by Sri Nitya Anupindi, author of Too Big Too Small.
At Too Big Too Small, my mission is to build a safe space and share resources for people who have experienced body shame and struggle with their self-worth. I would like to extend the invitation to the loved ones and allies of those people who have faced these struggles and are trying to learn how to be more supportive. Come on in 🙂
The aim for the community is to share stories, bond over our collective hurt, be supportive, provide resources to navigate how we tell our stories and weave our self-worth in our personal and professional lives, and to help each of us heal and love ourselves unconditionally.
This community has been a long time coming.
I have been playing this scenario out in my mind hypothetically for many weeks now, toying with various ideas, stories, and experiences of mine – wondering which ones to pluck from my mind and showcase here meaningfully, when I happened to have a chance encounter two days ago that brought the crux of the issue to the forefront, again.
We recently moved to a new house. In India, as many of you may know, ceremonies, festivals, and new houses often attract hijras. We had two of them descend on us early in the morning two days ago. My family was trying to handle the situation by themselves, so I stayed behind in my room. After a while, they seemed close to a resolution and so I was asked to step out to seek their “blessings”.
These strangers, who had never seen me, and knew nothing about me or my marital status, immediately began to offer advice on what I may try to lose weight and began to proclaim that their blessings would get me married.
On the surface, this may seem harmless and even something of a sweet gesture to those who may look at this as an act of loving concern. However, there is a deeply disturbing outlook behind this seeming show of concern.
The essential themes to note here are that these were:
- who felt comfortable commenting on my appearance
- which were unasked for
- not complimentary
- making assumptions about my inherent lovability and desirability, and in essence, my worthiness
- with the comments being a symptom of a deeper issue being the perpetration of fat phobia
Given that this has been a lived experience for me for the past two decades, it is something that I now can readily identify as being fat phobic and brush off.
I’d be lying to you if you told it had always been that easy – either to identify fat phobia as such or to brush such encounters off.
In this particular instance, it was easy to let these comments roll off my body (pun intended) because these were strangers. It was effortless to remind myself that since they were not people who knew or loved me, their opinions of me did not matter.
The situation becomes insidious however, when such comments, often disguised as concerns or advice, begins rolling in from people who matter to you.
Let me now tell you what happened next in my encounter.
When faced with these “concerns” from the hijras, my dad began to exaggerate the issues I faced in the past, saying that I was born with an under active thyroid (I wasn’t); falsify my diet (“She only eats a bite of this and a cup of that” – no, I don’t only eat a bite here and a cup there); before going on to add that I’ve tried everything under the sun to lose weight (which I obviously haven’t).
I guess I could have appreciated that my dad had my back when strangers were having a go at me – unfortunately, this approach is equally harmful.
Instead of attacking the premise of the issue, which is fat phobia, my dad, in his defense of me, promoted it.
His justifications only served and strengthened the notion that being fat was wrong, being fat made one less worthy, that being fat was a personal, moral, and social failure.
Given how deeply ingrained the notions of traditional beauty, fitness, wellness, and desirability are, the challenge facing this community is an almost herculean task. While my personal experiences are mostly around being fat-shamed, I am only one member of this community. I welcome each of you, if you are comfortable, to share with the community as to what brings you here and let the community know what support looks like for you.
I am hopeful that together we will build a diverse and inclusive world, where no one’s worth is questioned. May you all find belongingness here 🤍
The reading diet:
- Anne Lamott, the famous author, recently shared her struggle with dieting and body shame in a post on her Facebook page.
Responses to pieces in Too Big, Too Small
Response from Kashika
I do hope you’re doing well considering the world right now.
I’m H. I’ve thought of myself as fat since I was 6 years old even though I was stick thin back then. Of course, now at 24 I am obese and while my lifestyle and choices obviously led me here, society as it is and people around me definitely were a catalyst.
Even though we have never spoken, going through your blog felt intimate. Reading your post “What body shaming can look like” especially hit close. And because you were so candid in sharing your experiences, I feel like I can be too. So I’d like to share with you an incident that reading your words took me back to.
It was a usual college morning at 6.30 am when I was rushing to campus from home. The auto driver was an old man and he started passing comments on my weight from the minute I sat inside.
It’s been a few years so I don’t remember everything verbatim but he made several assumptions. He assumed I was married and that my in laws “allowed” me to “work” the at college. I typically don’t speak to the auto drivers (have come across some crazy ones) but these assumptions were a little too embarrassing! So I corrected him and told him I am a student and live with my parents.
