It’s been over a year since I went to India and every now and then I think about one of the ways I had to mentally prepare myself for that trip. Before I left I had to prepare myself for the fact that I would probably get a lot of stares and comments over my weight. That may seem like a straightforward issue but it isn’t so let me explain. In India (and in a lot of Indian clothing stores here in Canada) it’s very common for a salesperson to comment on your size or shape. In rare cases someone might make remarks that are downright cruel but a lot of the time it’s said in a more casual manner.

For instance, someone might say to me “Your waist is too big” or “Your arms are very wide.” It truly isn’t meant as an insult, instead it is stated as a matter of fact. And the fact is that yes, my waist is too big in proportion to the rest of my body (in my opinion, anyway) and yes, my arms are also quite wide. I know other people though, who are not used to this culture and who have become very upset when someone makes such a comment. But it got me thinking, why are these statements perceived as such a big insult? Why can’t fat just be another descriptor, just like tall, short, or skinny?

I know there are other issues at work here. For one thing, “fat” is subjective. What one person sees as fat, another person sees as average. I’m not even going to get into the ways that society’s standards have changed throughout the years. But I think that ultimately Kate Harding is on to something when she writes that fat is used as an insult to mean “ugly, lazy, unfashionable” and so on. Why else would we see size 0 teenagers hurling “fat” as an insult to one another?

Personally, I think that learning to expect those comments was a positive experience for me. Amazingly I didn’t actually receive any comments from dressmakers while I was in India. But I got more comfortable with acknowledging my size and even asking if there would be enough material to make an outfit for me in certain styles (in some cases there wasn’t). If we could learn to accept fat as just another way of being instead of some secret code for being “less than” everyone else, perhaps we would all be better off.

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