My body, just like any other girl’s body, has been a topic of discussion for as long as I can remember. I have never been even close to my ideal weight range no matter what my age was. I was always on the heavier side. While I was admired and loved for being so cute and having chubby cheeks during my childhood, the admiration soon changed to disbelief. When my mom would spell out my right age to the persons inquiring about it, they would refuse to believe it. “That’s impossible”, they would say. Apparently, I looked too big for the number mentioned by my mom. They blamed my mom for unnecessarily hiding my age. I was 9 then.
I grew up with this uncomfortable sense of hatred towards my body because everyone around thought it was their duty to comment and joke about it. I never felt confident in my own skin. My teenage period was quite tough. I once received a little note that got passed all over the class until it reached me which read: “Fatso.” I turned around to figure out if that note was indeed meant for me although I secretly hoped that it had landed on my desk by mistake. Not me, anyone else, just not me. I saw a bunch of mischievous faces with their teeth wide open, staring at me. They burst into a loud laugh. And then, the laughs became louder as the entire class began to follow course. I skipped school for the next two days pretending to be sick. I was 12 then. And weighed 50 kgs.
They didn’t let me play basketball or throw ball because I was too heavy to move around and would be a liability to the team that I was part of. “70 kgs now? You will burst out like a balloon when you turn 18!” I was 13 then. And I weighed 52 kgs.
The torture was too much to bear. My academic achievements meant nothing. I was always among the toppers in my class. My ability to make friends and honor those friendships also meant nothing. I was good at giving speeches, painting, and winning competitions. But, none of it mattered. All that someone noticed when they saw me was the large piece of fat on my body. They thought it was their God given right to body shame me. Nobody realized how their words affected me. It was just a joke… for them.
I couldn’t take it any longer and did what every girl has done under peer pressure. I decided to go on a crash diet and literally stopped eating for hours at a stretch. And when I did eat something, it would be a tiny slice of apple or a few spoons of salad in the whole day. I began engaging myself in a lot of physical activity but my body wasn’t getting enough nutrients to match up to the calories that I was burning each day. Eventually, I got what I had been looking for. I lost a lot of weight and my curves began to show. Comments turned to compliments. A lot of praises and congratulatory remarks came my way about how “beautiful” I looked after shedding weight. But, it came with a price. I had to be admitted in the hospital. This time I didn’t have to pretend sickness. I actually was. I was 14 then.
Over the years, my weight kept fluctuating. My hormonal imbalance was to blame. It never allowed me to stay stable and wear the same clothes twice without getting it altered before every wear. I ate half the food that others ate, yet I kept gaining without much effort while others happily hogged on to whatever they wanted.
“You should lose weight. Look at your face- so beautiful. Your body- not so much.”
I kept putting on weight and I was continuing to become an easy target to be joked about in all kinds of gathering. Guys who didn’t really know me would come to me and say, “You should lose weight. Look at your face- so beautiful. Your body- not so much”. It had become commonplace to hear everyone commenting how the earth would dig its own grave if I just sat on that area. It went to the extent that once a guy who had expressed his intention to marry me told me that I needed to lose weight so that his mother would approve of me. That day, I wish I had slapped him. Instead, I simply told him to find another who fits the wishes of his mother. I was 20 then. And weighed 80 kgs.
Telling him off didn’t help much because the damage was done. He proved the point that aunties always put forward in a group discussion- Who is going to marry you if you’re fat? I wondered if all a girl could offer in a marriage was her ‘perfect’ body and fair skin and her amazing ability to cook the entire world’s dishes? Did nothing else matter?
I ended up skipping all gatherings either because I looked fat in all the dresses that I tried on or that they became tighter and tighter with every passing week. Or that I was tired of being a joke and being called off a liar for hiding my age as no one believed when I told the truth. They were doing the same to me as they did to my mother while I was young. I cringed at the thought of a meet up where I would be required to take off my abaya. My abaya was my haven. I felt safe in it. Needless to say, I envied all those whose body types didn’t let them gain weight no matter what kind of junk they ate and at what time.
This continued until one day, I sat with my cousin who had been facing criticism for being dark skinned. An Aunty emerged from the crowd and asked, “How did you manage to get engaged to him despite your dark skin?” Her reply was simple. “I got engaged because of it.” It hit me hard that day. I realized that I cannot change everyone’s mindset. But, I could definitely change mine. My cousin was comfortable in her own skin. It was time for me to do the same. Not because it would get me a man. But, because my body is an amanah that will be questioned about later. I needed to take care of it. I needed to nourish it. For myself. As for the man, the right one would love me as I am.
I have stopped taking jokes about my body personally because I know now that it isn’t about me anymore. It is ignorance, lack of sensitivity and a narrow mindset that made people choose this topic to publicly discuss it everywhere. That being said, I make sure that I put a stop to these jokes when they are aimed at me. “No weight jokes, please”, I say and if someone gets offensive after that, I don’t hesitate to show them the door.
I am still struggling to manage my weight but now, I accept that I am fat. I am fat according to the standards set by society. Trying to manage my weight is not for fitting into a particular type that everyone wants for me. It is about trying to stay healthy and losing only what is dangerous for the body and could lead to diseases.
There are times when those nasty comments and jokes still bother me. But, I brush it off because I know that I am beautiful. Regardless. My body is precious. I am 24 now. And my weight is just a number.