for me, my partner is much too prosaic to ever fall in love with my beautiful soul alone. He definitely has designs on the more corporeal parts of me. Falling in love made me realise that those two parts of me — the inner me and the body I have — are not two separate, disparate beings. Just as I love him because of the kind of person he is, and have a physical and sexual interest in both him and his body, similarly, he does not love one or another part of me because they are not separable.
Falling in love with someone else hastens the process of falling in love with yourself because you look at the person you love and it hurts you to think that they think those awful things about themselves that you think about yourself. Then you realise that it would probably hurt them to know what awful things you think about yourself. The tricky step is the next step — the step where you perhaps realise you are worth loving because someone else loves you.
This is the intellectually uncomfortable step. I believe, strenuously and completely, that no woman should ever have to rely on anyone else for a sense of completeness, for a sense of comfort in her body and herself. Is it un-feminist of me, I ask myself, that I love myself better now that someone else loves me as well? I don’t think it is un-feminist, but I don’t think it’s ideal. It would be ideal to never doubt my worth or my loveable-ness because of my body. Ideal would be if society had not convinced me for as long as I remember that I am less than, that I am unworthy. Ideal would be if we were taught to love ourselves unconditionally by our parents, teachers, siblings, friends. Rather than being taught that you can love yourself only if you can prove that you’re trying to become thin in the process of loving yourself.
I did not have that ideal situation; I fell in love with him, and in the process I learnt how to love myself. Loving him does not mean I am blind to his faults or I never get angry with him; loving myself is a similar experience. I still have bad days, when I feel like all the terrible things I feel about myself are real, but I also have wonderful days, where I feel loved and lovely, neither despite nor because of my fatness.
Falling in love as a fat girl has given me what was promised through diet and exercise, the ability to be more than just a fat girl.