Ok, this is an unusual admission from me – I am not fat. Not saying I am not thin, but am not fat either, whatever the definition of thin or fat is.
Which brings me to this question: what is the definition of fat, or thin? And who defines it? And why do we accept it?
The truth, unsurprisingly, is based on our perception about the issue. What I may think of as thin, may not be so for someone else (my children’s friend’s bordering-on-anorexic mothers probably think I am fat. I differ. Conversely, my mom thinks I am thin. Again, I differ). It’s all relative.
Today, somehow, being thin means being skinny, or somewhere near it. The whole definition of beauty has changed completely. And women, more than men, are trying to live by some warped standards of beauty, and are putting themselves through torture to conform to it. Innumerable studies and life experiences of people have repeatedly shown that physical qualities in people do only so much to make them happy and contended – one because they are fleeting and two, because they don’t add meaning to people’s lives. That may be a philosophical outlook that you may or may not agree with, but it does not take away from one simple fact – that our obsession with looking good and the methods of achieving it are unhealthy. And this must stop – because what we’re doing, and by we I mean women like myself who have unknowingly fallen into the trap and perpetuated the idea, is passing it on to the next generation. Most of us (like yours truly) may not mean to, but we are. Every time I look in the mirror and exclaim that I have gained weight, I am (albeit inadvertently), passing on my idea of beauty to my children. I may tell them otherwise, but children look at actions and take away from that. They are watching us at all times and learning from our behaviour. What we do or say seeps into their sub-conscience and feeds their ideas about life and society – in this case about defines being thin; it tells them what they must be like to be accepted as attractive.
Children are sponges – so if you, even in jest, say that you are fat, they will process this very differently than you may have intended.
Let me now confess that I have been guilty of this. I have often made a correlation between my weight with feeling good and not, as I should have, being fit and feeling good – because that’s what it should be about. I want to be healthy, and not being fat, in the medical sense, is part of it. But that’s not what I conveyed in my actions and words. I am a runner and I do believe that it makes me fitter. Yet, I have somehow done a bad marketing job of making those feelings known and amplified the ones that I don’t really believe in – which is about wanting to be thinner than I am.
For instance, when my sister and I joke about “going on a crash diet”, we lead our children to believe that depriving yourself of food is justified and even required if one needs to be acceptably thin (and thus physically attractive). The fact that neither of us never act on our words may not be enough to quell the ideas we had engraved in our children’s impressionable minds.
Why this sudden awakening you may ask? Because my older daughter (now ten) said to me the other day that she feared being fat when she grew up. It was one of those passing things that kids say, which they forget about the next moment and move on. But, her words stopped me in my tracks. I realized what I had done. I knew she didn’t fear it, like she fears the dark, or earthquakes. Yet, just the fact that she, at ten-years-old, had thought about gaining weight when she grew older, was enough to set me on a path of correcting the wrong I had done.
Parenting, I have learned, is not about the ability to always do the right thing, or about berating yourself for doing the wrong. It’s about realizing and admitting when you’ve made mistakes, and setting them right. That’s exactly what I plan to do now. And it can’t be done by siting my daughter down and giving her philosophical monologues on the idea of beauty. That’s taking the easy way out and frankly, it never works. She’s growing up in a world surrounded by image-obsessed people, who, along with some ill-timed remarks by her mother about her own weight, have influenced her little mind. What she needs is to see the right ideas in action. She needs to see her mother run and then talk about being fit, she needs to see her mother dress for a party and not ask if she’s looking fat, she needs to see her mother feel good about herself about the way she looks and not rue about her lost youth when she was thin.
My new-found resolve, however, does not mean that I shall now proceed to wander around with unkempt hair and live in sweatpants, because that would really prove I don’t care about how I look and thus send the right message to my kids. It won’t, they’ll just think I am sloppy. No, it means that I stop saying things I don’t mean and, through my actions, I prove that being healthy is what matters.
And the effects of this will be two fold – one, of course, I will teach my daughters the right thing about their body-image and two, I will feel good about myself, which I have not been doing lately. I run to be healthy and because I enjoy it, not to be thin – whatever that means today.