I was going through the notes app on my phone a couple days back. I usually make a note on there whenever I really feel like saying something (but not to anyone in particular), or to go into a full blown rant about something that’s on my mind or bothering me. Which is when I came across an entry from a couple years ago (which has the same name as this post).
I’d been obese for a decent chunk of my life. I’d just gotten into college, was living on campus, and couldn’t deal with how bad the food from the on-campus kitchen was. I had access to all the restaurants and fast food joints around me. What had been a-once-a-month affair of going out to a restaurant became an almost daily routine of going out to grab something to eat.
I wasn’t a couch potato, though – I loved to exercise, to go out, to play sports. Which is probably why I didn’t blow out of proportion completely. I was physically active, but, at the same time, could have a medium sized burger for snacks and a couple slices of pizza for dinner. My attempts to wean myself off outside food didn’t work for too long, because the alternative was to eat the on-campus kitchen food, which was a combination of being too spicy and also depressingly tasteless. Still, I’d continued to go jogging, play sports, and be active while enjoying fast food/eating out.
It wasn’t easy, though. I’d try to reduce my weight, to be asked by people if I’d gained a few kilos. I’d try to eat healthy, but I could eat subway salads for dinner for only so long. Here’s an excerpt from what I’d written back then.
It’s like people think it’s their moral duty to remind me of my weight, and of how fat they believe I’ve become.
Like, they’re so concerned about how I look. I wish I could be as concerned for them as they are for me.
I wish that every time someone called me fat, I’d magically gain or lose weight. At least there would be some use for their words.
Like, hi. I look at myself in the mirror. I know what my weight is and how I look.
I guess be called fat enough times, and anyone can stop caring.
I like my body light and ready for action. I enjoy having a light, fit body, and I’ll work towards it.
I guess I’ll have to take it the same way my mother told me she took it. By thinking that the people calling me fat and making fun of my weight are actually concerned for my eyesight, or the fa(c)t that I can’t see myself in the mirror every day.
Yeah. I said ‘like’ a lot back then. Ah, I was a kid back then. Good old me. (I still say ‘like’ a lot in regular conversation, though. Just not in my writing now.)
I tried dealing with it by trying to see the humour in it, or by trying to be positive about it. It was quite hard for a really long time. My love towards my body was really damaged in a lot of my previous relationships, because I constantly got comments such as, “You’re really pretty, but you’d be a lot prettier if you were thinner. Don’t worry, I think you’re really pretty just this way” or “The reason I keep saying you need to lose weight is because I want you to improve. I want everyone to know how hot you are“.
Sound familiar? If it’s familiar, then you, girl/boy/transgender/anyone else, should get the hell out of there. It isn’t worth it.
These kind of comments, coupled with my cripplingly low self esteem and self confidence, gave me body image issues for quite a while. I only wore baggy clothes. I refused to wear anything that remotely conformed to my body. I’d go everywhere in t-shirts and sweatpants. I refused to wear light coloured or white clothes. I didn’t look at myself in the mirror for a really long time. And every time I did, I hated myself. Really, really hated myself, and the way I looked.
Looking back, though, I was really cute. Chubby cheeks, love handles, thunder thighs, all cute. I hadn’t flown high above the clouds and gotten my wings burnt yet, and the innocence showed on my face, in my eyes. But, back then, I didn’t see any of that. During the worse days, I saw was someone who was so ugly that I couldn’t stand to look at her. During the better days, I acknowledged that I wasn’t bad looking, but maybe I’d look better if I lost weight.
When I stopped going out with the last dude who severely criticised my weight (my looks, my dressing style, what I did – now I think of it, I wonder why he was interested in me in the first place), it took me a couple of months to realise that my body image wasn’t as bad as before.
The comments in my head weren’t as bad. I wasn’t gravitating towards only dark, loose, baggy clothes. I wouldn’t obsess over what to wear – I’d just pull out whatever came to my hand first, and put it on. I suddenly found myself over-compensating with extremely colorful, loud clothes (eventually I sobered up and started dressing normally). I didn’t spend a long time staring at myself in the mirror, neither did I avoid mirrors. The thoughts that came to me before got fewer and further in between, and when they did come, I was reminded of how bad it had been. It took some research, and some work, but I was able to change the way I looked at myself.
Which brings me to body positivity.
To be honest, body positivity as a movement hasn’t had a very positive image for some time now. A lot of commentators I’ve come across have had issues with obese people using body positivity as an excuse to continue their lifestyle. That’s not the only problem, however, but that’s the one I want to focus on for now.
For me, personally, body positivity starts off as a state of mind. It’s a state where you’re able to accept the way you look, and the way your body looks. It’s a state of mind where you use adjectives like ‘fat’, ‘obese’, ‘thin’ and ‘skinny’ without any negative or positive connotations. You’re able to see those words for what they are – words which describe a person – without attaching emotions to it. You’re able to see yourself for what you are, without reacting.
Which brings you to the next step. Once you’re able to accept yourself the way you are, you’re in a position to reasonably conclude whether your body needs any change to be healthy. Are you healthy enough? Is there room for you to get healthier? Do you need to put on muscle? Or fat? Do you need to lose fat? Do you need to get fit? Do you need to get stronger? You’re able to ask yourself such questions, and you’re able to answer them logically.
What I’ve observed is that most people stop with just developing or inculcating the state of mind. Just saying, ‘I love the way I look’ isn’t enough. People forget that the body is dynamic, and its needs change with time and age. Loving the way you look is a great step forward, but what is it that your body need to be healthy? The only way you’ll be able to answer that question is if you aren’t emotionally attached to, or want to stay away from, certain adjectives used to describe your body.
People whose bodies are unhealthy – malnourished, or over-nourished – shouldn’t be using ‘body positivity’ as an excuse to do what they want, whether it’s good for them or not. You can’t be 30 kilos overweight, and say that you’re fine because ‘you love the way you look’. Neither shouldn’t you resemble an anatomy lab specimen for first year undergrads, and say that you accept yourself because ‘that’s how you’re supposed to look’. (Disclaimer: a lot of people get to this point because there are things, physically and mentally, which may or may not be in their control. This is addressing those people who are in control of their situation, but don’t want to take responsibility for how they got there. Not those who have underlying physical/mental health issues and/or have very little control, if any, on their body’s metabolism. ) A lot of people do it, and it’s quite sad how something which has ‘positivity’ in its name gets a bad rep because of that.
You shouldn’t be shamed for the way you look. Neither should you be delusional and be dishonest with your own self about your problems.
WHO has a huge definition for health. ‘Not merely the absence of disease, but presence of physical, mental and social wellbeing.’ I’m paraphrasing here, so this isn’t the complete definition. What I realised on my journey of body fat, having been obese, overweight and within my normal bmi, is this.
As long as your body isn’t hindering your daily life, and is capable of doing what you ask from it (with practice and within reason), you are healthy. If your mind is able to see you in the mirror, not a morphed image of you, and is able to accept and appreciate what it sees, you are healthy.
Why care so much, though? In my opinion, focusing on health is miles better than wanting to look a certain way, or wanting to achieve a certain BMI, because those things change with time. But health? Wanting to be healthy never goes out of style.
If you have any stories of your journey of physical or mental health that you would like to share, I’d love to hear them! Please leave them down in the comments below, so that we can all understand each other better. Thank you, and see you soon!