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#InTheirWords: I Thought I Was Body-Positive Then I Gained Weight

I’m older, but not wiser, and most definitely fatter. As I turn 35, I think my empathy has grown, and I know my love handles have. I want to be positive about ageing, but my expanding waistline bothers me. So much so that I’ve been keeping myself caged within the confines of my house and my sweatpants. One day, a kind friend decided she’d had enough of ‘Hermitika.’ “You’re going out and no tent dresses,” she ordered. Free size frocks are my going out sweats.

She picked out a dress that is my sartorial Old Yeller: it’s white, low-neck, Grecian cut, and, most importantly, stretchy. I’ve had it since 2005 and managed to squeeze into it through many Oprah-esque weight swings. On that day, my go-to would not go down beyond my breasts.

So there I stood: ass out, regretting my choice of white lace underwear that was giving me a wedgie, hands held straight up as my friend tugged with all her might the bottom of my dress. Truthfully I don’t know what the image looked like because my head was caught in the top half that should have fit my breasts. Only my friend and my mother — who watched us waging war with my outfit and my expanding everything — know what the sight was like.

“Maybe try putting Vaseline on her. For lubrication,” my mother suggested.

For a moment, I sincerely considered the idea.

That dress sits in the back of my closet now, along with most everything I own.

If you’d met me at the beginning of this year, I was half the woman I am currently. A-Burger-A-Day girl, I ate a Fish of Fillet meal once a day — large fries and coke, please. Not the skinniest creature, I wasn’t big either. Exercising wasn’t an issue; three times a week was enough to keep me at a stable US size 10 or an Indian medium.

It’d be a lie to say growing old isn’t, ironically, making me revisit my personal hell: my days as a teenager, a time when I was insecure about my body. Having grown to five feet eight inches before turning thirteen and bigger than everyone around me, I thought I had no figure, only fat. And when my hormone and Cosmopolitan-magazine-driven body dysmorphia abated, I celebrated. I was a thin person.

NGL: it was great. It was like being a human clothes hanger. Have you noticed how everything looked lovely on the rack at the store? I didn’t have to try on clothes before buying them; I managed to fit into my mom’s jeans from when she was seventeen.

Nearly 20 years later, I’m back to square large or worse: even my “fat” clothes don’t fit. Most of the brands I like don’t stock a size that fits me unless it is a free size ( a vicious cycle that.)

“I feel too fat to go out,” has become my catchphrase… again.

Yesterday, cradling my phone next to my ear, the first thing I noticed was my chins. Yes, plural. Two rolls appeared around my neck as my head cocked to one side to balance the mobile with my shoulder. Cheek fat bounced back where there used to be cheekbones.

“I bought my first ever size LARGE pants today,” I told my friend on the other side of the line.

“Go F*ck yourself. Large is my normal size. I’ve graduated to sizes unknown even to me,” she replied.

Last year, I ran a body-positive website with a close friend. After having been a petite girl all her life, she had gained weight at that time. Me, I had not an ounce of extra fat on my body. For our social media, we would put up pictures of ourselves. She would nearly always take close shots of her face or details shots of her accessories. I chose shots that showed the entire outfits I was wearing.

If I asked her why she wouldn’t take a full-length picture of herself for social media, she’d reply: I don’t feel comfortable; I feel fat. And I would pontificate: So what? We’re body-positive. Do you know how many women would appreciate seeing you confident in your normal-shaped body?

Less recently, during a photo shoot for The Ladies Compartment, I rejected a picture of myself. My excuses? There was a crease in the outfit; the lightning wasn’t good enough. Real reason: the image reminded me of myself at 13 — dumpy, overweight, and out of place among the nubile, 80-pound bodies of my teenage girlfriends.

“Come on Avantika! We run a body-positive website. That smile looks so cute. I can’t believe you’re such a hypocrite,” a team member said to me.

I resented her size 0 ass, 20-something-years-old tits, and chiselled cheekbones.

Gaining weight shouldn’t be the end of the world, but I have allowed it to end parts of mine. Going out with my friends has become a chore; getting dressed is a nightmare; I’m beginning to wonder if twice a day every day is enough exercise to keep me in my old clothes. Nothing against a cute tent dress or even going shopping for larger size clothing, but I don’t want to wear one and do the other. I want back my body as I remember it.

As my former partner, I now know to take close-up pictures to hide my body. Should a camera lens stray in my general direction, my one leg automatically crosses over the other — the old elongate-your-silhouette trick. Never one to not be OCD, I use an app on my phone, which allows me to slim down my pictures till it’s an image I recognise: me from eleven months ago.

I skim through the pages of plus-sized fashion bloggers who know how to work their curves because I do not know what to do with mine. I Instastalk fitness bloggers and wish to jump into their bodies magically. I’ve got a name for such spell if anyone knows it. We could call it #FitnessFreakyFriday.

I’m jealous any person who hasn’t had an entire group of people look straight at them when someone uses Thunder Thighs as a clue during a game of Cards Against Humanity.

I hate them because that used to me. I possessed thin privilege and didn’t even acknowledge it. Hell, I’ve argued that there are also stigmas to being “too thin.” There are, but I’m ready to trade, and I’ve just gone up one size from a medium to a large.

To my friends and so many others like my friends: I apologise.

When the term body-positive began, it was a label to reassure women of different body types that they did not have to conform to the Euro-centric, magazine-approved size zero. The cultural stigma, the acknowledgement of varying body shapes was the cornerstone of the movement.

However, throughout 2017 the term has been co-opted by the very same institutions against which it was rebelling. Case in point: Zara’s ‘Love your curves’ campaign that showcased two very skinny models in denim. That’s advertising. We’ve come to expect no better of it.

I’d hoped that the story of my white dress and my mother’s suggestion of using Vaseline to make my new body fit into it would die with her (and my kind friend) and myself. I’ve reiterated it here to show how far the body-positive movement has strayed from its original message. How easy it is for thin people to appropriate the campaign, and, of course, to own up to the ridiculous nervous breakdown I had when I gained a mere six kilos over eleven months.

I keep telling myself body-positivity was never about making a person feel terrible about fitting or not fitting into a pair of size ten jeans. It was a radical movement to ensure that there was more representation of varying body types. But all I want is to fit into my jeans, goddammit. This may include exercising and dieting not to be healthy but to lose weight.

Truthfully, I’m not very body-positive towards myself.

It was easy to be self-loving and accepting when I fit the norm. Simpler still is to call out others for being shy or being conformist, when everything I tried on looked becoming without me having to put in an effort.

Does one or the other make me everything I’ve ever said or thought about radical self-love and body-positivity empty spiel?

I struggle each day with these questions and have no real answers.

All I can come up with is acceptance. Apart from the many, many burgers that brought me to this point, my takeaway from this phase in my life is I need to recognise the wishes of those around me. And, next time a woman says she feels uncomfortable with her weight, I know to keep my spiel about self-love to myself and show her actual love. I know to say: if that’s how you feel, and it’s okay.

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