Elena Koshy weighs in on the issue of fat shaming and being happy in your own skin
I’M fat. There, I’ve said it. F-A-T. Fat has been a word that dare not speak its name. “Plus-sized”, “Rubenesque”, “zaftig” are shades of who I am. And who I am is fat. Beautifully fat with curves and a generous behind that sometimes resembles a mini-continent.
To those of you who’ve never failed to remind me of that fact, I do own a mirror and yes, a mirror cannot lie. For whatever the reasons behind my weight gain, your constant reminders, unsolicited advices and fat shaming shoved up my nose are giving me a heart burn. You know… the kind you’re bound to get after walloping a big greasy cheeseburger with fries right before you sleep.
Let it go already. We already know the drill — the health repercussions and why it’s good to keep within the accepted BMI range to avoid risking a heart attack and the flurry of diseases that go hand in hand with an excessive lifestyle. But seriously-lah, what is it about our love handles that you can’t handle?
THE THIN LINE
Truth be told, obesity is a problem. After all, our country was given the dubious honour of being Asia’s fattest country ast year, with almost 18 per cent of the populace (more than five million people) classified as obese and a further 30 per cent overweight. It’s a big (no pun intended) problem no doubt and perhaps a lot of us battling weight gain might need to work hard in staying healthy. But still, where do we draw the line between advising people to be healthy and shaming them because they are fat?
What is fat shaming really? It is simply the act of humiliating someone deemed as overweight by making critical or mocking remarks. I’ve been called quite a number of names, with fat being the least offensive. Most times I laugh it off. Those who can’t deal with fat people often have issues worse than those who have weight related issues. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes, you have to pity them over a nice glass of Chocolate Frappuccino. Even if you do wish, at times, you could pour a glass over their heads. But that would be a waste of a good Frappuccino.
BUSTING THE MYTH
In a society obsessed with weight-related stereotypes, owning a body that does not conform to the general acceptance of what is “beautiful”, perpetuates quite a number of fallacies or myths surrounding overweight people.
Myth: “Fat people are lazy, not motivated and eat too much.”
Weight gain is not necessarily the result of a sedentary life coupled with way too many bags of chips on the side. There are many factors relating to weight gain, including medication, mental health problems, sleep deprivation, mobility issues and genetics. You mean you’ve not come across a skinny fellow who watches too much television and eat too many burgers? Are all skinny people huffing on a treadmill and smelling of stale sweat while their chubbier counterparts are spending time at the local warong? I didn’t think so. The truth is simply this: Not all fat people are couch potatoes.
Ever heard of Jessamyn Stanley? Self-proclaimed “fat-femme”, Stanley is a certified yoga instructor who’s been profiled by Glamour, Cosmopolitan and The Cut, and she’s been propagating the importance of body-positivity, self-care and self-love. “I have always thought that because I’m fat, I’m not the tallest, I’m not the prettiest, there’s always going to be something wrong with me.”
Stanley is acutely aware of the importance of diverse body and racial representation, and inclusivity in mass media and the role she plays in that effort. “When I was 12 and I was just feeling terrible every single day, I wished that I could have seen a woman who looked like me,” she said in an interview with Self magazine. “I think that it could have had a very positive impact on my life.”
Myth: Making people face up to their weight will motivate them to change.
Diana Andrews, a bodybuilder from London, shared a picture of a woman on a treadmill to her 17,000 Instagram followers with the caption “love handles”. She later posted another snap on her Instagram story with the caption: “I bet she’s ordering burgers for delivery.” The backlash for her offensive posts had her setting her Instagram on private. But the damage was done. These same photos were shared on a support group for women on Facebook with the caption: “This is why most people hate going to the gym to try and better themselves.”
If you don’t know it already, fat shaming doesn’t help one to lose weight. Dr Scott Kahan of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said that people who experience fat stigma have higher blood pressure and increased stress hormone levels that increase their risk of health concerns.
“There have been two studies showing that it actually increases the likelihood of premature death,” said Kahan, also director of the National Centre for Weight and Wellness in Washington DC. “It also predisposes to unhelpful behaviour, so it increases the risk of binge eating. It increases the risk of emotional eating. It decreases motivation for exercise.”
Myth: Fat people are unhappy.
No. Not all of us are weeping over a plate of char kuey teow. While there are underlying psychological issues that causes a person to resort to binge eating and while there are some of us who have self esteem issues while battling our weight woes, there are those who are just happy and comfortable in our less than perfect bodies.
We’re no different from our skinnier friends. Because happiness is not an exclusive feeling only meant for those with great bodies. There are women who are fat and happy. There are those who are slim and happy. And there are those happy in-betweens like me, whose weight fluctuates as often as our fuel prices.
Whether we are in a place where we’re happy with the weight we’re at or if we are not happy with where we are and want to do something about it — not because the world’s perception is telling us that we should — we should be allowed to use our abilities to make ourselves happier without made to feel part of a bigger agenda.
Being thin isn’t the key to contentment and happiness. Just like being fat isn’t a portal to darkness and despair. In the end, having a sense of body positivity and accepting yourself together with your warts, folds and creases enables you to rise up beyond your critics and allows you to live your life on your own terms.
So I’m fat but my body weight doesn’t define who I am. As bodacious curvy Beyonce sang it — if you ain’t ready for my jelly, chances of me accepting your judgement about my love handles are just about as fat as a New York cheesecake with caramel fudge topping!