There has been a raging Internet debate on being healthy/making healthful choices vs. having body positivity. I have mostly been a silent spectator in all cases, because honestly I can see that both sides of the argument have merit. It is important to make good eating and exercise choices for your health, just as it is important not to be burdened by an unrealistic conception of your body should like instead of what it actually does. Ultimately, I have reached a point where I accept my [overweight] self as I am with serenity, but aim to do better in times to come.
Having said that, I do believe that only I have the right to make these judgements about myself. Everyone else can [and should] take a flying leap off a tall cliff, if they feel compelled to air their unsolicited opinions to me. Because that’s what they are: unsolicited. I didn’t ask for your opinion, and therefore please keep it to yourself. Covering up nastiness in a flimsy veil of “caring” or “tough love” is a bunch of bollocks. I can also serve up a searing indictment of your character, morals, and sundry other personal aspects, but I choose not to.
This post was borne off two things: one, a completely toxic ex, who eroded my self-esteem and confidence to virtually nothing AND had me believing that he was right; and two, a couple of conversations I had with two overweight friends. Both guys, incidentally, which just goes to show that anxiety about weight is not restricted to gender. [But y’all knew that already.]
The second of these conversations happened in Delhi, last month. I was chilling out with a friend in my hotel room, while I waited for a plumber to come and fix a faucet in the bathroom. I made a comment saying that only one person had observed that I had lost weight since the last time the group was together. And he responded by asking how I had done it. I described joining an MMA class, and sort of falling in love with the concept of fun exercise. There was also the part where I was trying to eat less, and avoid stuff I knew wasn’t nutritious, but without any ironclad rules.
But the point I stressed the most was that I had started and failed many, many, many times over. The needle of the weighing scale had stubbornly refused to budge for weeks, and when it did, it was a miserable tick of minuscule proportions. Essentially, hardly a dent in my weight. But the key was that I stopped feeling bad about it, and carried on with forming better habits and doing it for the love of it only.
He nodded, but sighed disconsolately too. And in that moment, I felt a rush of sympathy and empathy for someone who absorbs numerous ‘big’ and ‘fat’ jokes on a daily basis. He is taller than average, so does have an imposing presence. Comments and jokes from friends and loved ones are fine, but up to a point. And that point varies depending on person, mood, state of mind, and a multitude of other factors.
Which brings me to the first incident that summed it up so well for me.
I was in Bangalore, and I called up a college friend who lived there to catch up. I was horrified to learn that he had been in an accident and was in hospital with several broken bones.
When I went to visit, I met his parents too for the first time. We chatted for about half an hour, and he was telling me about his attempts to lose weight. [Tall and again considerably overweight.] He had tried exercise, gyms, nutritionists, diets, gotten tested for hypothyroidism, and so much else besides. I listened in round-eyed wonder, as he recited a litany of the avenues of weight loss he has attempted without noticeable success. The truly depressing part was when his mother chimed in to say that he hardly eats anymore. A fistful of rice and or a small salad comprised most of his meals. She sounded angry and sad at the same time, and I wondered why until he told me what was happening when his friends visited him.
In the modern hubbub of life, one tends to lose touch. So months, sometimes years, elapse before you meet old friends again. Any changes that occur in the intervening period stand out more starkly to those who haven’t been around in the recent past.
My friend had had his parents staying over for a few months, and he occasionally invited friends over to his place. The first thing they said on seeing an old friend again, after many years was, without variation: “Dude! You’ve put on so much weight!”
My friend sighed at this point of his narrative. I knew what he must have felt, having been at the receiving end of the same sort of thing innumerable times. And then he turned to me and said: “Don’t they think I know that already? I haven’t been in a coma for like 8 years, without looking in a mirror, and suddenly woken up that I can’t see that I’ve put on weight. Do they seriously think I don’t KNOW already?”
Well. Good point, isn’t it?