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May 31, 2014

As A Matter of Fat

Text by Viseshika Sharma. Illustration by Farzana Cooper

It’s more about the highs and lows in your head and your heart, than the fluctuating ups and downs on the scales

Growing up, I didn’t have a terribly healthy view of my own body. I was never bone thin and kids are mean little pests if you’re even the least bit different. As a 12-year-old, I wore a ‘Save the whales’ T-shirt just once before bullies managed to pick up on the whale-chubby kid connect and carry it to dizzying heights of cruelty. My acute shyness and sensitivity didn’t help matters much and I was anorexic by the time I was 14. As a day scholar at a school where we were encouraged to partake of breakfast, lunch and tea with the boarders, it was astoundingly easy to get away with it. I’d just tell my mom that I’d get breakfast at school, inform the teachers that I’d already eaten at home, skip lunch on the pretext of still feeling full from breakfast, and lie to mom that I’d had a large lunch at school and couldn’t possibly have any dinner. It worked long enough for my skin to lose its lustre and for me to drop a significant amount of weight, but I was terribly unhappy and I was a little relieved when my best friend snitched to the adults.

I moved the next year, to an all-girls school in a different city. It was a new experience for me, I didn’t really fit in, my parents had no idea what to do, and my body was ballooning alarmingly. Two years of hell later, I was walking home from school when I realised exactly how tall I was, that my eyes were a long way from the road and my legs were incredibly long, and I started walking with way more confidence from then on.

I went on to fashion college, where being tiny was a huge deal. I cringe looking back at photos from those years, but only because of the unfortunately adventurous sense of style I had going on, and a particularly deranged haircut. Luckily, I had friends who helped me celebrate my body and lose my inhibitions. One friend made me realise how great the muscle tone in my legs was. Thankfully Jlo was hugely popular just then and my glutes were somewhere in the same league! I’d been so conscious of my body that I hated even my toes till my closest friend finally saw them when I was shopping for shoes and complimented me.

Moving to London for a second degree helped too. I met another of my closest friends there, and he helped me learn to dress better for my shape. I started wearing high heels and developed a more confident stride, or glide, when the occasion called for it. And the male admiration was great too – there’s something about walking down Mayfair and having a couple of handsome Italian gentlemen turn around to say “Bella” – that really puts the spring in your step!

I moved back home afterwards and unfortunately entered into an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship. He, let’s call him ‘A’, had been exposed to terrible parenting. His parents wouldn’t let his sister wear saris, saying that she was too obese – which is utter tripe, for the sari is the most elegant and flattering of garments. The abuse trickled down to me – I love a well-cut blouse with barely-there sleeves and I was informed by A, his parents and his aunt that I was too fat to wear the style; that saris made me look too heavy, that…oh, I could go on. I cut myself off from friends and family and lost any pride in my appearance. By the time I left him and moved on, my years of carefully constructed confidence lay in tatters and I suffered from acute anxiety.

My parents threw me into various things – I tried power yoga for the first time and felt strong and accomplished when I started mastering it. I began observing my body more critically in the mirror, and realised that I have less cellulite than people thinner than myself. I take pride in my body now, not because it is skinny, but because despite the belly, it is strong and capable. I love how my skin looks on a daily basis, and I know it’s because I eat enough fat to keep it glowing. I am addicted to Zumba for it makes me feel amazing when I look at myself dripping with sweat. Gross, I know, but each drenched T-shirt is a trophy. I’ve found the silhouettes that work for me and I amuse my friends when I spin around from perusing myself in the mirror to say, “I look amazing! Don’t I look great?!”

Sometimes people still use my weight as a point to prod me for a reaction. Case in point, an acquaintance who is a fashion stylist said “Oh, I don’t get how people can be fat and then work in the fashion or magazine industry”. I’ve just conditioned myself to think that if she can’t see the possibilities, she probably isn’t very good at her job. Dwelling on such negativity is just masochistic. Yes, there are still vapid designers out there, obsessed with any resemblance to bare rails, but my designer friends make me love my body, not despise it. I can pour myself into a dress and feel sexy and appreciative of my shape in a way that a lot of perfect-bodied people never will, and I can do it while having my cake and eating it too.

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