Anger and Shame in the age of Thinness and Perfection

Trigger Warning : Body Image issues, family relationships, Fat Shaming, Body Dysmorphia, Binge eating Disorder, Depression

Disclaimer : I want to be compassionate to others and myself. I want to be compassionate about other people’s ignorance and socialization. But I am too angry and upset to be while writing about this. I wish to express myself and sometimes my expression can spill over to hate, but I decide to choose imperfect expression over perfect censorship. (I know this is often an excuse to be “brutally honest”, but I promise to edit it a little bit with a calm sensibility.

Tired of my internal voice telling me I am not good enough until I lost some weight, tired of thoughts that my body or my fatness was some sort of temporary shape or form which will inevitably rightfully become truly loved and acceptable only when I lose weight. Tired enough to scurry through social media and news articles that articulate fat shaming and the counterproductive and shame infested ways in which fat shaming makes me think of myself. I wanted to send an article on body shaming, to my immediate and extended family as an explanation as to why it was one of the many reasons why I didn’t want to come “Home” despite their persistent “come back home” phone calls (yet never leading to any sort of reflection on their part as to why I don’t really want to come). Every article seemingly failed me, on the surface because either they were too western centric (read: American, Hamari Sanskriti mai aisa nahi hota beta) or too emotional (read: irrational, tum bahut sensitive ho, dusre kya kehte hai mat suno) or too attacking (read: Hum tumhari achai ke liye hi bol rahe hai, acha ladhka kaise milega ?, oh sorry sorry we meant health health heath) or didn’t have enough research backing its claims (read : Yeh kisi gore ne bol dia toh tum maan logi? Pata hai America mai log kitne mote hai?). 

But I deep down don’t believe that any of the above stated reasons stopped me from sending any of the articles to my family whatsapp group.There were 2 reasons why I didn’t send any of the already fantastically written articles  – first I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to respond to unwitting responses on the “safe space” whatsapp family groups can be, and secondly and more importantly, the articles didn’t share my voice, anger, shame, disappointment or sadness and quickly ran toward solutions for the optimistic bunch. 

I am without debate fat. I also wish the previous sentence was just a description about my body, like the wall is really blue, or the chair has 4 legs. But it isn’t , it evokes shame and disgust even while I type it. I have a double chin, several love handles, stretch marks all over my body that have turned red, a reflection in the mirror that I never look at and clothes that will almost fit me when I lose weight. I also have immense shame and hate towards my body. At this point all uncle, aunties and critics hold your goddamn well meaning “ Don’t care about what other people think” phrases. Because, the responsibility of the inception of the disgust I feel towards my body is not mine alone. It is years of hearing and seeing things like “Tum thoda weight loose karlo, bahut sundar lagogi” (like i am not effing pretty right now), “ Tumhari health sahi ho jayegi, bas weight kam karlo” (uncle kaise bataun, fat shaming doesn’t scientifically lead to weight loss, and not all health is related to weight) , “Mai tumhare ache ke liye keh rahi hu” (Meri baat kabhi toh sun lo, MUJHE kya acha Lagta hai) , “Yeh diet karle, ek dum badiya ho jayegi” (95 % of diets fail people) , “Whatsapp par dekha maine, yeh karne se tu ek dum fit ho jayegi” ( Whatsapp university, peer reviewed nahi hoti) , “ Haye, tune toh kafi put on Karliya hai” (I wish you didn’t reduce me to my body and shape literally 1 second into meeting me after 4 years of not knowing what I had achieved otherwise) and countless more. A more recent incident was when I was walking down the road with 2 friends and a police guy (haan, humare rakshak) calls me toward him and says “Beta, aap ka weight kitna hai? ”. I responded with a numb gaze and said “what” and he passionately repeated and asked me my weight adding the affectionate yet patronising “beta”. His sidekick, also a police officer, went on to tell me how sir ji was a physical trainer and could give me great tips. Well needless to say I walked away in tears while my friends aggressively defended me, and in that moment I felt humiliated and completely reduced only to how I look. You sir didn’t wait to pause to acknowledge or ask questions that would bring out that I was a great friend, I am awesome with kids, a great social worker and am a kind person. No sir you didn’t have the patience to. While comments from strangers feel all so hugely destructive, the ones from family and friends stay and are so pervasive that I didn’t realise their effect on me until a few months back. 

