There’s always One of Them in everyone’s class—the child everyone else calls ‘kofta’, some of them being genuinely malicious and some of them because Punjabis don’t have a defined sense of respecting other people’s feelings. The fat child. I’m not sure how it goes around the world, but generally everyone loves a fat baby. Dimpled knees and wrists, the big soft cheeks, the round little tummy inside a onesie—chubby babies are universally adored. The fat baby grows into a fat toddler, and grannies all over Pakistan coo as the child trundles around and their mother beams. A lovely baby is, after all, a sure sign of your excellence as a mother. If your baby is fat and you’re exclusively nursing, then one’s sense of utterly smug pride is disgustingly high, and why ever not? Not only have you produced said beautiful infant, but your body continues to shock and awe by providing the baby with superhuman-strength nourishment. If your baby is fat, nobody will give you the chee-chee look if you’re giving the baby formula because the end—the glorious, roly-poly end— is what counts, not whether you’re letting your infant drink Coke in its sippy cup. Fat Toddler continues to grow and becomes Fat Kid, and that’s where the trouble begins.

Poor Fat Child, being told it is lovely all its life as it happily guzzles milkshakes and has two parathas for lunch. By that time you are genuinely that hungry and you’re used to it, so you eat a certain amount of food. Fat toddlers are also perhaps cossetted more because of the prodigious number of people willing to bribe you with sweeties to be able to squish your splendid round baby face. But poor Fat Child, people cease to think you’re adorable and begin to call you kofta or moti when you can’t run as fast as everyone else or bring parathas in your lunchbox. In all the foolish ways we consider ourselves modern, the concept of fat-shaming has caught up with us and no longer can chubby children bask in the glory of their perceived rotund cuteness, or their mothers glowing pride. Nobody wants their child to be the Fat Kid any more.

Childhood obesity is a genuine issue in our world of processed food, fast-food chains and ridiculously unhealthy lifestyle choices. It isn’t just cosmetic; being overweight is unhealthy, and children are becoming increasingly prone towards contracting diseases like juvenile diabetes and being more susceptible to ill-health as adults. We know this, but what worries me is that the perception of fatness is increasingly becoming a very variable one. All over the world we are terrified of being fat, and fat no longer means the desi-ghee and nihari-for-breakfast kind of fat, but things like not being able to achieve a thigh gap, or a perfectly flat stomach. Maybe for Caucasians that kind of thin is an achievable goal, but for any normal Asian woman it sounds like complete lunacy. And yet we too want to be that kind of thin, because globalization has hit us between the eyes and we have no way of discerning between fact and fiction. Most disturbingly, our young ones don’t. They seem to think the lifestyles they see on shows like Gossip Girl is real, or photoshopped, air-brushed models look like that in real life. We don’t try and correct that view either, because we’re too busy trying to get into size 2 jeans ourselves. Who decided you had to be that thin, on or off a ramp? Why are our beautiful models that skinny? Why was someone like Aaminah Haq such a delightful avant-garde model for having a normal body? We can’t dictate what happens in the international world of fashion (from where our ideas of what is beautiful really stem), but we can at least try and embrace the reality of the average Asian body on our local fashion scene.

General opinion used to agree that young girls and women are the most susceptible to body dysmorphia, but men, young and old, do too. Body dysmorphia means having constant negative thoughts about your body. Whether or not the perceived fault actually exists, the person suffering it is convinced that their body is defective. Most famously Michael Jackson suffered from the condition, and mild cases would most likely include people who obsess over the shape of their nose or what they think is a fat stomach. Gone are the days of being happy in your own skin; that skin now more than ever, has to conform to an impossible standard of beauty that shouldn’t even apply to us in the first place. Aishwarya Rai Bachhan was lambasted in the press worldwide for being a fat pregnant woman and later being a chubby mother of a newborn. Two years later she has floored everyone at Cannes, and hats off to her for not giving a hoot about what anybody thought of her body. I remember reading about her saying she was enjoying her baby, not obsessing over being thin, and I cannot applaud her enough for taking that kind of stand.

Kate Moss once said, to what should be her irreversible shame, that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Which means nothing you can eat is worth being fat for. Obviously, she has never had a warm crisp jalebi on a rainy afternoon, but it’s worth observing how many people tend to agree. It’s good to be fit. It’s great if you have washboard abs if you really like working out. Losing weight is tremendously difficult even if you like salad, and I salute everyone who has the willpower and tenacity to maintain a fit body. But I also know that I shouldn’t fall into the trap of basing my entire self-worth on what size kurta at Khaadi fits me. There is more to me than that, and people are fickle. I once had a drastic haircut while I was in college, and overnight I was doubly popular. I was the exact same person, only with fashionable hair, but it seemed to make all the difference. I understand wanting to be thin—we are bombarded with images that constantly tell us thin means beautiful, successful and desirable. But we need to make a conscious effort to be kind to ourselves and be proud of our bodies, because if we won’t, nobody will. And nobody should be allowed to make you feel ugly. Ever.

 The writer is based in Lahore.

Email:m.malikhussain@gmail.com