I am fat. I am also a brown girl. And I am in love.
Growing up, my physical appearance was heavily criticised by my brown aunties and my own mother. I grew up consistently hearing the word ‘fat’ being thrown around as an insult.
If you were fat, no one would want to marry you. If you were fat, no man would stay with you.
If you were fat, it would be a burden on the family because then how would they sell your outward beauty to the rishtas that come knocking at the door? If they even come at all because… you’re fat.
I remember I was 6. My father had bought home for me a slice of black forest cake, just randomly. But when my mother saw me taking a bite of the slice, she lost it. She grabbed the plate out of my hands and I watched her throw it down the bin. Her reason for doing so was that I was already chubby, there was not a need for me to eat fattening food that would make me grow even fatter than I was.
I was 6. It was my favourite flavour of cake. I haven’t eaten a slice of black forest cake since because of this memory.
But that doesn’t matter bec
ause I was a chubby child and everyone needed me to stop being chubby because then it would mean I would become a fat woman and no one wants a fat woman, right? There is already so much stacked against a brown woman in this community so why make my life harder by being fat?
I have grown up with the fear that no man is going to want me enough, to stay with me, to love me, to marry me because I am fat. It is almost like a conditioning.
“Don’t eat that, you’ll get fat.”
“How can you eat that? Why would you do that to yourself, you’ll get fat and then no one will want to marry you, then how?”
“People are watching, don’t take so much food, they will think you are greedy and make comments about your weight.”
“You are so pretty, you really are but if only you would lose weight…”
The fat-shaming I was conditioned to did not only just happen to me but every brown woman in my life, before me.
“Men don’t like fat woman, it’ll be so hard to find you someone if you are fat, you know, you don’t want to be the last one to get married right?”
I grew up listening to desi aunties fat-shame bigger girls at gatherings, at family events.
“Look at her, how can she wear something like that? It’s so unflattering, she is so big!”
I grew up listening to desi aunties fat-shame actresses who “had no business looking so fat and huge because it was their job to look beautiful.” I was there when my aunties fat-shamed Aishwarya Rai for taking her time to lose her baby weight. An aunt of mine once told me I didn’t love myself enough that’s why I allowed myself to be fat. That I had no business being fat like this and how disgusting it is to think people think it is okay.
My mother has looked me in the eyes and asked me why I think it is okay or even possible to love myself when I look like this — a face full of acne and a big body of fats? That it wasn’t right that I wanted to love myself because I shouldn’t be okay with looking like this. Because it is not beautiful.
Beautiful. Our society has equated a brown woman’s beauty to how fair, slim and modest she is.
That is what we have been reduced too. Skin colour, size and honour carrier.
Don’t get me wrong, the brown community and aunties love their desi women and daughters. As long as she is fair, she is modest and she is slim. It is what they idolise, it is what they desire out of us because what would people say if you have a dark daughter? Who is going to want her?
What are people going to say if your daughter is not modest, is her own person? Who is going to want her? What are people going to say if your daughter eats more than one samosa and is fat?
Who is going to want her?
They will whisper when they see her, desi aunties make subtle comments when she walks past, brown families will not accept her as a daughter-in-law, brown men don’t want her, shame her, make jokes about her, she will become a burden for her physical beauty is not up the societies standards and you spend your whole life grooming her to be.
The idea that a brown woman can be dark, can be fat, can be immodest and love herself as fiercely as the way the sun shines is a concept that seems so…. wild, foreign, wrong.
The environment I have been in has not ever given me the freedom of loving myself as I am.
I look back at old photos of me growing up and inside, I rage. Because 6-year-old me was not fat, 9-year-old me was not fat, 14-year-old me was not fat, 17-year-old me was not fat. But everyone around me made it a point to convince me that I was and that my worth relied on it, my future relied on it, whether or not I could keep a man relied on it.
How many other brown girls are subjected to this? This conditioning, fat-shaming.
I recently went through a bad break up. I was told to be grateful that he chose me anyways, stayed and didn’t stray because I was fat and he could get any other slimmer woman. The fact that he was emotionally abusive the whole of two years was downplayed and I should have just been grateful that a fat woman like me could have a man that actually didn’t cheat on me.
In addition, I was told to lower my standards because the men I find attractive would never find a fat woman like me attractive. And lastly, that since I would not lose weight if the love of my life told me too otherwise he won’t be with me, I should be prepared to be alone for the rest of my life. This was told to me by another brown woman who suffered from weight issues all her life too.
Do you see it now, how it goes one whole circle?
We raise brown women, scrutinising their physical appearances since before puberty, placing their entire worth on their physicality, conditioning them, pressuring them and these same brown women then have brown daughters they subject to the same cycle they were put through.
How is this fair? How is this okay?
Why are brown women never taught to love the one staring back at them in the mirror? We are taught to love those who deny us, who hurt us, who prey on us. But never ourselves.
These days, I have been trying. To look myself in the mirror. Stark-naked. Stretchmarks, acne scars, discolouring, hair all over. Seeing myself bare. And instead, tracing each curve they have held grudges against, have told me never to love for it is wrong. But it is not. These days, I have been trying. To love, instead. Because I can no longer live with my worth being defined like this. Who I am is not my size. Who I am lies inside. It is cliche, maybe, but it is the truth.
I am fat, yes. I am brown, yes. And I am learning to love, to be in love with myself. Frightening, isn’t it? They are frightened too. Of a brown woman who no longer allows herself to be conditioned, who no longer seeks their judgment, who no longer allows their words to taint her.
I want every dark and/or fat brown girl to know this: your beauty is there, it always has been. It is not and never will be defined by the colour nor your size. They will talk, they will scrutinise, they don’t know any other way but to do that. You will still shine, you will still be worthy. No man is worth denying yourself over, changing your physical appearance for, ever. Men are easy to find, easy to have. Keeping them is not your job. Your worth is not defined by whether or not you can keep a man. Your skin does not need to be erased or lightened or purified. Your darkness, your brown is beautiful, bold, is yours to love. Your size does not need to shrink, to be shamed. Your size is beautiful, is yours to take control over, is yours to love.
But you know and I know, and if and when we have brown daughters, we know, we know that the first thing we will teach them is to fall so in love with the one staring back at them in the mirror.
We will teach them to love their skin, to love their size, to be as loud, as bold, as beautiful, as blazing as the sun and the moon combined, they will set fires burning every toxic conditioning we have been made to go through.
Never, never again, you and I know now.
You and I, we will learn now. To fall in love. With ourselves, once, once again.
Eat that last samosa, dance in the rays of the sun, be bold, my brown women. Be bold as you are, as you look and as you come.