Dear Devyani then,
I looked at a photograph of you today. You were standing on the beach, wearing a pretty blue dress. It was silky with pink coiled spaghetti straps. Your brown curls shone under the April sun, and you smiled gleefully at the camera, perhaps unaware of how big you really looked.
I was surprised that you chose to wear a sleeveless dress. I still don’t wear one now. As you know, we’ve always been insecure about our flabby arms and bulging breast folds. They were quite prominent when you turned your back to the camera to gaze into the ocean. A lovely candid, you thought back then. But two years later, as I look at it, I feel my stomach churn at the thought of how fat I had allowed you to become.
To be honest, I feel like this whenever I look at a photo of you—the old me of the last five years. Be it a selfie with friends or a college party. Or drinks with colleagues after work. Maybe you are dressed in a fancy top for a dinner date. But the only memory I can focus on is your body, your protruding sides, your big bottom, your chubby face with a hint of a double chin—trying to analyse when and how you got so out of shape.
Was it during the summer after graduation when you devoured one too many mangoes at home? Or was it the following February when the gynaecologist put you on steroids for vaginal candidiasis? Perhaps it was a combination of both that triggered—what our grandmother calls our “fat genes,” the ones we unfortunately inherited from dad’s side of the family. Broader shoulders. Heavier bottom.
Remember, a friend once told us, “Your stature is such, you may never look thin.” A stature that has made you the subject of countless jokes, uninvited advice and shit tons of embarrassment.
Now I am doing the same to you.
“Look how fat I was,” I texted my long-distance boyfriend with a picture of you from 2019. You were standing outside the airport gate just before you boarded the flight to London, excited to pursue our Masters there, to explore the country… but the highlight of this year abroad was all the weight you ended up losing, to become me.
And then, during that transition, we fell in love with a man who loved you even then, who loves me now. Shape and size don’t seem to matter to him at all. When I texted him a picture of you, he acknowledged the progress we had made, but also pointed out how you were beautiful, too.
I really tried to believe him. I am still trying. We went from 77 kilos to 63 kilos within a year through portion control, consistent workouts and lots of walking in our favourite London neighborhoods. It didn’t require any significant changes in diet or lifestyle, just discipline and purpose. I should be proud of you for taking that step for me. We should be proud of ourselves.
Sometimes I derive that pride when I make a ‘Before’ and ‘After’ collage of our weight-loss journey. Not that I was particularly unhealthy then, but I am healthier now, physically. No sudden backaches, great stamina and good vitals. I no longer feel awkward having more food on my plate. I am open to trying newer, tighter clothes. I feel more confident going out because now I no longer anticipate dreaded fatphobic comments from “well-meaning” relatives.
Remember once when you met maama, our uncle, at a wedding, and when he asked you what you were up to in those days, you confidently replied that you were a freelance journalist? He looked you up and down amused, squeezed your shoulder and said, ”I can see that you are ‘freelancing.’ Isn’t that a code word for lazing around on the couch?” He then threw his head back and laughed, as you let out an embarrassed giggle, feeling all kinds of hurt and embarrassment.
Now, people mostly want to know how you’ve lost all that weight to become me. I won’t lie. It gives me some form of pleasure to have proved them wrong. But then I wonder, what am I trying to prove to them? If anything, I am buying into their beauty standards.
And then sometimes, just sometimes, I stop to consider whether anything has genuinely changed inside our mind? You were burdened with losing weight then; I am burdened with maintaining that weight now. Despite all the kilos shed, the heaviness lingers.
Perhaps this is because we, as a society, rarely lose weight to become healthier or fitter. Instead, we shed it to look a certain way. Now, I work out two hours in the gym, six days a week to continue to look this certain way. The added health advantages seem to be secondary to us.
And they shouldn’t be.
Perhaps then, I could have had some more empathy for us. I wouldn’t be making these fatphobic comments about you or freak out nowadays, every time I’ve put on just a few hundred grams. I’d be able to stop feeling guilty only seconds after a moment of indulgence. Heck, maybe I wouldn’t even feel the need to stand on the scale every day.
I know you would probably smirk when I tell you that I am actually a body-positive person. I preach body positivity to others—and I believe in it. I know there is no ideal shape or body type, that fat can mean fit and that the media and society alike have crafted the ideal from entrenched biases to capitalise on our insecurities. It has made us believe that being called fat is an insult. It really isn’t. It shouldn’t be.
It’s easier for me to be a cheerleader for other people.
You know our one friend who was too self-conscious to wear anything short or revealing because she felt she was too fat? She recently wore shorts in Goa. It took a lot of encouragement and affirmation for her to believe that she did, in fact, look great. And you know what? She said she felt empowered after wearing it and that it was partially due to my support.
Why, then, am I unable to extend the same empathy to myself, to you, to us? Why, in spite of advocating for body positivity and genuinely believing in it, do I look back in disgust at you and tell myself I cannot allow myself to become you again? As a formerly overweight person who has endured so many fatphobic comments, how have I let myself become similarly fatphobic towards us?
My therapist always tells me to be kind to myself, to acknowledge all the hard work I have done towards this fitness journey and celebrate my good health. However, kindness towards myself means little if I can’t be kind towards you.
Feeling fat has already taken away so many joys from us. Going to a party and eating less than we’d like, to not invite unwarranted observation. Dreading going to the doctor’s office because we know we’d have to stand on the scale. Not being able to celebrate the first of our many Taekwondo gold medals because some kids laughed when they announced our name as a winner under the “Heavyweight” category.
But I don’t want that for us anymore. Being fat or thin or whatever does not define you or me. I want us to love ourselves as we are, however we are.
And so I want to apologise to you—myself from 2019. You don’t deserve any of that hate. I want to start believing that you were beautiful then, and I am beautiful now. You and I, we are the same.
We are beautiful because we work hard towards changing what we don’t like.
We are beautiful because we find empathy even if it takes a while.
We are beautiful because we acknowledge our internal demons and fight them.
We are beautiful because we are.
It feels a bit weird referring to myself as beautiful. This leads me to believe that victory and self-confidence may be a long time coming. But this letter to you, from me, is the first step towards that, for us both.
See you on the beach someday; I promise to wear a sleeveless dress.
All my love,
Devyani Nighoskar is an independent journalist and communications professional from India, reporting and writing on identity, culture and social justice issues. You can check out all her work on her website.