"My goodness, you have gotten so big," said my grand aunt, patting me around my hips while I was serving myself dinner. I raised my voice and jokingly said, "Why don't you find something else to talk about?"
I’m sure my annoyance was palpable because the very next minute, I found myself in an altercation with her son (someone happened to be on the keto diet), who found the moment opportune enough to comment on the food on my plate.
When I told him I didn’t like him saying things like that, he countered by saying he didn’t like what I was doing either. Now, this is an all too familiar situation, and I’ve had to use aggression—both active and passive—and sarcasm to get people to stop talking about my body in the past.
"It isn't fair; I am eating carbs after a while now."
"It's my fault, isn't it?"
“Wasn’t he just trying to help?”
"Yes, I have put on the weight I had lost during the lockdown."
The old feelings of shame, embarrassment, and a desire to hide myself start to invade my feelings and thoughts before I can assert my right to stand my ground. I had made a promise to myself and my body that I would treat it with love, kindness, & respect to rekindle the connection that had long been severed through these messages of shame.
In our society, it is not uncommon for individuals to struggle with negative thoughts and feelings about their bodies. We compare ourselves to unrealistic ideals portrayed in the media and feel pressured to conform to high beauty standards. Our body image can have a profound impact on our mental and emotional well-being.
Constantly criticising and belittling ourselves based on our appearance can take a toll on our mental health. These negative thoughts can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and even depression. The pressure to attain that "perfect" body may lead to extreme dieting, excessive exercise, or even the development of eating disorders. This approach towards our body can become so normalised that we rarely see the dismissive and disconnected relationship we end up developing with our bodies.
I encountered my internalised fatphobia when I attributed "lazy" as one of the adjectives that come to mind when we hear the word "fat” in a class discussion on stereotypes. Other terms like lethargic, greedy, and dull also came to mind, but they'd only asked for one word.
I attributed those qualities to myself, thinking that if I called myself out, then I would do something about it. I'm sure that’s why people think that if they point out to a "fat" person that they are "fat," make fun of their body, or make a snide comment in passing, the person will feel like doing something about it. I don’t know whom that works for, because the message that usually registers from a fatphobic comment is “You are wrong” "You are not good enough", or worse, “You are disgusting”.
Just as berating a child who is having difficulty with their studies is a poor strategy for their academic performance, in the same way, fat shaming and fat phobia are poor strategies towards taking care of your health.
However, my journey has led me down a different path. Body positivity and neutrality have presented me with alternative ways of approaching myself.
Body positivity is the acceptance and celebration of all body types and appearances, regardless of societal beauty standards. It encourages individuals to develop a positive and loving relationship with their own bodies, emphasising self-acceptance, self-love, and a rejection of body-shaming and body-related negativity.
Body neutrality is an approach to one's body and self-image that focuses on neither overly praising nor criticising one's appearance. It encourages individuals to shift their focus away from the aesthetic aspects of their bodies and instead concentrate on what their bodies can do and how they feel.
For me, embracing body positivity and neutrality lead to understanding and questioning the impact of societal beauty standards on me, acknowledging the messages I have internalised and replacing them with messages of self-love and compassion.