By Karishma Shah
I’m 26 years old. I weigh 60 kilograms. And I’m 5’3. Now any kind of fitness calculator will tell you I fall within a healthy weight range for my height. But still, I have suffered from the idea that I am obese ever since I was 16. In the past decade I have probably tried every single diet and joined every new gym that opened up in my neighborhood.
And yet, despite serious attempts of working out, eating better and telling myself I feel great and look good, I have fallen back into the ‘I am obese and look ugly’ trap from time to time, without truly understanding the definition of obesity.
When I turned 19, I left for America to do my bachelors and like many others, I gained the ‘freshman 15’ and began my ‘sweatshirt phase’, which lasted throughout college. I resisted going to parties, felt very uncomfortable in my skin and wore only loose sweatshirts—every single day. I also started hiding behind the notion that I was a homebody and would much rather watch a movie and order pizza than go out and get drunk.
It took immense convincing from my non-desi boyfriend at the time who tried to explain to me what desi women should look like. He once told me, ‘Baby, where we come from…’ (in my head I thought, ‘ you and I don’t come from the same place…but please, do go on’) ‘where we come from women are meant to be curvy and voluptuous and most guys prefer it that way.’ I still didn’t believe him. I refused to attend his sister’s birthday party because I thought I looked fat.
Today the most generic South Asian greeting has become, “How are you beta? Thodi moti ho gai, kyu? Ekdum healthy.” I moved back to India from London exactly a week ago, and almost every single person I have met has mentioned something about my weight. Let me tell you one thing: it is absolutely NOT OK for the first sentence you say to someone to be about his or her weight. I have accomplished a lot more than just gaining three kilos, trust me!
If someone were to ask me how I faired in my exams, I would say I got a distinction in all of them. If someone were to ask me what I’d been up to, I would tell them I traveled to three different continents in the last six months. If someone were to ask me what I planned on doing, or what my dreams for the future are, I would tell them I hope to run a successful restaurant someday.
A lot of conversations at recent gatherings I have attended revolved around peoples appearances and how much money they make rather than who they are or what they have accomplished. There is much more to someone than just their appearance and their weight, and body image issues arise because people have stopped recognizing this fact. It is estimated that 80% of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat¹.
These issues should be treated exactly how bulimia or anorexia are. They are equally serious, if not more. They should be eradicated from the core. People go through many physical changes in their lifetime, especially women. Be it puberty or delivering children, a woman’s body goes through continuous transformations.
A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem found that 7 out of 10 girls think they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way in regards to their looks, performance in school and relationships. Emphasis should switch from having a perfect celebrity-type body to developing better eating habits and a healthy lifestyle at a young age. The best way children will accept and adapt this is by example.
Parents, don’t just enroll your child in a swimming class; go for a swim with them. Don’t just tell your child to avoid junk food, eat a healthy diet yourself. Don’t take it lightly when a child is self-conscious, spend time to make them understand they are beautiful no matter how much they weigh or look.
And self-conscious people like me understand that it takes a lot of pep talk to tell yourself you have to be happy at any weight or feel good about how you look. Don’t hide behind loose clothes; dress up everyday as if you were about to walk the catwalk. Don’t use humor as a defense mechanism; accept you have a problem and try to find a solution.
Don’t blame others for not having taught you better; teach yourselves that it’s never too late to live the life you want.
¹Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford,P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 2737.