It was an afternoon class when a group of people from an NGO came to school to teach the students how to keep themselves safe during an earthquake. Since Assam was and still is a high risk zone -- Zone 5 -- members from NGOs working to spread awareness about earthquakes would frequent the school. After briefing a couple of classes on ways to keep themselves safe, it was our turn. One of the fastest and safest ways, they said, was to dive and hide ourselves under our desks.
"But of course, if you are like her, you will not be able to do it," one of the instructors said pointing at me. The entire class full of 14-year-olds erupted in laughter. So why wouldn't I be able to do it? If you haven't guessed it already, it's because I wasn't thin and was fairly chubby.
It's not quite a 'normal' thing to do for a 14-year-old, but after the classes were over, I lingered around. "You won't go home?" someone asked. "Yeah, right now, have to finish something first, you go ahead," I exhorted my friend. I lied. I didn't have anything to finish.
Hey, what if I became invisible? No one saw me, no one heard me, I didn't speak to anyone? Would my weight bother people less?
I just wanted to crawl under the desk and see if I can fit under it. I did. I had imagined the knowledge would reduce the hurt. Only, it doubled it. "Why me? Why did they have to say that?"
Now, if you are thinking it was one of those rare days when nothing goes right, you're wrong. It was like any other day.
On days, it was a joke -- my being fat. On other days, concern for teachers and at times fellow students. "Read a few less books, no? Go out and play. That will help you lose fat," friends offered.
It's another thing I never asked them.
Since my school routine left me no time for outdoor games, I began to eat less -- sometimes so less that I would go hungry the entire day. But things weren't going according to plan. Why was I not losing weight?
Lose weight, lose weight, lose weight, I told myself. Oh wait, I didn't have to make that effort every time. Some one or the other in school would find a way to remind me of seemingly my most important mission in life.
Towards the end of my school days, I tried to devise other ways to cling to my sanity. Hey, what if I became invisible? No one saw me, no one heard me, I didn't speak to anyone? Would my weight bother people less?
So, I tried to not take up too much space on the bench and dangled from one corner. I tried to suck in my breath and hope I wasn't inconveniencing people sharing a seat with me on the school bus. I tried every trick I could think of to be that person who you would hardly notice - quiet, reclusive, almost voiceless. But you know what? That chubby kid with self-esteem issues, there aren't too many places for them to hide in high school.
As if keeping everyone pleased would help them un-see by body.
Then I wanted to see if being exceedingly nice to others would stop them from being mean to me. So I was all-smiles, always pleasant around everyone. As if keeping everyone pleased would help them un-see by body. My body, a burden. My body, which just won't fall in line and fit in. My body, which irks everyone. My body, which bloody can't even stay invisible.
So I started to spend my classes trying to keep myself from others' way. I was so busy being invisible that I hardly had any idea what the teacher was saying. Mathematics and science were nightmares. The teachers failed to understand why I was performing so badly. I never skipped class, I seemed like I was paying attention and was always quiet -- aren't that what makes a 'bright' student? Why indeed, was I then flailing in math and science?
And I never spoke up, until now. In fact, some of the friends I made in school and am still in touch with are surprised that I even 'care'. Care? Well, that would be a mild word for wanting to not be me for one whole decade.
I had done such a great job of shutting up, that people never got to see what they were doing and how wrong it was. In fact, I spent a better part of my life thinking, I was wrong. It was wrong to be me.
Even now, when it infuriates me and I try to make sure people don't deny me my agency, I tend to rationalise fat-shaming. Like an old reflex, that just refuses to go away. "It's okay. I am fat." "It's okay. They're friends, they can joke." "It's okay. It's just a joke."
'It's okay, it's okay, it's okay.'
Only, it's not okay.
Do not suffer because you don't have to. Make your hurt or your displeasure known at being body-shamed.
For one, I wish the parents of the kids I went to school with told them it's cruel to make fun of what a person looks like. I wish, someone told me, I could stand up to bullies... or even came forward to help me do so. I wish when casual fat jokes float around at dinners, parties, smoke breaks, I could say, without qualms, it's not cool. But here's a few important things I have learnt from my ordeal.
1. It gets better. You might be going through this alone but only you can pull yourself out of this seemingly-unending dark pit. There's one easy hack: don't listen to people. And if you have to, don't assume they are right about your body.
2. Do not suffer because you don't have to. Make your hurt or your displeasure known at being body-shamed. They might tell you that it is only for your benefit, but tell them, you have a brain and you can think for yourself.
As for the rest of who is reading, no, if you have ever fat-shamed a classmate, you owe him/her an apology. A very big one. Because while you can claim school was the best time of your life, you contributed it making it a nightmare for someone else.