By Radhika Oltikar Dec. 07, 2019
The 2010s have been the most significant decade of my life. I don’t recall any other time in my life when people, especially women, were so encouraged to accept themselves exactly as they were. Sure, the obsession with losing weight still abounded. But alongside the “Lose 50 pounds by Christmas” articles were pieces titled “Fitness at any size.”
My women friends often reminisce and sigh wistfully over their “thin” days. Days when they had 24-inch size waists and could scarf down entire 12-inch pizzas without it making a dent in the said waists. I can only be a silent witness to these nostalgic remembrances for the simple reason that I can’t remember a time in my adult life that I haven’t been fat.
“Fat” is such a loaded word. Literally. The extra kilos don’t just bog you down physically, they signal your entry into a whole new world weighed down by shame, admonition, and a relentless vicious cycle of deprivation and over-indulgence. I’ve lived in this world for more than 20 years, so this is very familiar territory. In fact, it is home.
As the “teen decade” of this millennium draws to a close, there is a lot of discussion both in cyber space and off it about its stand-out events and defining trends. Speaking for myself, it’s been one of the most significant decades of my life. It’s a time when I finally came into my own, and the “self-acceptance movement” I witnessed online has been a huge factor in my personal evolution.
I don’t recall any other time in my life when people, especially women, were so encouraged to accept themselves exactly as they were. Sure, the obsession with losing weight still abounded. But alongside the “Lose 50 pounds by Christmas” articles were pieces titled “Fitness at any size.” Earlier, fat people were literally invisible to the fashion industry. The big brands just refused to make clothes for us. And the clothing that was available to us? Lord! It seemed crafted on the basis of two absolutely essential pre-requisites: it had to be both ugly and tent-like. It was almost like we were being punished for being overweight, like there was a giant retail Soup Nazi turning us away with “Fat? No pretty clothes for you!”
Today, the plus-size industry is booming. You can buy pretty clothing that is actually modelled by men and women who are big. Some of these plus-size models – like Candice Huffine and Ashley Graham – have a significant presence on Instagram, with followers numbering in millions. Hell, even Bollywood – the final frontier of sorts – has bucked to this trend, with films centering on fat acceptance (Gippi, Dum Laga Ke Haisha) being made and more surprisingly, being accepted by the public.
I don’t recall any other time in my life when people, especially women, were so encouraged to accept themselves exactly as they were.
While all these changes signal a positive and heartening change for society in general, they have done far, far more for me. For the first time in my life, I heard this clear, life-affirming message: It is okay for me to take up space. This phrase sounds misleadingly simplistic. I’m not alluding to the physics of taking up space alone. I’m talking about self-validation. About self-worth. About accepting myself exactly as I am.
The more I saw other overweight women putting themselves out there and recognising and owning their sexiness (yes, fat women can be sexy too! A thought I would never even have considered before, much less believed), the more accepting I became of myself. Fat-shaming trolls were usually vociferously shut down and the love kept pouring in. It was like I was witnessing a paradigm shift that challenged my core beliefs and made me see myself in a whole new light.
This is not to say that I transformed myself overnight. It has been a slow and steady journey. I have had to truly work on myself. After all, for decades I had believed that all the good things in life lay on the other side of weight loss. Hell, I was the type of person who bought expensive make-up and never wore it because I believed I had to “earn it” by losing weight first. Who shied away from meeting new people because I felt all they would see was my fat. It has taken me the better part of the decade to slowly change my self-image.
I started with baby steps. I looked for things to appreciate about myself physically instead of concentrating on my flaws. Slowly, I started owning my great skin. Acknowledging that my eyes were a pretty shade of brown. In the past, when people complimented me, I’d automatically assume that they were just being kind. Now, I was finally open to considering that what they were saying was true.
This self-acceptance journey over the past decade has had a most surprising and ironical fallout: I began to lose weight. In the past, I would rail and rage against my fat. Every Monday, I would start an extreme diet fuelled by self-hate and a fierce determination to nail down my enemy: myself. I never lasted the week. How could I? How could anyone? You can only battle against yourself for so long.
The more accepting I became of my fat, the easier it let go of my body. I started going for walks because it was a form of exercise I actually enjoyed. Earlier, I would sign up for punishing gym workouts that I absolutely hated because I believed I had to suffer my way through weight loss. No pain, no gain, you know. I rarely lasted more than a month. Now I go for a walk twice a day and actually look forward to the experience.
I also made gradual changes to my diet. My focus shifted from losing weight to gaining health and vitality. Even more significantly, if I got a craving for something rich, I allowed myself to eat it without going down the spiral of chastising myself for not having the willpower to resist. I no longer operate on the all-or-nothing principle. Moderation has became my new keyword.
Over the past two years, I have lost 15 kg. I’m a work in progress toward better health. Am I still fat? Yes, I am. But I am at peace with where I am. I wear make-up and most importantly, I participate in life whole-heartedly. I have finally realised that life is about where I am right now and not on the other side of losing the extra kilos.
Radhika Oltikar is a freelance academic editor, translator and writer based in Mumbai. She loves cuddling with her cat, a good love story and day-dreaming, almost exactly in that order. She’s constantly correcting people’s grammar but only in her head, unless she’s paid to do it.