This week we have been paying special attention to the issue of body positivity on our site, mostly because we are outraged that a photo posted by a body positivity blogger we featured got deleted by Instagram – you know, because plus-sized bodies in bikinis are a no-no. When we spoke to Aarti Olivia Dubey, the blogger in question, about what had happened, she reminded us that when you are plus-sized, other people – whether they are well-meaning or not – often make narrow-minded assumptions about your body, and the kind of life you lead. But often the real story is much deeper than any of them realise.
To give you a better picture of the truths behind these real women – not the fictions that society imposes on them – we’re sharing a story that previously appeared in our June 2015 issue. In it, Aarti talks about battling anxiety and eating disorders in order to arrive at a point in her life when she could finally learn to embrace beauty, no matter what size it comes in.
“Asia is not a kind place for plus-sized girls. You go to a mall and someone smiles at you and hands you a brochure on why you should lose weight. Or you walk into a store and the first thing the assistant tells you is, ‘There is nothing in your size.’ The night of my 30th birthday, a stranger pointed at me and told his wife, “See? You’re not that fat.”
I was actually very skinny as a kid, but my doctor told my parents, ‘She’s malnutritioned, you’ve got to fatten her up’. That’s when it started. My parents introduced me to things like McDonald’s and cheese, and they also put me on an appetite-increasing supplement, so my metabolism really slowed down and my appetite also bottomed out, meaning it has trouble telling me when I’ve had enough. So I was a skinny, athletic kid, and then I became dumpy and out of breath. I didn’t know what to do with my body, and neither did my parents. They didn’t expect a drastic change, and that’s when the fat-shaming started.
I know it wasn’t my fault but I took it out on myself because I was a kid. I would allow myself one meal a day and do P.E. lessons in school, plus around two hours of cardio each day, without fail. It got worse when I was 15. There was a lot of strife at home and I needed to fill this void, so that’s when I started binge-eating and purging, and I became a bulimic.
The void still did not leave, and by 16, I had given up hope on myself completely. I started overeating and ate through my depression. As I got older, I would do a lot of fad diets – the cabbage soup diet, the Long Beach diet, meal replacements… And throughout this time, there was constant shaming.
Since the age of 11, I heard things like – ‘If you’re fat, you won’t be able to find someone to love you, you won’t be successful, you won’t live long, you won’t be healthy, or find happiness…’ As my weight kept going up and down, every time it went up I would worry that my then-boyfriend would leave me. Or I would start berating myself, telling myself not to be lazy or a slob, or a pig, and all those words that I heard people say. What I said myself within was a reflection of what I heard outside. But it didn’t really seem to matter whether I was slimmer or fatter, it just never seemed like I was enough.
Throughout my twenties, it was the same, but different. I met my now-husband in my twenties and he never really cared what size I was – although I doubted that for the longest time. He would tell me, ‘It’s okay to have a good meal and not feel badly afterwards.’ He got me out of my shell.
Also, when I was 22, I lived in Australia for a bit, and that’s when a change started to happen. I saw all these plus-sized girls looking amazing, dating gorgeous guys, wearing whatever they wanted. They were going out, just being themselves and that made me realise that I didn’t have to be skinny for someone to appreciate who I was. And I didn’t have to be size two or four to get people to love me.
But my twenties were also tough, because when I came back, the anger was worse. I was supposed to get married and I started getting fat-shamed by my in-laws, who said, “Oh, we’re gonna have a fat bride.” And I can assure you I wasn’t fat. The idea of fat is subjective, but I decided – fine, I would be a slim bride, so I spent one year on meal replacements. I didn’t have lunch and dinner, and instead would only take the shakes. I had boot camp classes with a trainer and ran on my own, and I lost 25 kilos in a year.
It drove me pretty insane. I was so edgy at the end of it, and I’d have to sit, watching my friends and my husband eat, telling myself, “It’s okay, I’ve had my shake, I’m good.” It messed up my immunity and my stomach lining – and it’s been messed up ever since. When I went on my honeymoon to Melbourne, they confiscated my meal replacements because they had dairy in them, which is the best thing that could have happened. That was the first time that year I ate, and my husband was just so happy. He said, “There was this change in you, you were not snapping at me anymore, you were yourself again!” I was smiling, laughing, and actually enjoying my honeymoon.
But when I came back, I had a lot of health issues. I’ve always been sickly, and I have chronic foot injuries that inhibit me from doing things like running, so I was a little lost after the wedding. There was this push and pull, not knowing if I should keep at losing the weight, or stop.
I think it was when I went to a reputed nutritionist at a local hospital, and she told me, ‘Maybe you should go under the knife, get some liposuction, and get the fats out of you, and that might help speed the process up.’ I said, “This is the last time I’m coming to see you, and this is the last time I’m having any more thoughts of having a diet.”
For a long time, I struggled because I always assumed I should be thinking about losing weight instead of staying the size that I was at. Which is why I had my yo-yo weight cycles – I would lose all that weight, and then I’d get angry; I would wonder, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I pleasing my parents, my friends, or boyfriend, just so I can be accepted? What can’t they just be happy that I’m here, and basically accept me for who I am?’
On my 30th birthday, I felt my worst. I felt that something needed to change, and I knew the biggest change I could bring about was how I looked at myself. Because, despite being well-educated and confident from the outside, I suffered. I had social anxiety and depression. That’s when I started reading a lot of body positive blogs and really trying to understand how I could embrace myself.
So I finally decided that I was not going to lose the weight. Beating myself up and obsessing over my weight [never] helped. I had to take a step back and reframe all those beliefs – “If you’re fat you won’t be loved. If you’re too tall or too skinny, men won’t find you attractive.”
Ultimately, a lot of it boiled down to the need to please other people – and I had to give that up. It’s not an instant thing. It’s a constant road to self-improvement, but I was not going to change the way that my body was for anyone else. I was going to embrace myself exactly the way that I was, and be okay with it.
Since then, there’s been a lot of healing. And I think a breakthrough moment happened in my sixth month of the blog. I started doing these body positive workshops run by another blogger, which made me really delve deep into how I felt about different body parts.
It wasn’t something I had done before, but she wanted us to talk about how we appreciated that body part, how it’s kept up going through the years, and how it’s sustained us – how it’s more than just another flabby body part that’s just an eyesore. And that really made a change. Looking at my body beyond the skin – the dimpled thighs, the cellulite – it made me realise that it really isn’t about that. It’s not about the skin, it’s about how I value myself.
I have my bad days but I tell myself that it’s okay not to love or even like yourself every day. I’m only human. Body positivity only comes with a lot of introspection, and a lot of challenging of your inner beliefs, and your own inner dialogue. What you say about your own body, and other people’s bodies. It took me some time to look past my size and somebody else’s size and not judge them. Being a big girl, for example, I would judge skinny girls. But I know it’s not fair on them, so I’ve stopped doing that. And certainly you want the same courtesy to be extended to you. So the language you speak definitely has to change.
Pleasing myself nowadays is about being happy and not being hard on myself. It’s okay if I don’t work out, or if I give myself a break. I do things that make me happy and I don’t limit myself – whether it’s food, fashion or social events. Because I struggled with social anxiety, having people look at me, and feeling like a spectacle. I try to feel good about myself because I know that I’m doing the best that I can, and I’m taking the best care of myself possible, without compromising my health or my mental stability.”
Text: Kit Chua
Images: courtesy of Aarti Olivia Dubey