The first time I bought something that was smaller for me, I was ten years old. Well, it wasn’t I who did the shopping but Mumma. We went shopping for a wedding and in a store right next to home. I found the prettiest purple lehenga. It was the outfit of my dreams and Mumma loved it too. I tried it on in the small wooden dressing room that was on the third floor, away from the hustle-bustle of the store. The only problem was that the skirt was just a little too tight. It went over my big thunder thighs, but the zip refused to close. I felt like crying when it didn’t fit, I wanted to use my nails to claw out parts of my fat so that I could fit into the lehenga. After a few more tugs, a few more commands to suck my stomach in, Mumma looked at me with such disappointment. Her ten-year-old daughter couldn’t even fit in clothes meant for a twelve-year-old.
In that tiny little dressing room, Mumma told me she was buying the lehenga for me and I had a week to lose weight and fit into it.
That was the first time I tried going on a diet and it was the first time I ever exercised. For a whole week before the wedding, I started using the treadmill. I used to walk on it for 20 minutes just before dinner. I remember that I could never feel my legs after these 20 minutes and I would always need to steady myself before going to the living room for dinner.
My dinner for that one week was fairly simple – a glass of milk and a banana. I don’t remember anything else from that week, only that the lehenga was slightly loose for me and that Mumma was so proud.
* * *
I don’t know what to think of the word fat. I tell myself that it isn’t a bad word, just an adjective used to describe a physical attribute. And yet, no matter how many times I repeat these words to myself, I don’t really believe them. I call myself fat and I feel bad, because some part of my brain says ‘you shouldn’t be fat.’ Being fat just means that clothes fit you awkwardly and that doctors don’t really ever diagnose you but instead blame your weight for whatever problem you’re going through.
To me, fat is more a weapon than a word. I think of people that I don’t like as fat, sometimes comparing them to myself on the scale of fatness and deeming them just slightly fatter than I am.
Every time I do this, I also think, “This is not how it should be. Not how I, or anyone, should look at or think about fat people.” But then, is there really a ‘should?’ Is there any one lens through which fat people must be gazed at?
In a 2017 essay, author Carmen Maria Machado writes:
Whenever I see a fat woman with a fat mind who is excellent in that fat way that I love, I want to be her handmaiden. I want to kiss her feet and the hem of her dress. To rub her aching shoulders. To follow after her on my knees with a dish of milk in my unworthy hands.
I want to see fatness the same way Machado sees it. I want to marvel at fat women with fat minds and I want to marvel at myself.
Was I actually fat, back then? I certainly thought so, but looking at photos years later—when I am actually, clinically obese, the kind that makes you bad at doctor’s appointments and great at online shopping—I look ordinary.
Machado mentions how she thought she was fat when she actually really wasn’t and when I read this part, I just let out a tired “oh same.”
There are rarely days when I have been happy with how I look, with how my body is shaped. I look at old pictures sometimes, from when I was around 12 and I wonder why I don’t weigh that much now. I know, I know, a 20-year-old should never weigh the same as a 12-year-old, but sometimes I wonder why I didn’t focus on the body I wanted.
Her body split through her wedding gown, unmoored; a dam that could no longer contain the river of her.
I rewatched The Little Mermaid after reading Machado’s essay and this time, I paid attention to Ursula, the sea-witch, instead of Prince Eric.
It took me 20 years and reading Machado to finally realise how absolutely wonderful Ursula actually is. She was the smartest character in the whole movie. She didn’t fall in love after seeing a man once and she wasn’t stupid enough to change herself because of that man. Ursula capitalised on how naïve Ariel was, and stole the show in all her red-lipsticked glory. She had a personality that seemed too big to fit in one frame and I feel like that is why her giant tentacles made sense to me. Her body seemed never ending because that much brilliant-ness (for lack of a better word), cannot possibly be contained.
Machado describes Ursula as lascivious and vulgar, ambitious and arrogant. This description was my absolute favourite part of the entire piece. In photos, my shoulders are always curved and drawn in, to try and make myself look smaller. I want to reach a point where someone uses the words lascivious and arrogant to describe me.
Perhaps that’s the body I want.
In 2021, I was alone on most days. I could do absolutely anything I wanted and I decided to stretch my body a little further than I should have.
It was nice being alone. I could exercise for hours and no one would stop me. I would put on a video on my laptop, with my pink yoga mat under my feet and move till I couldn’t anymore. I usually ended these hours not being able to move anymore, laying on my mat, a layer of sweat painted on both of us. Lying there, I could feel every inch of my body, I could sense even the smallest difference in my body, my stomach was flatter than before, my arms felt stronger. I thought I was getting healthier.
