What Being A Woman With An Average Body Size Taught Me
I wasn’t even obese but definitely overweight and vulnerable. Words really hurt, snarky remarks stayed in my mind long after they were uttered...There would be time to achieve my body goals.
The year was 2005. As kids in blue uniforms tumbled into the classroom, I paused, looking at a couple of my classmates, who were joking about body weight and looking pointedly in my direction, referring to how a few of our contemporaries are a little on the heavier side. I found myself zoning out of the conversation, trying to protect my sanity as a spiral of thoughts took over.
A few months later, I would be a part of a dance troupe at school, practicing choreographed steps for an event and looking nonchalant as a girl walked up to me and suggested that I try a certain dance move again, indicating that it looked super odd on me.
Meanwhile, at home, my parents kept me going with encouraging words, insisting that I don’t skip my meals and simply incorporate more physical activity into my daily routine. I was starting to take the comments seriously and telling myself I needed to drop the excess weight to be at my best.
Being bullied is hard. You hear someone’s taunts a few times and you start to question yourself, fighting your inner monologue that tells you they’re right and you need to change as soon as you can in order to fit in.
Do you want to date the guy you have a crush on? Lose weight. You want to be popular in your class and be looked at with admiration? Do more sit-ups and shed your belly fat. This is no time to be ostracised: you’re a teen and everybody expects you to be at your flourishing best.
You see, I wasn’t even obese but definitely overweight and vulnerable. Words really hurt, snarky remarks stayed in my mind long after they were uttered. I was struggling to focus on my academic goals and not get distracted. There would be time, I told myself. There would be time to achieve my body goals.
Fast-forward a few years later and I found myself in college, walking far more than I was used to as a part of my daily commute, eating smaller portions, and getting healthier. I gradually started losing weight: a little bit at first and then - a lot more. It was weird: I was suddenly getting more attention than I was used to, especially from the boys. While I’d been shy and invisible earlier, once I was conventionally hot, I realised that it was rather easy to get attention and to stand out in a crowd.
And yet, it felt shallow, empty, and not enough to get me close to self-actualisation. This was confusing. Wasn’t it supposed to feel different and much better than it actually did? I wasn’t happy or content being the way I was. The happiest I’d been was probably back in my childhood when bullying was still far away and body weight wasn’t a top priority in my life.
What was I like as a five-year-old? Super curious about the world, optimistic, playful, and obedient. My body type had mostly been average, something that couldn’t possibly be classified as big or tiny, always somewhere in the middle. Barring those years in high school, I’ve almost always been an average size: tall and at a healthy weight.
As I was growing up, it became hard to ignore all the magazines and chatter around attractiveness and size zero. It seemed like this was an important goal to aim for, an ideal that everyone religiously worshipped in my peer circle as we pored over glossy magazines and admired the clothes, glowing skin, and svelte bodies on display. The struggle was real and nearly every girl I knew wanted to be different and chastised herself for not being perfect.
In 2014, I moved to Delhi to pursue an internship at a magazine. By then, I’d conditioned myself to exercise and dedicate time to running, dancing, or hurrying out for a stroll before calling it a day.
I was counting calories without understanding what macros were and adopting unhealthy habits. I was trying to fit into slim pants, and obsessing over salads and olive oil.
The rigorous daily schedule left me with little motivation for lunch and without realising it, I often ended up grabbing just a quick jar of yogurt or an apple followed by a hot cup of coffee sprinkled with chocolate powder. What did that do? It made me feel light-headed and temporarily in control of my body. However, I was repeatedly troubled by heartburn and lethargy. By the time I moved back to Bombay three months later, I had dropped several pounds (15, to be precise) and looked far skinnier than I’d ever been.
Were my friends and family members scandalised over my rapid weight loss and worried about my health? Absolutely. They urged me to think about being healthier and eat all my meals on time. Even at my lowest weight, I didn’t feel attractive or at peace with the way I was. Something was missing, as always.
I also couldn’t help but stop and think that the world is almost always offering feedback and comments on how you could be better. Perhaps you should lift heavy and focus on toning your muscles or eat right and run to get into your old clothes again while counting macros and monitoring your protein intake. No one ever seems satisfied, including that tiny voice in your head that urges you to run just a little bit longer.
Somewhere in between, I got into the world of part-time modelling and started working with freelance photographers, dressed in vests and tight jeans or crop tops and trousers, always second-guessing myself, pinching my skin and spending more time than necessary at changing rooms, twisting and turning to see how a particular outfit emphasised my curves.
Around that time, as a major international fashion outlet made its debut in India, I exclaimed excitedly over the variety of tops, pants, skirts, and dresses before a friend pointed out morosely that most of the clothes clung to her body and made her feel out of place. I was lost in thought: was she right and did she have a point?
As I started eating more healthily, I put on a bit of weight and realised what a frustrating experience it can be to be in the middle. My friend was right. When you’re not plus-sized and not skinny, you’re left scrambling for words when you apply to work on shoots with the big casting agencies, most of whom have models of a particular body type.
It’s demotivating, to say the least. Where does one fit in, where do they belong? How do they avoid going back to their thought spirals, questioning themselves, and trying a myriad of options such as intermittent fasting to finally match an ideal they’ve been chasing for years?
I wish I could tell you that I have all the answers and am now older, wiser, and content being who I am.
I wish it was that easy. Post moving to a different country in 2018 and during the pandemic, I’ve put on the pounds again. I’m still average-sized and questioning myself. The quarantine and isolation have given me too much free time to think about this and wonder where women like me fit in the larger scheme of things. It’s still an ongoing struggle, to be honest.
I try to be kinder to myself and prioritise my health. I exercise whenever I can, eat healthy meals with room for treats, and accept that sometimes, I’m not going to fit into my skinny jeans and that’s alright.
It’s human to err, to be vulnerable, and even hate yourself sometimes. There are more things worth my time such as revelling in the endorphins from a long-distance run, rewatching an old favourite on Netflix, and rediscovering a forgotten song from my past. Meanwhile, I wish to see more representation and diversity in the media and fashion with a loud, clear message: all sizes have room to fit in. Inclusion is beautiful.