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Taking Up Space - Femme رنگ
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Taking Up Space

Space

Taking Up Space

for FemmeRang.com

I felt a happy stroke of boldness one day and decided that I wanted to go horseback riding with a friend. I found a coupon online and the place was close by. I was so excited to do something I had always wanted to do. I had planned it all out: we would go horseback riding in the morning, then go for lunch at a trendy local restaurant. I called the ranch to pay and place my reservation. The lady on the phone asked me for routine payment info and number of guests. Then she hit me with a question that went straight to my gut: “How much does each guest weigh?” I felt like I was about to cry and my face was hot with embarrassment. She explained that the horses can only handle a certain limit of weight “for their safety”. Shakily, I told her that I’d be cancelling my reservation and hung up the phone. It had never occured to me but it made sense. I can’t just do whatever I want. I have limitations. 

I’ve lived my entire life with obesity at some level and I’ve been to countless experts, doctors, and therapists. Nothing was wrong with the advice they gave most of the time, my consistency is the problem. Now my family is guilting me into going for Bariatric Surgery. This is especially painful to hear because it combines everything I hate about this whole process. Drastic Change. Extremely restrictive diet. Expensive and potentially dangerous medical treatment. Yes, there are cases of people that have been successful, but I’ve heard of many cases of people who gained all the weight back. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the surgery isn’t the end of the journey. The patient will likely be on a fistfull of medications and an extremely restrictive diet and portion control for the rest of the patient’s life afterwards. There’s very little flexibility. If I’m going to have to make such drastic changes either way, why not make those changes slowly and sustainably? Not only are people around me pressuring me into surgery, but they’re making me feel even more terrible than I already do.

I haven’t gotten to where I am without many tears, arguments, and discussions about shame. I’ve clashed with my parents over the years regarding treatments and why I wasn’t following through. It’s been rough to communicate that all you want is to be accepted and appreciated when the other person is just desperately frightened for your well-being and quality of life. But this is on me. As difficult as it is to swallow, I have to learn to forgive my parents for their “hurtful” words because all they were ever guilty of was loving me too much. 

At a casual get-together, a family member once asked me to my face, “Why are you so fat?” when no one else was around to defend me. I was dumbstruck at first and muttered something to change the subject. I think I might have even laughed it off. I don’t remember. But after they left, I sobbed uncontrollably into my parents’ arms. The feeling of betrayal was so piercing. You trust your family to protect you from your deepest insecurities but this person threw all of that in my face. I might be weak for not being able to take it, but so be it. Some things hit you to your core.

I don’t stand in front of the mirror and stare with loathing. I just push those thoughts out of my head and distract myself with something else. I don’t look at my body because when I catch a glimpse of the width of my thighs or the fat hanging from my waist I hate it. This happens often when I attempt to try on new clothes.

The ability to find my own personal “style” is drastically limited by what will actually fit my body. While something might be cute on the mannequin or a passerby, there are a million different reasons why it wouldn’t work for me. First, the designer likely wouldn’t dare create the garment in my size to begin with. Second, even if by some miracle I found a piece in my size, it’s highly probable that the silhouette highlights my protruding stomach or some other unflattering body part. Then I think to myself – just start at the plus size store and work from there! Sounds simple enough, but the main issue is that modesty isn’t a common feature of mainstream fashion. Not to mention that the plus size boutiques are more expensive. Yes I do have clothes to wear, some rather cute too thankfully. But then I’m struck with the fatiguing family pressure that my clothes aren’t modest enough. The same dress made for both a size 16 and a size 6 will not look the same. If you have curves, the curves will show. So I’m stuck.

We tell women to confidently take up space, because many women tend to tiptoe around their surroundings and apologize for having original or potentially controversial thoughts. This natural tendency is compounded for me because I’m overweight. I hate taking up space and existing in places where I feel I don’t belong. Whether that be real or perceived tightness. On a plane, the armrests dig into my hips and the belt doesn’t always fit. At the same time, if I have ample space to sit in a gathering on the floor, I’m hyper-aware of the amount of space my body takes up as compared to those slimmer bodies sitting comfortably around me. I fidget constantly because sitting on the floor is both physically difficult and mentally I feel everyone’s eyes on me. One of my deepest prayers is to be fit enough to sit and worship on the ground comfortably.

Recently my therapist asked me to mentally prioritize all the areas of my life. I told her my family and friends come first because it’s with them that I feel the most myself. Then my hobbies that give me much needed calm. Then my job that personally makes me feel like a productive member of society. After listing many things, my health and weight problem was nowhere on my list. I felt a little obliged to add it since the topic gives me so much grief. But if I’m truthful with myself, losing weight just isn’t as important to me as it is to be a good person with a decent legacy. She’s not the first person to tell me that it’s okay if losing weight isn’t a high priority in my life.

Because of my extra weight, I have found that some things are just better. I give the best hugs. Warm and enveloping hugs that bring my heart closer to yours. Soft little Babies and furry, friendly cats love to snuggle with me. And then there are things that go more than skin deep. Being overweight has humbled me. Friends are not a given. Connection is not a given. I have to work on my manners, my character, my actions in order to make connections, make friends, and stand out as a valuable member of society. 

I shouldn’t let anyone shame me into losing weight. No it’s not ideal to be at higher risk for a lot of chronic illnesses. But when I seriously start to lose weight it should be to take care of myself for my own sake. Not to look a certain way or to be seen and accepted by others. I know the limitations that my weight has placed on my life and I’m fully aware of the potential consequences down the line. I have all the information I need and I’ve made my decision for now. I’ll just take one day at a time and dare to take up space.

Mahvish Akhtar

Trying to keep it simple, while traveling the world. Also trying to live in harmony with tiny mischievous monsters and their dad. Do what you will with this information.

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