Exercise wasn’t enough though, so I stopped eating. Not completely of course, but I made sure that I never ate more than one or two meals a day. It was quite easy to follow my own workout routine and diet because no one was around to check me. I never felt like I was doing something wrong, I knew I was pushing my body, but it felt right.
I was working hard to get what I always wanted – a thin body and I was so close.
Being thin doesn’t make everything magical and Disney movie-esque, that happens no matter what size you are but I didn’t know that. I thought everything would be easier, I would do better with exams, I would be less anxious, I would be better with people, and I would finally be attractive enough for a guy. That really wasn’t true though and while some things have changed, it isn’t because I am thin or because I am fat.
I met Aryan on a random day in a random month, but I remember our first conversation. I remember how we became friends and I remember the first time I cried because of him.
He and I got too close too fast. I felt like I could tell him everything about myself and it would be alright, because it was him and he understood me. He saw me have multiple panic attacks, he helped me when I couldn’t eat, and I thought he was what I needed in my life.
Something changed and I don’t know if he noticed. I don’t know if he ever meant to hurt me but I hoped that he would worry about me, worry that he was losing me and that everything around us wasn’t as happy and light anymore.
“I am attracted to you, just not enough.”
Liking him was never a problem, I think I liked him a bit too much. The problem was that I stopped liking myself after I met him. I don’t know if he actually liked me or if he was just bored and I happened to be around. It is scary to think that it could be the latter, but it makes sense. He wasn’t the type of person to care about anyone but himself.
I don’t know if my mind or the alcohol I had that night is responsible for me not remembering the first time we kissed. The only thing I remember is his hands on my waist and my tears after he left. I do know this is when everything changed, I didn’t know what to think of my relationship with him anymore because we weren’t really friends anymore, just two people who shared a secret.
“You toh only know how to do one thing – not eat.”
“Your face is too big for your body I think.”
I stopped being friends with him a while before we actually stopped talking, I was holding onto the memory of a friendship that I thought was important. I didn’t feel like I was a friend to him anymore, I felt like I was a chore at times and useful only when he needed something from me.
When I did tell him I liked him, all I got was a thank you. The tears started and couldn’t stop because I really did fall in love with a man who didn’t deserve a second of my time. Most of our time together, I found myself apologising to him, but I probably should have apologised to myself.
It was suffocating being around him but I thought this was what liking someone felt like. When I was younger, I accidently stepped on an ant hill and all the ants started climbing over my foot in revenge. That feeling of an army of ants swarming over me is how I felt when I spent time with Aryan.
Clothes come in different sizes, but for some reason people think it’s better to change their own size instead of going for a larger size that already exists.
Little hypocritical of me because I still buy clothes that are smaller for me. I think it is easier to comment when other people are involved, but whenever someone tells me that I should probably buy clothes my own size, I get defensive. This isn’t just with clothes though, if anyone ever comments on my weight or my food habits, I feel weird. It feels like a very thin layer of shame is covering me, like that thin layer of sweat after a workout. I always look for ways out, reasons to explain why I am wearing that particular dress or why I am eating two slices of bread instead of one.
When I go shopping with Mumma now, she picks clothes that are too big for me. I cannot pinpoint when this change happened but I know it was a slow one. I was told that I need to wear clothes that do not touch my skin, that do not stick to my rolls and bulges. I was expected to cover myself, to wear a disguise, so that no one can actually tell if I am fat or not.
Mumma and I were shopping for my birthday and I found myself a pair of blue linen pants. They fit perfectly but Mumma thought that they showed too much of me. When we were at the billing counter, she asked for the same pair of pants, but two sizes up. She thought it would fit perfectly, and cover just what needed to be covered. I have never actually worn those pants because they never stay on my hips and I need to constantly hold onto them, worrying about accidentally flashing someone.
I grew up trying to fit into something that was far too small for me and now I am told to always pick a bigger size, to hide myself. It’s being constantly told ‘You don’t fit’ and ‘You don’t fit in’.
For a long time, I thought I should be a Disney princess. Then, I fell in love with Ursula and her muchness. But I wonder, what happens if I get to be a little of both. If my body has the pleasure and ease of expanding and contracting and changing. Who says my body has to be an either/or. Maybe it’s actually everything.
Nikita is a third-year student currently preparing for a law degree. She loves sports, and would sell a few family members to see Lewis Hamilton.