My fixation on my body shape began young with family members reminding and shaming me for my body. It started in my teenage years, crept up to me in my now early 20s . I started using My Fitness Pal, an app designed to calculate calories in food and instigate and aggravate eating disorders. I was 16 when I set out to lose weight, obsessively counting calories and was thrown out of the My fitness pal community for being below 18. Of course that didn’t stop me from creating another account on the App. I lost close to 15 kgs of weight with obsessive calorie counting and overexercising. That was when I received compliments “oh you lost so much weight, you look so good”, “You look so much better” , “Now we can see your beauty” which after the onset of my binge eating disorder and consequent weight gain turned into “ You were so thin”, “You have lost weight once, you can do it again”, “You used to look so good then”. Well I wish you saw my pain when I had lost all the weight and still felt not good enough. I wish you saw the shame I now have for gaining weight like I am some low self willed individual (I am not). I wish you also knew that the restrictive dieting pattern and constant comments about my body nudged me towards this disorder. I do know now, that I don’t want to ever lose weight again by counting calories. It will not be something I subject myself to ever again. But post this experience I have fallen into trying and failing and trying again to diet and lose weight. Because I never felt good enough and am constantly anxious about how I am looking.

After a few years of back and forth on diets and ups and downs on the scales, I started bingeing food. On reflection and extensive reading now I know it is Binge Eating Disorder. I am going to give you the clinical definition, because me defining my angst in my own words is too painful to do right now. “People with BED may eat a lot of food in a short amount of time, even if they aren’t hungry. A person might feel a sense of release or relief during a binge but experience feelings of shame or loss of control afterward. According to DSM – V , the diagnostic criteria to have Binge Eating Disorder is three or more of the following symptoms being present with one binge occuring at least once a week for the last 3 months:

  1. eating much more rapidly than normal
  2. eating until uncomfortably full
  3. eating large amounts without feeling hungry
  4. eating alone due to feelings of embarrassment and shame
  5. feelings of guilt or disgust with oneself

People with BED often experience feelings of extreme unhappiness and distress about their overeating, body shape, and weight.” 

Now that we have clarified that my mental health has suffered, I would also like to add, accompanying my difficulty with food, I also am Clinically Depressed and have had a few depressive episodes. The most recent one I seem to be conquering. It would be unfair to my family and friends who body shame to blame the disorder entirely on them. Firstly because it is caused by a plethora of reasons including genetics, gender, media portrayal of thinness, past trauma, stress and body shaming. Secondly, I feel called to mention that for the last few years I was in a high stress-emotionally draining job and before that for 2 years was in a very stressful Master’s programme. I was studying to be a social worker and had very stressful coursework and emotionally challenging fieldwork. I then went on to work with children in difficult situations, which was least to say meaningful but soul wrenching-heart shattering work. Don’t get me wrong, I love that work and am very passionate about social work, I just wish someone told me to take care of myself first. I wish I had loved myself before the work I did. 

Well having contextualised my experience being a mix of different life events, I can tell you that your body shaming affects me negatively, and no your body shaming doesn’t act as the tough love to become thin or “fit” as you seemingly intended.( I am literally case in point) The shame I feel isn’t self-created, but it is I who has to live with it, navigate it, not give into it, and tell other people like me that I share your pain and anguish. Which is why today I speak and hope that those who read it acknowledge and hold themselves accountable for the pain they might have caused unknowingly and we as a collective society can move towards a more compassionate space where I am not reduced to the sum total of what other people can visually grasp in half a second. Writing this is also a kick back to shame which has crept up insidiously over the years. 

P.S. – Resources that have helped to cope with my feelings and mental health are seeking therapy, dancing, reaching out to friends and using this book which is an evidence based method of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Self Guided Help.  

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