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Gurleen Khandpur

Food and fatties have a strange relationship. It's almost a love hate relationship derived not entirely from the dubious observation that they love food so eat like crazy, then hate it when it makes them fatter. No, that's not it…no. 

Picture a fat person, eating. I am almost entirely sure that the image was hilarious. Unless, of course, you have a hugely sensitized persona that has not bought into the pop culture adage of:  "Food is to the fattie, what chandelier-suspended crazy sex and promiscuity is to gay people." I must admit I got the chandelier suspension imagery from Ellen's coming out episode on Oprah, god bless her. Ellen that is.

If what is meant by that is unclear, have a look at these photos;

Clearly, we like to imagine fat people as food gobbling maniacs shoving "obscene" amounts of food into their pie-hole, reminiscent of sweaty men shoveling coal in steam-liners. If that seems to be a gross exaggeration, maybe what we mean by these representations is that fatties are hopelessly hooked on to food, much like a doper on crack, and cannot stop even to their own detriment. Or, if even that seems a bit unfair, maybe all that is meant is fat people over-eat, overeating makes them fat. That obviously is funny.

If the imagery of a fat person eating tickles the funny bone, then the comic relief provided by a fattie tripping and falling is classic. So are the "Fat chick digs you, now run!" jokes. Or, the various scenarios dealing with lifting a person and cranes. In fact, Bharti Singh is one celebrity whose entire "celebrity-dom" is courtesy the fact that she is fat and can make fat jokes. Of course, making jokes is what a comedienne does, but if she weren't fat, where would she be? We love our fatties! 

Speaking of funny, there's this one scene from the movie Dil etched into my memory. It's the only thing I remember from that movie. I watched it when I was 4. A vast majority of movie goers would vouch for the hilarity of it. Here were our very own Harry and Sally, er…Madhu (Madhuri) and Raja (Aamir) engaging in the typical battle of wits that verifies sizzling chemistry between man and woman. It is almost a prerequisite to a torrid affair that sets the sheets ablaze.

Oh wait, this was the early nineties, so we skip the blazing sheets and go straight to an affair of the heart, the likes of which put Romeo and Juliet to shame. They were the epitome of star crossed lovers! Before they got there, however, they were bent on making each other's life hell. It was during this phase that Madhu, in order to get to Raja, puts up posters all over college declaring that Raja has challenged the reigning college boxing champ to a match. Raja, in order to not come off as a wimp, does not deny this and subsequently finds himself in the rink facing defeat and humiliation; at least that's what everybody expects would happen. Madhu, who seems to be compering at the match, is fit to burst with glee and in order to further humiliate Raja gives him a choice – eat humble pie and bow out or agree to a wager promising dire consequences in the face of defeat. The dire consequences involved her offering up her friend to be kissed by Raja if he lost. Yes, you read that right. If he lost. Not won. It was supposed to be a most unappealing prospect, that of kissing her friend. So much so, that he shuddered in revulsion when he saw the friend. Here's what he saw:

Quite right. Who in their right mind would want to kiss a woman who seems to have not a shred of self-respect, allowing their "friend" to subject them to public ridicule? Or maybe she was a desperate lonely woman who wouldn't pass up the chance to be kissed no matter what the circumstance. However, the inane grin on her face, a face stuffed with food trailing to her chin, made me wonder if she was not a blithering idiot with limited hand to face co-ordination. As I grew up I realized that fat people with stuffed faces are funny, and I joined in the laughter. After all, we love our fatties.  

This stuffed face fattie that we see peeking at us from movie screens and other entertainment media is a loved caricature based on observation of daily encounters with fat people I think. Or maybe the encounters occur because of the stuffed-face fattie of the media. Who knows? What I do know is that a fattie, me included, gets served extra-large helpings of food at "gurudwara langars" or wedding buffets. The server doesn't even ask, just heaps on! I admit, when it comes to chicken I haven't minded that but honestly, do I look like I can eat that much? Er…maybe I do. Then there'll be that somebody (mostly the hosts) who looks at the heaped plate and smirks, "Sharmaana mat, acche se khana haan." (Don't feel self-conscious, eat your fill alright.) My standard response to that over the years has been, "Nahin nahin aunty, mujhe dekh ke lagta hai aapko ki main khaane mein sharmaungi?" (No no Aunty, do I look like someone who'd be shy about eating their fill?)

