Written by: Tiffany Manbodh
Growing up I was always a bigger size than my peers. In Guyana, everyone purchased their primary school uniforms at the market or stores while mine had to be custom made by our family friend. It was at this young age that I realized my size was different than that of my classmates. I was conscious, but not as conscious as I was during my teenage years.
When I migrated to the United States and started visiting the Paediatrician, I was considered overweight, and as a result, placed on a diet. One that included cottage cheese and vegetables and had little regard for all of the rich foods I grew up with as a kid. While attending middle school, I found myself always dieting or trying some Chinese tea for weight loss that a relative gifted me.
Sometimes I deprived myself of foods that made me happy in order to look slender like the Bollywood actresses I idolized.
I was constantly bombarded by the media about how a girl my age should look: blue eyes with sleek hair and a svelte figure that could grab the attention of any boy I desired. I felt very self-conscious during lunch time in middle school, hesitating to eat everything off the cafeteria tray. I came from a culture where we were always encouraged to clean our plates and now here I was, conflicted between my hunger and not wanting to appear as the “fat girl” to everyone else. The friends I kept at the time were also slimmer than me. Part of me always felt like I didn’t fit in. No matter how much they told me my size was fine, I didn’t believe it. I always saw my larger frame in every group photo we took exactly as that— large.
I was often greeted with “you put on a lil weight” or “you get fat” on video calls and family events.
I became immune to this and didn’t stand up for myself. My weight wasn’t part of my identity but the countless relatives who felt the need to make comments can be found somewhere in memories that I’ve long repressed. They probably never once thought to themselves about the various reasons behind my weight gain. Whatever ignorant comment came to mind was just unleashed vocally without an inkling of care or regard to how I would perceive it.
These experiences with my relatives got me thinking about the whole body shaming concept in the Caribbean community. I don’t think some of them were aware of the emotional impact on a person like myself. Things they said like “Where yuh going with all that size?” and “Yuh get fat” didn’t serve me any purpose. These kind of remarks were spoken easily since I was growing up. The more I think about it, I’ve noticed this behavioural pattern of commenting on people’s weight and size frequently at family gatherings/events. This kind of loose talk is disempowering to a person, regardless if they struggle with eating disorders or not.
It can negatively affect the way a person see themselves and this plays a role when it comes to self-esteem.
Fast forward to my twenties and I am learning to love myself more with each passing day. I am delving into my relationship with food and noticing patterns and habits that can be traced back to childhood. Food was always there for me when I was stressed or needed emotional comfort. Food was abundant. I would spend my allowance on snacks and takeout which I justified with “treating myself” after an exam or just because. Whether it was chocolates or crunchy snacks, they never failed me. I am also extra conscious of negative comments relating to my weight or aimed to make me feel bad about my body.
“This body, this vessel, is sacred and has carried me this far. I refuse to be ashamed of it.”
This is something that I try to remind myself when I am having one of those days where I can’t help but notice the extra flab staring back at me in the mirror.