Monday, October 28, 2013

Thin privilege

Just read and shared these articles (   and about thin privilege. While I recognize so much of it as real (as a fat person), and personally have the political awareness and language to understand what it is and where it comes from, I also realize that most of the people around me have no clue it even exists. Especially in India, especially those not involved in activism of some sort (and hence maybe not too conversant with the political/rights related language). In fact, sensitive, educated, open minded, concerned people don’t get it either. They don’t realize what is happening, and how it affects the person who has to deal with it on a daily basis.

Here are some regular things I face, practically every day, as I am sure other big women do too.

o   I am fat, therefore, it is a foregone conclusion that I am a food hog. People close to me know I don’t like huge portions, I don’t like oily or rich food, I don’t crave desserts and sweet dishes, and I naturally prefer subtler flavors and blander food, so that I can actually taste the ingredients. This is incomprehensible to everyone. How can I not be a foodie, yet be fat? How can I not be fond of fried, greasy, fast food, and yet be fat? How can I not like sweets, and still be fat? So, the conclusion is I must be lying. I must be a closet foodie with a secret life where I spend hours on the sly stuffing my face with all sorts of unhealthy foods…right? It is useless to explain to these idiots about things like metabolism rates, thyroid activity, and so on, let alone talk about the theory of fat but fit. If I reply to “what’s your favorite food” with a statement like “I like bland, light, non spicy food” the only response I can get is “so, dieting ha?” because, of course, fat people must live in a perpetual state of diet, and no one can really like the taste of oats and cornmeal over triple refined maida products dripping with ghee, right?

o   It is assumed that I must be unhealthy, just because I am of a certain size. Total strangers make that assumption, as do chat contacts who have never seen anything other than ONE photograph of me, as do many friends and relatives. This, I expect, and even forgive to a large extent. Media, quacks, new age fanatics, exercise equipment makers and sellers, slimming products makers and sellers, and all of society have spent millions convincing the average person that fat is always unhealthy. The message has been all pervasive in the west for almost a century, and has been getting louder and more omnipresent in India over the last five decades or so. It is irritating, especially from people you expect to know better, do their research, but not unforgivable.

o   However, it becomes unforgivable when doctors do it. They are the people who should DEFINITELY know better. They are the ones educated in the many facets of health. And they, of all people, should know that level of fitness is more important than the level of fatness. Yet, they don’t. Every single doctor I have ever visited has taken one look at me and immediately decided to check my BP. After all, a fat woman has GOT TO have hypertension right? It bugs me that they cannot imagine a healthy fat woman with a normal BP, let alone a low BP like mine. I tell them till I am blue in the face, I have HYPOTENSION, I have to dissolve salt in water and drink it, in summers, to get my BP up to the normal level. When I got gestational hypertension in pregnancy, it actually RAISED my regular BP to the expected 120/80. But no, check me they will, and be very surprised and mystified that I am not hypertensive! Every single time! Every single doctor!

o   I DO NOT have Diabetes. Never had, not even during pregnancy. Yet, they WILL insist on checking. EVERY time! That’s the second thing they think of, after my BP turns out to be better than fine. Viral fever? Must check for Diabetes. Headache? Must check for Diabetes. Skin rash? Must check for Diabetes. After all, I am fat. I have got to be diabetic! How dare I not? Regular people assume it too. Fat woman, refuses sweets when they are offered, “oh, you have sugar (blood sugar/ Diabetes)?” NO I don’t, I simply don’t like how sweets, especially most Indian/Bengali sweets, taste. For a doctor to make that same unfair, shaming, disgusting, automatic assumption, that a fat woman of 38 MUST be Diabetic… that’s just nasty!

o   People assume I am lazy/inactive/useless based on my size, and assume I have never had any interest in sports or other physical activity. That I enjoy walking, or was part of the school volleyball team are obvious lies to them. That I actually do three times the mental and physical ones of any of them, with keeping my own home (no cook, no child minder, no full time maid), practically keeping my parents’ home, working for my own clients, running a business (including a commute of one hour each way), and more, is immaterial. It cannot be… because I am fat.

o   I hate shopping. I have always been fat. Kiddy pics show a chubby child, teenage and school photos show a well rounded young girl, college shots show a woman much more well filled out than most of her peers, and the same applies today. the only time i have been anything near skinny was when i had ulcers. And so, I have always had trouble with shopping. I cannot find clothes in my size at just any store. The neighborhood market has nothing remotely in my size (including lingerie or nightwear), and even up-market, high tag, “tish” stores (like Biba, as I recently discovered), will have nothing in my size.

o   If a store does, miracle of miracles, have an article in my size, I will have no choice as to style or color. They will be in the most boring color combinations, the worst, shabby, out of date styles, and there is nothing I can do about it. Buy it or leave. Jeans will all be low waist, which will mean that I would require some insanely high number as waist size, which – obviously – will not be available (snigger, snigger, giggle, giggle from the skinny sales staff). To find something I might actually consider wearing I have to go to store chains that carry “plus sizes”. And even then, the choices are limited, styles are few, and prices are about twice what they charge for the same article in a “normal” size.  

o   After years and years of this humiliation, of trying on hundreds of things, per trip, that never fit right, of well meaning people making it worse, and more humiliating by picking out more and more items with a “this is sure to fit” and insisting I try it on, even when I say it won’t, even when all I want to do is leave the store and go home. After years of people buying me clothes off the street, or from smaller stores that “looked like they would fit” but never do (I have a suitcase full of them at home), I have decided I can’t do this anymore. I refuse to go shopping for outfits, preferring to buy fabric and get something tailored instead. That is not a pleasant experience either, with inept tailors who can’t make western clothes, and all tailors screaming out your enormous sizes to everyone within earshot, in the name of measurement, but it is better than the torture of trying to buy.

o   People, from total strangers to people close to me, will say things like “you have such a pretty face, if only you would lose some weight!” They may do it out of love, or from concern, or from whatever, it shows how society thinks, how pervasive this “you are not beautiful/good looking/ presentable if you are fat” mentality is. When people hear of my past relationships (yes, there was more than one) or my current love, it is always “oh you must have been/must be slim and beautiful”. Because, of course, fat women would never be attractive enough to have so many men fall for them, or have so many relationships. I have even had people tell me to my face that a particular cousin, who looks very similar to me "is so beautiful ya! why did you say she looks like you?" merely because she was thin, and i was not. 

There are so many other daily, many times a day, experiences that I deal with, that all big people, especially women deal with, that all stem from the PERCEPTIONS that society as a whole and individual people in our lives have about this one aspect of our lives… that we are fat. There is so much weirdness of attitude, and unfairness, that is meted out to big people. Frankly – it sucks.  

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