There are things about my childhood that I would want my daughter, Zara, to experience. Shopping in the bazaars of Mumbai, going on short family vacations, the aroma of Alphonso mangoes permeating the humid summer air, etc. One thing I do not want her to go through is being a fat kid. Not only are there health implications for young kids who are over-weight but the affect that it has on your self image is more of an issue.
I had a tough time as a fat kid. Life as an adolescent is challenging enough, I don’t want my child to deal with the self-doubt that I was plagued with. And no- my childhood was not a Dickensian story of misery. My parents were supportive in anything I did, my family as a whole adored me and I had good friends.
Disclaimer: The views below are gathered from my own experiences. I had a tough time with being big and unfortunately I could never “own it”. I am sure there are folks who are comfortable with their body image- I wasn’t one of them.
Low Points of My Fat Life
Leaving a Love
I used to love swimming as a kid mostly because there wasn’t an accessible pool in Mumbai- it was a treat reserved when we travelled to a resort. On one such trip while I was having a gala time in frolicking in the pool, some douche called me, a chubby 8 year-old, hippopotamus. My enthusiasm for swimming drowned in a shallow pool of my tears (too dramatic?). If only my antagonists knew that the hippo is responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other animal. Anyways, it dawned that people judge you for the way you look- especially without clothes. I stopped swimming.
Swimming of a Different Kind
My mom used to buy me Disney print t-shirts as a young boy. It was the most comfortable thing to wear in the tropical climate of Mumbai and I loved Mickey. As I grew older, those t-shirts stuck to my skin and made me conscious of how other people perceived me. I stopped wearing t-shirts completely after the age of 11 and would only wear it in the comfort of my own home away from prying eyes. I wore loose shirts that ironically made me look bigger. I was a roaming tent. The only upside to my predicament was that I could shelter a small family under my shirt in a storm.
Not So Sporty Banana
There was only one sports competition I had won in my school years. I won second place in the 2nd grade in a race where you had to run a few meters eat a banana and run back. I ambitiously thought that it was the start of an illustrious career of sporting victories. Unfortunately, no other competition was designed around eating. I never even qualified for another event.
Does this Attitude Make My Butt Look Big?
I am an extrovert. A pretty jovial guy as well. On the outside it would be impossible for anybody to tell that I had absolutely zero self-esteem. All I thought was people just saw me as a fat lump. I am sure that’s not true- at least I hope. I hated going out because that would mean I would have to wear “outside” clothes. I would stand in front of the mirror and analyze myself from all angles to make sure I look presentable. The time and energy this process sucked was immense.
Four Years of Avoidance
When I moved to a new school in the 7th grade, I noticed that the girls in my class were giggling at me when I wore a thin, clingy polo t-shirt during Physical Training (P.T.) class. For a brief second I felt the giggling meant, “Hey Cutey, come and talk to us”. Soon I realized they were snickering and saying, “Look at that freak”. They thought that I looked like a girl as I was probably sporting breasts bigger than theirs. I skipped P.T. class for the next 4 years until I was in that school to avoid wearing the “Sports Uniform”.
Smoky Peer Pressure
I was morbidly curios about smoking and tried it in the 8th grade. I got addicted to it because someone told me it kills appetite and makes you thinner. Experience is a cruel teacher and it taught me that smoking does not do anything except make you a nicotine junkie and ruin your health. Smoking was the one thing I did everyday for 12 years until I finally quit at the age of 25.
You Called Me What?
I would regularly get into fights with kids at school who would call me “fatso”. I had people calling me “fatso” at home already and didn’t want it to become my identity. When my family called me a “fatty” it was a term of endearment, not malice.
6 Inches Too Shy
Khakis were all the rage in India, back in 1999. I persuaded (begged) my dad to give me some cash so I could get myself some nifty khakis. I wanted so bad to look like the other cool kids. I went to the biggest mall in Mumbai with a couple of friends- armed with $20- but could not find Size 42 inch pants. The largest size available was 36 inches. I came empty handed, where my other friends bought their wares. I ate a few scoops of ice-cream and cried myself to sleep.
During my university days in Canada, I once visited the on-campus clinic to see why some nasty stomach aches wouldn’t stop. The doctor, a large burly man with an impressive beard touched my stomach. I screamed like I was just hit by a bullet. On being asked what my diet consisted in the last few days. I sheepishly told him the truth- pizza, coffee and cigarettes. He asked me when was the last time I had a vegetable. The only veggies I consumed were the pizza toppings. He told me that I would die of colon cancer before my 40th birthday.
Huff, Puff and Falling Down
The engineering fraternity at Ryerson would hold a charity event every year where a bunch of guys continuously pushed a Beetle for 24 hours. I offered my services for a few minutes of pushing the car. I succumbed to breathlessness after just 2 minutes. Years of smoking, being obese and the lofty ambition of helping in a noble cause almost got me killed- or so I thought as I lay panting for 20 minutes on the sidewalk in winter.
Although, most of the stuff above might seem grim- there were some advantages of being big.
- 1. I was never one to fight with anybody. But if pushed in a corner, I could draw on my bulk and pretend to be very angry. I would always give the impression that tell me one more thing and a brown version of Hulk will greet you next. It worked a few times.
- 2. I would excuse myself from hard labour. If friends asked me to help them move, I would tell them that lifting heavy stuff throws my back. This excuse doesn’t fly as a seemingly fit guy.
- 3. I found it easier to float on water.
- 4. Nobody considered me to go somewhere if it was an emergency.
For anyone on the emotional roller coaster called ‘Healthy Living’, know that you aren’t alone and keep on truckin’. Your body and your family will one day thank you.
And don’t forget to tell us of a low point or better tell us how it feels after overcoming that low.