I groggily got out of bed a little after 8 AM and set out to complete my morning routine. I am not a morning person, and thus my process of waking up is a protracted affair.
Just as I was getting started, my phone buzzed. My favorite aunt from Canada was calling me. I’m one of those people who still answer phone calls, so I picked up.
“Hello,” I began, trying not to slur my sleepy words. She, however, was wide awake.
My aunt proceeded to ask me about all aspects of my life, shooting off questions swiftly. I tried my best to keep up.
She finally arrived at her questions about my partner. “How’s he doing?”
“He’s doing good,” I responded.
She was very happy to hear the update. It’s always great news when a woman finally fulfills her life’s penultimate task of finding a person who’ll marry her. Obviously, her most important responsibility is to have kids, but, you know, unwed mothers leave a bitter taste in society’s mouth. So, first things first.
“Okay, well, there’s one final thing I wanted to discuss with you. You should take some steps to lose weight before your wedding. That way you can look pretty in your bridal clothes!” she said excitedly.
I had zero time to mentally prepare for this assault on my self-worth. Also, I’m not getting married anytime soon. We aren’t even engaged. We’re doing this super radical thing called “taking our time”.
I found my way to the living room couch and collapsed in it. At that moment, I wished that I too was one of the millennials who hasn’t answered their phone in years.
My aunt’s statement felt like an ice bucket had been dumped onto me. Now, I was just as awake as she was.
I was under the foolish impression that my family had learned to leave this topic alone. Nope. Instead, the perfect moment was being determined. It had to be timed well enough to put a damper on the rest of my day.
I shouldn’t be surprised. My weight has been a long-standing topic of conversation, and several family members have brought it up far more times than I dare count.
Often, even strangers have taken it upon themselves to tell me that I am fat.
I once had lunch with a friend of mine who is originally from South Asia. Her mother was visiting her in America. Without a care in the world about whether or not it was her place to tell me about my body, the mother commented that I was fat.
That same lady, barely more familiar than a stranger, was surprised at how uninhibited I was with my movements and my body. Apparently, women who aren’t thin should move through the world in a way that proves they are carrying the ponderous shame of their appearance.
As I sat on the couch early in the morning, listening to my aunt passing along her unsolicited, unhealthy advice, I felt compelled to offer a rejoinder.
My aunt’s daughter was at the forefront of my mind. It became important to me that my younger cousin’s mother hear an alternative perspective on the relationship between weight and beauty: namely, that they are not inversely proportional.
“You made an inappropriate remark,” I began, setting up the verbal boundaries to guard my emotional well-being. I said this to show her that I was not obligated to listen to that toxic advice. I was fully within my right to judge the comment and reject it.
I was surprised at both the level of wakefulness and calmness in my response.
“Being pretty and being overweight are not related,” I continued, “and this pressure to equate our beauty with how much we weigh is hurting us. We need to stop.”
My aunt is a plump woman herself, and I’ll admit that this made me expect more from her than impromptu advice that I should lose weight to look pretty in my wedding clothes.
I thought that she would understand the pain caused by unsolicited comments about our bodies.
My health was not mentioned once in the conversation, and it hasn’t been the reason for historical remarks about my appearance either. This is about looks. It has always been about making sure I aspire to conform to social standards of beauty.
I struggled with eating disorders throughout my teens and early twenties. My anorexia got so debilitating in high school that I stopped attending classes senior year due to low blood sugar.
I don’t want my cousin, or anyone else, to endure a similar experience.
My aunt, along with many others, must understand that we cannot continue talking like this both to and about girls and women. We are creating false equivalences in impressionable minds.
We are also conditioning girls and women to prioritize their looks over their intelligence and personalities.
This idea that thinness is necessary for beauty is being re-evaluated in Western society, but it is still a dominant notion here and in several cultures.
Why is it even considered a woman’s job to look pretty?
I am confident that if I had been a single, boyfriend-less woman this morning, then the conversation would instead have been about how I needed to lose weight to find a man who would want to spend the rest of his life with me.
That’s why he’d want to stay? Because of how much I weigh?
Is that why women choose to stay with men?
Is my point in life to look like the kind of woman that men are generally attracted to?
There is so much wrong with the entire social framework that even allows for common comments about women’s bodies. Our bodies are ours just as much as men’s bodies are theirs, and yet society keeps trying to tell us otherwise.
I take my health seriously, and my relationship with myself is not one of enablement. I understand that in several cases weight is one indicator of physical health, but there’s much more to the story when it comes to our bodies.
I have gone down in clothing sizes while going up in pounds, simply due to the amount of muscle I’m building.
But again, none of the conversations about my weight have truly had the intention to address my health. Even in that hypothetical scenario, the approach is of the utmost importance.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” I asked my aunt, before letting her leave the conversation.
“Yes, yes, I do,” she said.
“Good,” I responded.
I got off the phone, having fought my first battle of the day before 8:30 AM.