TW- trauma, fatphobia
Individual acts of self-love and acceptance are often termed as radical and rebellious, even as we seek to normalize such behaviours, especially among those of us who have been marginalized due to our socio-economic locations. Nevertheless, often emancipating oneself from normative binds result in some sort of resistance from those who perpetrate these toxic normative standards. Take, for example, fatphobia; the irrational fear of being fat. We are sent conscious and subliminal messages that being thin is a requirement to aspire for beauty, health, and love. We have to fight to earn and deserve that love. We are constantly surrounded by myriad capitalist forces like movies, magazines, fashion, and more that reiterate being thin as the ideal. So even when you want to accept yourself, you are hindered in this journey because you can’t find clothes in your size in stores, or a family member is being judgemental, or you’re being bullied by a medical healthcare provider, or a hundred other things screaming at you that you ought to become thin. Pallavi and Ameya are two individuals who know these struggles all too well and have taken it upon themselves to publicly combat these notions through their podcast called Fat.So?
Each episode starts off with both of them proudly proclaiming that they are fat and that they love eating a favorite dish or wearing that sexy dress or kissing that cute person or doing something else that society thinks is only for thin people. Each episode is a conversation about fatphobia and toxic societal standards that includes both systemic issues and personal experiences. It’s their contribution towards building a community of anti-fatphobic people that dismantle normative notions like fatness being equated with being unloved or being unhealthy.
It all started when one sassy fat person met another sassy fat person and they decided to be sassy and fat together. Ameya and Pallavi are two scintillating people who have the heart of a rebellious teenager and the collective experience and knowledge of someone who has lived through over 4 decades of malevolent body expectations being thrust upon them. They met at a plus-sized women’s gathering in 2019 and each felt an instant attachment towards the other which led to the creation of the podcast. Their idea was to help other people like themselves in their individual journeys of self-love and acceptance, disregarding whatever the world is saying to recognize that they are wonderful and beautiful just the way they are.
While sharing their story with Gaysi, Ameya said that she was fat since she was 8 and that although it started with overeating, she has continued to remain fat which led to differences between her family and herself as they would try to tell her to eat less, bribing her with Barbie dolls, and asking her to exercise more. She adds that although her family was supportive of her as an individual, it was the kids at school and her crushes that were brutal. Things changed when she had to go live in New York where she could wear that sexy dress and date that cute boy.
Pallavi was as young as five when she was put on a diet. She said that she was constantly made to believe that no matter her intellectual or social achievements, she still wouldn’t be worthy of love if she continued to be fat. These kinds of things have long-term mental and emotional consequences that both of them have to deal with even after all these years, and so, their journeys of self-acceptance are just that – journeys that they are going through with both bad and wonderful experiences. Both of them recognize that they’ve come a long way and so this podcast is a way for them to provide a safe space for other people like them.
Both emphasize the systemic teachings that act as the root cause for fatphobia. We are surrounded by family, school, healthcare, and other systems that influence our thoughts and actions. Even if we are not explicitly told that being fat is bad, we see other people going on diets, refusing to eat certain foods, we see that the protagonist has a thin body and the hottest person of interest is in love with her. Children pick up these things and internalize them which means that they learn that being fat is bad and that lesson sticks with them as they grow up.
Pallavi suggests that medical practitioners need to be actively involved in conversations regarding fatness and health since neither being thin nor fat guarantees health. Unhealthy scales of measuring weight loss like the BMI (Body Mass Index) continue to be used across gyms and other fitness centers. In an episode dedicated to fatphobia in the medical field, Ameya and Pallavi discuss how doctors have dismissed their health concerns and asked them to lose weight and have also pushed them to get fat reduction surgery even if they had personally decided against it. Pallavi adds that schools also need to talk about diversity in all body types without being judgemental that being fat means being unhealthy, lazy, unworthy, etc. Ameya says that we need to normalize the use of fat as an adjective rather than a mark of character because language plays such a significant role in shaping our identity and this is something that is emphasized multiple times throughout the podcast as well: to stop using fat as a slur and casually commenting on someone’s weight. Ameya also suggests that public seating should cater to bodies of all sizes, which is why armless seats are always better according to her.
But where did fatphobia come from? “Back in the 19th century black women’s bodies were cast as “wrong”, and there began a push to differentiate chaste and Christian white women from the sexualized, “impure”, “dirty” black bodies. Curly hair, dark skin, and bodies with shape [besides thin] and fat became bad things” Ameya says. “And racism has its roots in a movement in the Western World where people felt that they could gauge a person’s character and personality and “fit to a moralistic, virtuous” society based on how they look. So everything that was “not white skin”, curvy, curly, etc became a terrible thing to have”, Pallavi explained.
Am I surprised that the West is involved in toxic standards? Not really. Even now, after all that we have been through because of this pandemic, Ameya thinks that it’s a time where we are more vulnerable to eating disorders because our body is trying its best to cope with this stress and anxiety, and being stuck at home means we have more and more goals about what we eat and how we look. Pallavi thinks each individual has their own unique lifestyle and stress response and so the increased attention on our bodies to look thin is more in focus, which means even with social media content on the exacerbation of mental health being more important than whether one gets fat or thin doesn’t radically change our perception of being healthy and fat. Pallavi also adds that being fat is seen as something people have “control” over, so it’s easy to criticize people about it.
Speaking of social media, the representation of fat people needs to be discussed. In one of their episodes, Pallavi and Ameya talk about how fat people are usually represented as something negative and that their beauty and joy come only when they become thin. Pallavi also talks about how there is this assumption that fat people are automatically submissive and people pleasers because they are fat and ashamed of themselves. Both of them emphasize that representation should involve a fat person content with themselves and the focus should not be on their weight or their size. Ameya adds that although having a fat protagonist is the first step, we need fat people just doing their thing as friends, extras, and other humans in the world.
We also need to normalize body diversity and all body shapes and sizes. Standard clothing sizes at malls need to change as a first step to include all sizes. In the podcast, Pallavi talks about her lovely tailor who makes her all the kinds of clothes she wants when she can’t find her size and Ameya laments that for her to find her size, she usually looks at international brands because Indian brands don’t stock clothes for her size. She suggests looking at Universal Standard, a brand that has clothes for every body size.
Being in love with oneself shouldn’t come with a standard for being a certain shape, size, or weight, but thus is the product of socialization. And though Pallavi and Ameya can’t relate to the experience of being queer and fat, Ameya imagines it’s worse for queer people because they are further marginalized and offers her opinion that gay men likely encounter fatphobia more than straight men, for instance.
Their discussions about body neutrality particularly resonated with me. That being okay with one’s body is important because we are always surrounded by so much hate that loving it might be difficult and requires a lot of effort and time. To free oneself from normative body image, Ameya suggests that one needs to get used to looking at their body, especially naked. Pallavi suggests researching on fatphobia, fat liberation, and so on, especially from fat people who create this kind of content instead of “experts” who aren’t fat and don’t experience fatphobia. They both add that looking for a community is important. Especially while online, exposing ourselves to all kinds of body types and learning to be comfortable with that is a crucial experience in these times of containment. Self-love and acceptance aren’t easy and it takes time and effort and there will be relapses, but we must take deep breaths and stick with ourselves because we are worth the effort.
Listen to the podcast here.