All my life I wanted to be a superhero. I prayed to have something. Anything. Even the power to tell the weather using my breasts like the girl in Mean Girls. But nothing came. I was the same ordinary person who woke up every morning and went to school, then college, then medical school. Nothing about my mundane existence changed.
One thing did change however. My body. From an extremely skinny, bordering on unhealthy-looking teenager I became a curvier person in my early twenties. My parents were so happy. All my life they had struggled with my picky eating and had basically raised me on a diet of chips, soda, crackers and candy. My dad had taken me to endocrinologists and had done a full work up himself. He was a physician and didn’t let any multivitamin go out of market without giving it to me first. I never gained weight while he tried so hard. Then miraculously, I developed womanly curves, but was still fairly skinny.
But some people were alarmed by my sudden nominal weight gain. I heard various versions of the same thought,
“You’re at an ideal weight. Now don’t go on putting on more”.
“This is perfect. You’re perfect. Any more and with your height you’ll look chubby”.
“Just keep it right where it is. Don’t gain more. Even now I think you could shed a few pounds”.
For reference, at my thinnest I had a BMI of 17. When I gained a little weight and looked “plumper” than before my BMI was 19.
I asked my dad and he wasn’t worried. He explained that the metabolism fluctuates and if I gained too much within a short span of time he’ll get me tested for thyroid diseases. He wasn’t worried though. He told me to brush off the comments.
It was easy to brush off the comments because I was really a twenty-something year old girl with a body to die for. Everything I wore looked almost as good as the model in the magazine wearing it. Not one fashion came in that didn’t look like it was made for me. It was like the entire universe was working to make me fall in love with myself. My self-esteem regarding my weight was finally at a good point. I loved myself.
Then I got married. Then I started my life of leisure. Then I got loads of free time on my hands. Then I put some love pounds on.
Before my first pregnancy I had gone from a BMI of 19 to 21.
The familiar whisperings started,
“What’s going on? Are you pregnant? Imagine if this is how much you’ve gained without being pregnant? Get a pregnancy test done”.
“Your husband will lose interest in you. Be a good girl and get on the treadmill for thirty minutes everyday. I know it’s hard but do you want him to see a frumpy, fat wife when he comes back home?”
I got worried and scared. I wasn’t pregnant. I didn’t get pregnant for three years after that.
My weight reached a static point but I gained a good amount during my pregnancy. I realized that my OB told me things very differently from the general public. My OB encouraged healthy weight gain. The general public wanted me to watch my weight obsessively even during pregnancy. Whatever happened to guiltless eating while pregnant, I wondered!
I gave birth and went back to my residency. I lost all the weight in mere weeks. Residency training is rigorous and ruthless. New mothers aren’t cut any slack.
I noticed people commenting on my weight again. The same people who had commented negatively on my pregnancy weight were now commenting on my post-pregnancy weight loss. They were celebrating it. They asked how I had managed to lose so much in such a short span of time. A frequent question I heard was “But you’re not breastfeeding! How did you lose without breastfeeding?”
I felt like they expected me to say something groundbreaking and earth shattering. Like something that would show them a big diet plan and exercise regimen. Like a commitment that I had made to a post baby body. I had nothing for them. I was embarrassed to tell them that my weight loss was a result of constant walking in the hospital doing scut work as an intern and missing many, many meals in a week.
What was concerning was the whole celebration of my weight loss. I heard people say,
“Thank God you lost all that weight! I couldn’t recognize you at that party you attended when you were full term”.
Some more tactful people coated their hate for my big body by using the word “health”.
“I’m so glad you decided to be healthy again. Every medical problem that comes to us actually originates from being overweight”.
“This outfit looks so gorgeous on you. Don’t you feel so good being thirty pounds lighter?”
The truth is, I didn’t care. I was a young mother in my twenties with a residency to reckon with. I didn’t care. I wore scrubs, didn’t have any big chunks of time to socialize with people at parties and barely ate. I was always tired and was either post call or preparing for a call.
But my experience with how the fluctuation of my weight has been celebrated by the world has scarred me a little. I’m forever conscious of the scrutiny that I’ll be subjected to if my weight didn’t look like it was okay. I’m a Medium but wear an XL because it hides my curves better. It hides my “love handles” better. Yes! My love handles. As endearing as this name is, it isn’t a preferred thing to have on our body.
When I got pregnant recently I changed my whole wardrobe. I decided to go all out. I got new clothes almost every month. I refused to be commented on, stared at or be the target of rude questioning. Questions like,
“Oh you’re still five months? I thought you’re at term”.
“Be careful! That baby’s gonna pop any minute”. Insert raucous laughter.
People don’t get that however much we disguise our disgust with weight by advocating for skinniness in the name of health and beauty and fitness, it is a form of body shaming. The way we celebrate a woman’s weight loss journey, the number of workout machines we have available, how women are clamoring to jump on the next green juice and protein shake, the myriad of weird workouts we have available are all indicators of how much we hate any size above 8. Up to 8 we tolerate. Above that we try to change.
When people praise me for my weight loss since giving birth, I feel they’re worshiping me for a super power. Particularly overweight women. The wistfulness in their eyes, the sheer desperation to know my secret in their voice, the expression of hope in their face all make me feel like they’re waiting for me to reveal my super power. I want to tell them I’m not a superhero and don’t have an answer to their weight problems. No one has an answer to their weight problem. Because for a lot of women, their BMI and their weight might be a problem to them based on what society considers good and beautiful but it’s not really a problem that a superhero could solve. The problem is with our obsession with a certain body type. Any woman who doesn’t have that type looks for the super power to change into that body.