I was recently fat-shamed, which was strangely horrible. I’ve never been fat-shamed before, and I was taken aback by how hurtful a passing quasi-jest felt, even to me, who doesn’t usually give a toss about what people think of my appearance (probably because I’ve also never been actually fat). For the uninitiated, ‘fat-shaming’ refers to the practice of making someone feel bad about themselves because they are overweight, or are perceived to be. Remember everyone calling the fat kid in class ‘kofta’? That was fat-shaming. Before you scoff and wave your hand dismissively at the liberal over-dramatification of playground teasing, consider this. The people who think fat-shaming is just a bit of harmless fun are usually the ones who never got called ‘bhains’ by anyone, and Notes from the Underground is here to tell you that it really wasn’t okay then, and it certainly is not now.

The beauty of the progress of knowledge is that it is driven by increased self-awareness. Ten years ago we didn’t really know fat-shaming existed—well, it did, we just didn’t’ have a proper term for it. Bullying, making fun, teasing. The words are graded levels of meanness, but all are unkind. Take childhood obesity, for example. We come from a culture where chubby babies represent good mothering—if your baby is fat, it means you are evidently looking after said baby well. Never mind that sometimes fat babies are not the result of lucky genes or some really industrial-strength mother’s milk, but unhealthy habits, like giving the baby cereal in their bottle or, even worse, Coke (I saw it with my own two eyes). Ergo the chubby baby grows into the fat toddler, and everyone likes a little pot-bellied two year old lumbering around with a chicken nugget in each hand. It’s cute, because they’re babies. It isn’t quite as endearing when the toddler grows into a sweaty nine year old with a burger in each hand, bellowing for a choc-bar at chutti time. And when you’ve been fat all your life, it’s really, really hard to shed that weight. And then you’re not cute any more, you’re wheezing after climbing a flight of stairs, nobody picks you for their dodge-the-ball team and no matter what your mother may tell you, you don’t feel happy. It’s important for kids to feel accepted by their peers, and being laughed at does not make for social confidence. If you’re a chubby girl, then the pressure doubles because if it’s one thing girls just are not allowed to be, it is fat. Even when you’re six years old.

Do you know someone who used to be fat and is thin now, and a little mental about their fitness? People who haven’t really struggled with their weight and its attendant confidence issues probably won’t understand why, but it’s the reason why Kate Moss said ‘nothing tastes as good as being thin’. At the time she was slammed roundly by all and sundry as being an insensitive moron, but I think what she meant was that being thin is intoxicating because it changes everything for you. You’re suddenly attractive, popular, desired. All the clothes in all the stores now suddenly fit you perfectly. The men and women who friend-zoned you before are now suddenly looking at you differently. Your Facebook like-counter explodes every time you post a photo of yourself. It’s ridiculous, agreed, but the high of all that acceptance and positive attention is outrageous.

So this is why fat-shaming is a thing now. Because it is patently unfair, superficial and downright stupid to judge people by how fat or thin they are. The entire premise is a terrible one, because it ascribes value to that most variable and changeable of things, weight. When I was in college, a senior was chubby. She then came back after one summer break thirty pounds thinner and boom! She was the prettiest, most pursued girl on campus. Inside, she was the exact same person she had been three months ago, but evidently the outside was all anyone really cared about. Which is awful, because we all deserve to be liked, respected and admired for who we truly are. The span of one’s waist or how much you can bench-press should be part of one’s self the way a penchant for books or a sarcastic sense of humour is. Cast your mind back to the school Kofta/Mota/Bhains/Cow. Do you remember what his or her name was? Did you ever hang out with them? Do you know what subject they were good at? Probably not, because fat-shaming reduces people to stereotypes, and erases their identity as individuals. Nothing about you is worthy of attention because you’re fat, and somehow that means you don’t deserve to be known as anything else. Imagine for a minute how damaging and heartbreaking that is. Admittedly, humans are visual beings and it is natural to appreciate beauty. But why should our notion of beauty be so limited? Isn’t a kind heart beautiful? Isn’t there beauty in a smile? Are we really so shallow and foolish that we are so easily led by lean legs or artfully styled hair?

In our carefully curated, mostly-online lives, we are that shallow and foolish. There are countless articles about how makeup is deceptive, but the need for that kind of alteration to one’s face stems from our collective obsession with a standardized notion of beauty. We have never made it desirable to have a bare face, to have love handles, to be hairy, either for men or women. Being able to love yourself is what fat-shaming addresses. It’s not okay to make someone feel ashamed of themselves, or less-than, for something so trivial. Because it is trivial, and we should remember that. We should be aware of how much of our personal preferences are our own, and how much are influenced by magazines and television. And we should remember that we are who we are, and that’s all right.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com