Fatness in the South Asian Community

Adithi’s story

Since childhood, I’ve been aware of my body being thick and being a fat person. It is who I beautifully am; a South Asian (SA) and brown woman who finds richness in my thickness.

Photo by Sandeep Kr Yadav

In the SA community, most women are told throughout all stages of their life that not only does being thinner mean being fit for health, but also fit for society. Whether it’s from a marriage prospective, career prospective or even as a general representation to society, irrespective of their personality and capabilities.

Weight stigma from all sides

I’m one of those women who’s not just been told this within my community and by various family members, but I have also had to worry about this every day.

I was diagnosed with PCOS in my teens, which I had a genetic predisposition to, and it is a large factor that has made it difficult for me to lose weight. Physicians and endocrinologists would simply tell me that in order to improve my PCOS symptoms, I just had to lose weight.

Photo by Sandeep Kr Yadav

Many PCOS patients have a harder time losing weight because of their hormonal imbalance. In the West, physicians always ask that I go keto, fast intermittently or cut out carbs, which are important to my cultural cuisine.

My weight and body shape has fluctuated since my pre-teens and not in the best way for my mental well-being. Over the years, my blood labs have historically shown that I’m in good health, with occasional changes in my insulin sensitivity and my ongoing low-functioning thyroid. But never drastic enough to the point that I would continue to let it get out of control and I would always try to figure out different methods that would work best for my body.

Well meaning but harmful

After my sophomore year of college, during which I was severely depressed and had suicidal thoughts, I was guilted by someone close to me into entering Food Addicts Anonymous meetings which. I dreaded going to them and it was a traumatic experience as a whole. I never felt comfortable with the concept because I did not see any true intention of this type of group helping people to live their best healthy lives.

During this time, I was also asked by someone close to me to weight myself in front of them everyday and I fought this. While the intention was concern and love for my health, they never wanted to listen when I said that their method was more detrimental. Even in college, I remember being fetishized not just as a brown, Asian and/or thick woman.

Photo by Raghavendra V. Konkathi

Several elders in my family would say things like “Oh you don’t have diabetes? Well you look like you do” or “Oh you gained weight? Well there’s always next year”. One person seems to mainly converse with me to ask whether I’m on metformin (for insulin-resistance) and thyroid medication.

I was even on a regimen a couple of years ago where I was advsied that I should be losing at least 2-3 pounds a week because “for my body size it was necessary”.

I went through another bout of severe depression due to this (as well as additional experiences regarding racial discrimination, ignorance and harassment in my life.) This was the only other time I felt like my life was not worth living.

More than just a number on the scale

I’m always being told that my weight will be a barrier to me receiving professional opportunities and meeting the right partner in life. I’ve never discussed my mental health in a vast setting like this but am doing so because I’m learning not to feel ashamed with myself for it and not to fear the threat of losing anything that I do not deserve to stress about.

Photo by Debashis RC Biswas

I’m finally understanding more about my internal health, mental health and so much more in order to love and take care of myself because I am not just a thick brown woman who is worthy but a worthy human being.

Even if I were to lose weight and become thinner than I currently am, I will not criticize myself. My focus is not on my weight, but my holistic internal health.

I share my story because of the stigma regarding any discussion about mental health and fatphobia in the SA community that is invalidated, especially when SA women speak up.

If you look at the photo of me, this was taken only a few months ago and that is the fattest I’ve been in my life. But I am sharing this photo because this is the most authentic photo I could share where I truly saw love for myself. I still show love for myself and it is different every day.

A message of hope

Specifically, for other SA women who have faced any stress and trauma regarding fatphobia, YOU ARE WORTHY AND RICH WITH YOUR UNIQUE STRENGTH.

Even if you do not share my identity, please remind yourself of this. For the families and friends of those who face struggles and trauma from fatphobia, even if this person hasn’t been able to express the difficulties they have experienced within our society, that does not mean you cannot learn (even if it is slowly) how to be more cognizant about various fatphobic experiences.

Photo by Joshuva Daniel

For the SA community, this is a very specific message I would like to relay to you so please understand that we (most of your attention tends to be directed towards SA queens) are not a value of our weight, color, body hair and physical features. We’re worthy because of our passions, actions and growth. Instead of criticizing our appearance and trying to hinder our growth, you should support our ambitions.