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What It’s Like To Be Fit-Shamed

Written by Prachi Gangwani


In India, the term “healthy” is synonymous with being slightly overweight, and visibly plump. We like our babies with fat cheeks; we don’t consider the all-too-common beer belly on most North Indian men as a big deal; and women… well, that’s complicated. Between the coveted child-bearing hips, big bosoms, and Katrina Kaif abs, women don’t know which body type is celebrated and accepted, if at all.

The coolness factor associated with fitness that we witness among the younger generation is a relatively new phenomenon - a sort of rebellion against the decadent life of the Butter Chicken hogging generation before us. When I took the leap into a life of almost daily workouts, and a largely oil-free, sugar-free diet, the most difficult wasn’t make those lifestyle changes, but explaining it to my desi friends and family that the loss of my fat tyres didn’t mean I was starving myself to oblivion, but rather making healthy choices.

fit shaming

In the first few months of starting Yoga and a healthy diet, I lost about six kilos. My weight has fluctuated by a couple of kilos a few times since, but more or less, has been at what I realised is my ‘optimum weight.’ In other words, I am not skinny. I don’t have abs or muscles elsewhere, though I wish I did. I get tummy rolls when I sit, and sometimes - when I overeat, or skip workouts for a few a days - my stomach bloats. But, I am not overweight either. As far as a fit body goes, I am far from the ideal, but I am healthy. That said, I don’t have what I’ve been told is the ‘body of a 30-something woman.’ One question: What even is that? I’m guessing, according to this person, a few kilos heavier than my current weight. Or, more curves. I don’t know.

That’s not the first, or the only time I’ve been fit-shamed. Recently, an uncle, after a visit to our home, made a distress call to my mother to ask me to start eating (I’m alive, I breathe, I work, I workout. How do I do all of this if I don’t eat?). He then asked to speak to me. He wanted to tell me that I MUST make it a point to eat enough to gain four to five kilos soon. He sounded genuinely concerned, as if my physical appearance confirmed for him that I was going through some sort of a health crisis.

I am an inch short of five feet. I have a compact bone structure - a 32 inch breast size, 27/28 waist, 34 hips. I weight 44 kilos. I’ll let you Google if that’s underweight.

Now, of course, if somebody were to tell me to gain muscle, I’d take that. I know I lack there. But, eat and get fat? I don’t understand the logic.

fit shaming

Fit-shaming is not always this direct. It’s often more subtle, and in my case, it took me a couple of years to realise what had happened to me. When I had a full time job, I used to carry my own lunch, including a small portion of salad, and a fruit for snack. I’d eat through the day, just like most others, but I’d eat home-cooked food, and natural sugars for dessert. My colleagues, on the other hand, would often order in. Dessert would be a bakery item. Not judging. To each their own. But, I would often get excluded from team lunches and chats over brownies because well… I didn’t eat any of them. My eating habits would also often be a topic of discussion. It didn’t matter at the time, because I was blessed with one colleague who is as much of a clean eater. Both of us were unwelcome and sidelined. But, we had each other. Looking back, I realise that if I had a similarly callous attitude about my body, I’d have probably been given more projects, better increments, and quicker promotions. There’s a reason why, as you climb the corporate ladder, so does your weight on the scale. Once you’ve reached the top, your weight stops defining you. But, the journey…

It’s been more than five years since I made some defining lifestyle changes. I have been called too thin, too athletic. I’m neither of these. I have been told that I starve myself. I eat more than many people I know. I have been told I don’t need to do more Yoga, or any other form of exercise. Everybody needs to do more than they do. I have been isolated from social events because I don’t binge-drink, or do drugs. In essence, I have been made to feel bad about looking after myself.

But, amidst all of this, I’ve learnt an important lesson. Or, rather, relearnt - that people will shame you, judge you, and box you into a category that suits them, no matter what you do! 

Image Source: Pexels




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