I was a happy child- playing, running, laughing; the simple joys of life.
Then I grew up and the world changed.

So, maybe things were not that dramatic.

I was always the cute chubby child. Growing up, I was still chubby but my mom dropped ‘cute’ like a hot potato. I was already too dark to find a suitable boy. What in the world would she do if I was fat?!
The great American Dream is your dream job, dream family and dream home. The great Indian dream is to find a slim, fair, Indian bride who must be a virgin at any cost. All my life, my mother would tell anyone willing to listen about how I was so light skinned as a child and I was ‘dark’ now because of over-exposure to the sun. I’m assuming she felt that she needed to hold on to that just to make her feel better. My size was something that a lot of people had opinions about. They were so ‘concerned’ about me finding the right boy. It was the topic of family gatherings, church group meetings, sometimes even among my friends.

How was I feeling this whole time? A part of me had just resigned to the fact that I never would be as beautiful as those women on TV, never as light-skinned or with a waist so slim. That affected everything I did because I was low on self-esteem; I didn’t think I could ever be seen as attractive. I was afraid to bring friends home because of the comparison that my mom would make. I somehow began to spend time with people who were larger in size than me just so that I would be seen as better off. It was cruel but I was desperate.

Last week, my mother and I had a conversation. It was very random, just talking and laughing about different situations. Eventually, she brought up the question of whether I had gained any weight after moving to Canada.  I went into this dramatic speech about how I was more than just a size. I am a young woman, in my twenties, with the world before me. I had left home to come to this country, miles away, to pursue an education and I was doing very well. My weight didn’t bother me. My mother’s next question was-‘Hmm, that’s good but are you as fat now as that girl in your group of friends, you know that one, she’s really fat and dark. Do you think you’re as fat? Oh no, What will people say?’

It’s not my mother’s fault really. It’s the way she was brought up. I love her and appreciate her for everything she has done for me but I feel sad that she is part of a patriarchal system that refuses to see anything apart from the ideal as right. This system affects so much- the clothes manufactured, toys for children- the perfectly shaped barbie dolls for girls and well built masculine army figures for boys, the TV soaps and Indian movies where again the ideal- beautiful, slim and fair is idolized. Young girls are on diets in an effort to look like the next ‘Miss Universe’. They develop eating disorders at an early age, all in an effort to please the eye, the man, the system. All to achieve what they think is perfection.
Something that was brought up in one of my classes was how women viewed themselves through a male eye which meant that what men found attractive were naturally emphasized and worked toward. I had never thought about this before and I realise how true it really is. Why do I have to look a certain way because men find that quality attractive?!! Isn’t it possible that I don’t find it quite as attractive and might want to focus on something not quite so obvious as size such as kindness or generosity.

What then is the solution? Something needs to be done before generations are lost to this way of thinking. Educate the women, young and old. Someone needs to tell them that they do not need to live their lives seeing themselves as lesser than anyone else simply based on size or looks. A women’s true beauty lies in her ability to look beyond the differences that separate people and appreciate people for who they are and their contribution to life.

I stumbled upon the website www.thebodypositive.org and I found that The Body Positive have been working with teenagers talking about body image. They promote the ‘Health At Every Size (HAES) model’ encouraging all people to adopt a healthy lifestyle. They are based in California and were founded by two women and they have over the years expanded from school visits to news broadcasts.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was an organisation that I found to be inspirational. The organisation was set up in 1969 because they found that fat people were being discriminated against and blamed for their size. NAAFA strives to protect the rights of fat people and improve their quality of life. They want people to understand that being fat does not mean that you immediately ask to be judged or discriminated against or ridiculed. They attempt to help with self-acceptance for fat people who suffer from body image issues.

One organisation that I’ve observed for the past few years is DOVE-Campaign for real beauty. They break down the myths that lie in the page of every glossy magazine to show us that perfection is not always achieved the way we think it is. They aim to let young girls understand that to love or be loved they don’t need to look a particular way. I would recommend a quick stop at the official DOVE website to see more of what they’ve done and are still doing. They work on a global level but there is so much more to be done at the local level and this is something that only we can do.

Each of these organisations work from a feminist point of view because feminism does not mean that you parade around as a man-hater, it involves standing up and fighting for the oppressed and the discriminated and that is what these organisations are doing. Fat people dont have to live their life ashamed, alone and disheartened.

You can make a difference too in your life and in the life of others. Wake up each morning, look at yourself in the mirror and find something that you are proud of. Make an effort to reach out to a friend, sister, mother, daughter or lover and tell them what they mean to you. One honest line could change the way they feel about themselves and save them a lifetime of trouble. Challenge stereotypes and fight discrimination. The power to break free lies within us. 

The  quote ( that actually inspired my rant) from the Hot Fat Girl Manifesto (2005) by Zoe Whittall –
“Because I am tired of being ignored, invisible, de-sexualized and told that I have such a pretty face. Because it’s not fat that kills, its fear of fat.”
I was struck by that line- ‘the fear of fat’. It reminded me of a documentary I watched about snakes. People who have been bitten by snakes are so terrified that very often, even though the snake was harmless, they die because of fear.
How ironic.

I am still very new to the world of feminism but I see myself as anti-oppressive desperately wanting to change everything that breaks a woman and puts her in a state of oppression from which she can’t get out. What I have learned through this course is just the beginning of a long journey for me.

I think my next conversation with my mother will prove to be very interesting.

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