Then there are restaurants. Go to a Mc Donald's and the helpful guy at the counter will offer to make it a "large". Then again, maybe they do that to everybody. At KFC you get your order and sit at your table and you garner looks of recrimination that say, "You're fat, you shouldn't be eating that." I must admit that a fellow fattie told me about this, I am generally too busy tucked into my zinger meal to notice much else. What I have noticed is that when you are out with friends for dinner, ordering a dessert does seem like a clandestine activity. 

I don't think that people realize that fatties don't have an appetite much larger than most of the rest of the populace. At least not all do. Also, not all fatties are fat because they eat too much and exercise too little. We are a healthy mix of appetite sizes, not unlike everyone else. I have been fortunate enough to have women friends who are skinny and the phrase "eats like a bird" does not apply to them. I have had so many guy friends for whom the phrase "eats like a horse" is an apt description. They are not fat. I on the other hand have an average appetite by most standards and, if salespeople at clothing stores are to be believed, I am the size of a mini blimp. Ah well.

Being fat does give me a handicap in food eating contests though. My skinny friends managing to eat two Jumbo Chicken burgers (Of the famous Burger King's of Pune) in one sitting would be a marvelous feat. If I do the same, it's because I am fat. The tummy aches, sweaty brows, and discomfort in walking that we both experience in the aftermath of such a contest notwithstanding. Now that's unfair, I say! I deserve to be marvelous too. 

At least my mum believes I am marvelous, I must concede. I don't have to have two burgers for her to feel that way. Many a time, I would barely get started with the second chapatti of the three I usually have at mealtimes (my mum makes TINY chapattis) and it would start, "You should go on a diet. Look at your size. Nobody will ever marry you. Are you listening to me? Usha Aunty told me about this new diet. Her sister tried it and lost three kilos in a week. Why can't you do something like that?" At which point my hunger raging  after having been out playing all evening, would disappear like post-pregnancy fat does in new age mommies and each bite would feel like me giving in to Satan's tempting ministrations. Sometimes I'd look at her with eyes swimming with tears, put down my spoon and leave the table. At others we'd have a shouting match at the dining table with me stomping off and closing my bedroom door with a rebellious bang. Most often I'd just tune her out and finish my dinner in silence. My sister when she was around 9 years of age, started skipping meals and going on diets randomly. As she suffered from asthma, she was inordinately skinny. My mum noticed, I noticed, and I couldn't help but ask her what she was doing?! She looked at me solemnly and said, "Come on! I live with you. I see what you go through every day. I don't ever want to be like that." If I die tomorrow I can rest assured that my life has made a difference to somebody. (At the time we talked her out of her shenanigans, but I must say my mum was very proud of her insistent resolve to not become fat.)

So many of us fatties who are foodies (I am one) look at our skinny counterparts and begrudge them the ability to eat without putting on weight.  By foodie, here, I don't mean someone who partakes in over large quantities of food, but someone who has a discerning palate. Someone who can say "gastronomic delight" and know what it truly means. Someone who doesn't just treat food as fuel for the body, but sees food and the preparation of food as an art form. Someone who rejoices in the textures, aroma, flavor and visual appeal of a dish well prepared! Looking at the Jugheads of our world we feel real envy. We are often heard bemoaning the fact that we'd probably put on weight if we lived on air and water. It's one of the greater tragedies of life.

It is thus, that we find ourselves labeling our relationship with food as "It's complicated." It isn't about just how much we eat, but the stuffed-face fattie and the overzealous waiters, the censorious onlookers and well-intentioned relatives, the flag waving anti-obesity pseudo-activism and friends regaling us with news of the next wonder-diet. It's enough to make one turn to drink.

Now that's an image; good food, good wine and the fattie!


(About the writer: Gurleen Khandpur is a philosophy major with a master's degree in psychology, who identifies as a writer and feels passionately about most things in life. Putting that passion into action is what got her to start an organization dealing with Gender and Sexuality when she was only 20. Today, at 25 and weighing 112 kilos, she has started writing about "the absurdity, hilarity and poignancy of being fat in an 'I dig THIN' world")

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