Then, he spent the 10-minute drive telling me how it’s going to be difficult for me to get married and how I should quit eating rice because I have a big belly. His comments didn’t infuriate me right away because he was very old and he seemed to be talking from experience. The way he worded most of these comments were as though he probably has a daughter who had to go through it. He spoke about how the guy’s family will suck my family dry for a dowry because of how fat I am.
I was half sleepy and really didn’t understand how to handle this situation. So I just stopped answering his questions and rushed out the moment we reached my college; didn’t even wait to get the change. But I was left with the same sentiments as you described in your post. The audacity of strangers to say things like these. The fact that they so casually pass it off as concern or worry. The fact that it seems so normal to them. The fact that it shouldn’t have bothered me because he was not someone I cared about.
That last part though…it would have been easy to shake it off had there never been an incident like this with someone I care about. But there have been one too many so it all blurs together.
It was both a nice and sad experience going through your words. Nice to know I was not alone and sad for the exact same reason.
Also, in another post of yours, “seeking worthiness” where you shared some childhood pictures of yours – I’d just like to say that it’s a shame our families and society can make us feel fat when we are not. Not like if we were fat as babies that would be a horrible thing. Just that we are so impressionable at that age and being fed such a narrative is so toxic even into adulthood.
The pictures that you shared – you just look like a happy baby. Fat would not even be the last word I’d choose to describe those pictures. I was super tall for my age and somehow in my mind this equation was formed: tall = big = fat = bad. And I’ve had to suffer through that all my life. This one time when I was in 5th or 6th grade my dad said I had to lose weight or else I would stop having to wear “western clothes” because they look horrible on me. Not that that ever materialized but that thought process in itself is so troubling.
This has been long enough so I’ll stop here. This is surely a topic that calls for several discussions. That’s why I’m glad you started toobigtoosmall. Good luck! xx
How do you get someone to love you?
I walked into the room,
they said I needed to walk tall,
“your stomach is protruding out”,
I looked fat, they said.
F – A – T?
I stood in front of a mirror
I looked at my face,
I looked at myself sideways — confused.
No matter how hard I tried,
I failed to see what they saw,
I was six.
I walked into the room,
self-assured and friendly,
“If I had your calves I would have never worn a skirt —
BUT, I admire your confidence”, she said.
There must be something wrong with me
I just didn’t look like the rest of the girls I went to school with,
I didn’t look like the girls on TV,
In fact I didn’t know anybody who looked like me,
There must have been something wrong with me —
I was eleven.
I walked into the room,
I was told I was cute,
I was fun to be around,
BUT – I was never beautiful.
I was fat
“You have a beautiful face,
just loose a little bit of weight.”
Once again, I stood in front of the mirror,
looked at my body up and down — hoping to find one thing,
just one thing I could like about it.
I was fifteen.
He walked into the room,
Looked at me,
Then looked at my friends,
Of course, he approached my skinny friend.
I didn’t want to talk him anyway
I stopped looking into the mirror,
carefully began to avoid my reflection.
What was to like about me —
the way my arms hung loose? OR
the way my thighs spread wide,
wider than most of my friend’s bodies,
when I sat down?
I was eighteen.
I walk into the room,
“You look beautiful”, they say.
“No — I am fat!”, I say.
Don’t mock me, I think. I struggle to believe them,
to silence those voices within.
I wonder why I cannot be both – fat and beautiful
Fill my plate with dinner.
“You already ate three pieces of chocolate”
I remind myself,
Putting back that extra roti,
I never allow myself to feel satisfied.
I am twenty one.
I walk into the room,
force myself to stare into the mirror,
force myself to love and embrace myself,
embrace each and every one of my imperfections.
I struggle to be kind to myself,
to forgive myself for the days I over eat,
over eat and stuff my face,
hoping to feel better about the way I feel.
I walk into the room,
lay in bed and wonder —
How the world would have been different,
If I fit into those skinny jeans and that little black dress?
But then, I stop myself.
Because the truth is,
I would never speak to anyone,
the way I sometimes speak to myself.
Self-loathing and abusing,
I have become dangerous and violent,
reproducing and becoming,
my worst enemy.
Ive spent years wondering,
How to get someone to love me?
But first, I need to love me.
Would you like to respond to any of the pieces on Too Big Too Small? Do you have thoughts to share on body shaming, body image or any other related areas? You can write to us at email@example.com.