What the fat, Aunty ji?

Published: August 30, 2017

As far as the neighbourhood aunties are concerned, I refuse to answer why I am gaining weight anymore.

Full disclosure: I was slim some time ago.

It happened slowly. I kept gaining weight over the last couple of years, until suddenly one day I was not thin anymore. The factors were pretty much the same as anyone else’s.

  1. An intense love for food. Cheese is the only thing I would call bae. Maybe even brownies!
  2. An equally intense dislike for exercise (I would rather curl up on the couch and read).
  3. In my case, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder in which gaining weight is easier than losing it, among other more serious repercussions.

I was blissfully unaware of my weight until the neighbourhood aunties started pointing it out, making it seem like gaining a few kilograms was a personal insult to them. I don’t know if it happens in other cultures, but Assamese aunties love asking,

“Why are you gaining weight?”

How about asking, how are you doing? It’s simple, really! Photo: Sashwati Bora

What do they expect me to say?

“Injecting lard into my body every night is my favourite pastime!”

“I blame the cake.”

At my wedding two years ago, when someone asked my sister this question, I was furious.

“What kind of a question is that?” I argued, outraged on her behalf.

However, when I was asked the question, I was not outraged. The question stung. It bothered me more than I cared to admit.

I have always been an advocate of body positivity, believing with all my heart that we do great disservice to ourselves as well as others if we reduce our worth to a laundry list of how thin, pretty or fair we are.

And here I am, bothered by an obnoxious question from a couple of aunties I didn’t care much about. While I was whining about gaining a few kilograms, I shuddered thinking about people who were dealing with crippling self-doubt every day, people who gain more than a few kilograms, people who have to struggle with their weight/body image all their lives, people for whom ‘fat’ defines the trajectory of their lives.

It’s no secret that insecurities, even self-hatred, come gift-wrapped with love handles and stretch marks.

I wanted to know other stories, people who face debilitating criticisms and who, in spite of it all, beat their insecurities – the kind of people that I was not. So, I did what I usually do to solve the problem – I read.

It’s also not okay to ask people if they’ve lost weight. Photo: Sashwati Bora)

I began by reading Lindy West’s Shrill. I read the entire book in mild horror as she narrated the painful detail of every cruel word and snide insinuation she faced. I only had to face my neighbourhood aunties; she had to contend with the internet.

However, despite the criticism and hateful attacks, it was surprising to find a hopeful note in her story. She believed that her biggest achievements were three instances where she made people rethink their behaviour, three instances when she drove home the point that rape jokes are not funny, fat jokes are not funny and that we cannot let people’s lives and struggles become the punch line of bad jokes.

I was, and still am, astounded that seemingly well-intentioned people have it in them to casually hurt others. Casual cruelty, I have noticed, comes easily to people. In today’s world, it has become normal. What does it take to be kind? We are struggling and failing and trying. The only difference is the type of problem.

Ask better questions

I still react to the question, but now it’s more anger than hurt. What the aunty jis are telling me is something I already know. I am not thin, weightless, hot, or Katrina Kaif.

What angers me is that the opening question or statement is never,

“What have you been up to lately?”

“It’s so good to see you.”

“How are you?”

The opening line when you meet someone is always and invariably,

“You have gained/lost weight.”

We must rethink whether we want to pass on our insecurities and our body image issues to our children. It is this fear that makes me not want to obsess in front of the mirror and for the first time in my life, acknowledge the importance of exercise for the sake of health and not just for the pointed finger on the weighing scale.

I fail a lot, but I do try. I write this with hope that perhaps in some way, I can contribute to the discourse. To borrow Lindy West’s words,

“The culture is ours to shape, if we try.”

And as far as the neighbourhood aunties are concerned, I refuse to answer why I am gaining weight anymore. Ask better questions.

This post originally appeared here

Saswati Bora

Saswati Bora

The author is an editor, a feminist and a self-proclaimed quotes hanger who believes that stories are important.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Farhan

    Another SJW warrior on the loose.

  • Ahmar

    Should friends and family have the right to point out something that appears wrong with you?

    If a man, who has not taken a bath for weeks, goes out stinking like poo, is it okay to tell him that he stinks? Or should people keep their mouths shut out of fear that his feelings might be hurt?

    Now of course you could say that it would be rude for strangers to come up to him and tell him that he stinks. But what about his friends and family?

    Being fat is a life-style choice. By your own admission, you have an “intense dislike for exercise” and “an intense love for food”. Fair enough. Your life. Your choice.

    Smoking weed, not taking baths and wearing dirty, smelly clothes is a lifestyle choice as well. A hippy lifestyle. If you had a friend, a son or relative who lived like this, would you not comment that he ought to improve himself and why he lives like a drug-addict?

    Perhaps you would not question him. But you would certainly not be doing him any favors by encouraging him to live his life that way.

    What you are effectively saying is that people should mind their own business and not comment at all on someone’s bad life choices. You find criticism, even positive one that might be aimed at helping you, offensive. Because you are unwilling to change or improve yourself you want others to stop talking about it. If they don’t draw attention to you being fat, you won’t have to think about it. Deep down however you feel that it is not good being fat. It is clear from the words you use to describe thin people such as “pretty” and “hot”.

    There is a term for this behavior in psychology. It is called avoidance coping. It won’t work. Either exercise and improve your body to what you want it to be, or change your thinking to like the body you have. Demanding people shut up or “ask better questions” will only hide your problem, not solve it.Recommend

  • stevenson

    I find it strange that the first image has a caption written in Punjabi but the person in the picture is wearing a sari with exposed mid riff and bhindi. None of this would imply that the woman is Pakistani Punjabi. Are you trying to suggest that the majority race in Pakistan is insensitive to issues of weight? The author refers to Assamese aunties but I find it inappropriate when media in Pakistan tries to put down the native races of this country. If you want to talk about how wrong it is to put people down because of weight issues and struggles with weight, you can do that without putting down others.Recommend

  • Marios

    Ms Saswati,

    What an interesting read. I used to be extremely overweight some years ago, and I always have a soft spot in my heart for people who are target’s of hate and judging for their pounds. I mean, at the end of the day, its their right. So what. If someone likes their food, fine, why make them feel bad about themselves?

    I never understood that.

    Still, I believe a large portion of overweight people never start tackling their weight due to lack of knowledge. I’d like to share with you and your audience, if possible, an article I recently read about some great, back fat blasting exercises. You might not be interested yourself, but there might be some who are.


    Let people who enjoy eating their cakes and candy keep doing it. But let us not keep people in the dark on ways how to exercise their weight off, should they ever feel inclined to, shall we? :)