“As a child, it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with being chubby and I perceived myself as being the same as everyone else. It all changed when I entered middle school. Every time my classmates, friends in the colony and my cousins saw me, they would call out, ‘wo dekho, moti jah rahe hai’ (look at that fatty going).”
These are the words of my close friend Sawera Kakar, 23, from Kuchlak as she shared her journey of wrestling with fat-shaming while growing up.
In our society, obese individuals, or even the ones who do not meet conventional weight standards, often encounter fat-shaming and unsolicited criticism on their dietary habits and body weight.
In schools, workplaces and even online, this weight-bullying is a common practice that contributes to deep-rooted insecurities and worsening mental health amongst individuals that do not fit the frankly unrealistic, strict and irrational beauty standards.
Sawera further told me that: “Due to the comments of my friends, on reaching home, I would examine my body in the mirror, hyper-fixating on my double chin and abdomen, wondering whether I have really exceeded the weight limit or not. Even my favorite teachers at school had labelled me with the nickname of ‘moti’ (fatty). As time passed, I developed permanent insecurities to the point that they began to disrupt my social life. I would hesitate from going to the market and would scarcely be a part of public gatherings of any sort, whether it be a formal or a casual setting. To date, I feel apprehensive while going out and my mind persistently contemplates that everyone is scanning me from head to toe and noting my weight. In all this, my mom has always been the sole source of encouragement for me and would unfailingly uplift me with her endearing words, ‘meri beti sabse pyaari hai’ (My daughter is the prettiest of all).”
This bullying is not limited to schools and parties, obese people even endure harassment in the streets from random strangers, who clearly have no concern for the pain and insecurities their actions may cause
Sawera adds, “Upon entering high school, life became tougher. I steered clear of sports because I was consistently forewarned that I would look bad while performing an athletic activity. I wouldn’t participate in any extracurricular activities that would attract attention towards me. I wouldn’t even apply makeup as I had already anticipated that makeup doesn’t suit me. The students were particularly cruel and enjoyed throwing remarks regarding my dietary habits at lunch and named me, ‘potato’ to poke fun at me. In the cafeteria, the girls would taunt me by commenting, ‘chair pay nahe betho chair torh do ge’ (Don’t sit on the chair, you will break it). Somedays, I would gather the courage to give them a shut-up call, but often tired and sad, I failed heavily. Therefore, I would hide from them and eat.”
This bullying is not limited to schools and parties, obese people even endure harassment in the streets from random strangers, who clearly have no concern for the pain and insecurities their actions may cause. Even in their social circles, overweight people are belittled by their peers, lowering their self-esteem and confidence. They start feeling ashamed of themselves leading to deteriorating mental health, leading depression and self-harm.
Sawera further says, “The odd part is that not even a single person among them ever explained to me how obesity can have adverse effects on my health and can cause serious complications such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc. My friends in high school would urge me to lose some weight only because no one would want to marry me and that I shouldn’t wear short or tight clothes because it makes me look even more fat. When I would see other overweight people being confident with their bodies and not letting it interfere with their academic life, it emboldened me to take my education as an opportunity to prove that I was more than my weight. The literacy rate of women is very low in my entire extended family. The girls rarely studied further than grade 5 but I was an exception; I was the first one among them to finish high school. There were many bumps and hurdles on the way, but my parents always advocated for my education and supported me. During my junior year in high school, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOs). In PCOs, numerous small cysts form in the ovaries and this is a common health problem faced by many women today and for me, my PCOs associated factor was obesity. And so my body weight, PCOs and people’s continuous mockery started affecting my mental health.”
Sawera says she fell into depression and began overeating. “Consequently, my weight reached a peak of 112kgs. As a result, I wasn’t even able to walk a kilometre before experiencing severe shortness of breath. During all this, I got into Loralai Medical College in 2018, one of the newly inaugurated medical colleges of Balochistan. I formed beautiful friendships in college and for the first time, I felt safe in my friend’s circle, as if I belonged there. There were no jokes pertaining to my weight or fat-shaming. However, my friends were concerned for my health and motivated me to lose weight because obesity is a disease and is associated with major health risks. With my friends’ constant support and my self-commitment, I started following a diet in March 2020 and I have lost weight going from 112kgs to 74kgs. It has been a long, and arduous journey for me but when you are surrounded by kind, supportive people, life becomes better and after all these years of striving, I can contentedly say that I am really proud of myself and finally feel enough.”