On Saturday I went to Devon to buy some fancy desi clothes for a work party we’re having. I hate going to buy any sort of Indian or Pakistani outfit because, as a woman who has boobs, I always have trouble fitting anything over my chest. You would think the makers of these clothes were unaware that a) we have boobs or b) that they aren’t all below a c-cup. One shop I went in pulled out this long red dress, with some very out there diamond bead pattern on the back. The owner insisted I wouldn’t find anything else that would fit me anywhere in Devon on my price range, the price for this unflattering and not very great piece of clothing was almost $200. The only question I could ask myself was why? Why can’t we make clothes that fit all sizes? I mean Indian clothes are usually fit to size, there are tailors in shops to adjust the clothing, if you buy online a lot of things come semi-stitched so you can adjust, so why on Earth did this woman think I wouldn’t be able to find anything else.
Spoiler alert, I found something wonderful, the shop (Dulhan’s) was fantastic and tailored the whole thing for me and they didn’t size shame me. They also didn’t size shame another woman who was looking for an outfit and was clearly uncomfortable with her body. They were wonderful, thoughtful and helpful. Go and buy clothes from them.
I’ve written about my body before and my ongoing journey to accepting the way I look and being proud of it. What I’ve found is that I lack Pakistani women who look like me, and I’ve had this conversation with other women who also fall short on larger women represented in desi fashion. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many desi women on Instagram and YouTube who celebrate the culture we all come from and who do amazing things, and I love that, but we need a wider representation.
The culture and religious background I come from specifically made me feel ashamed of my body. I hit puberty early in life, and have always had bigger breasts, even when I weighed 7 stone (which I think is roughly 100ish pounds). In my teenage years I was wearing baggy clothes anyway, ya girl liked those giant nu-metal jeans and band t-shirts, but was always told to wear a dupatta around my neck to cover my chest, or was shouted at if my t-shirt ever rose up when I was reaching to pick up something or bending over and showed even an inch on skin. Teenage me was already awkward in this body, it was made by worse by the instance that it was something bad that I had to hide from the world, that it was shameful. I mean I know the religious aspect of it is to keep covered to stop men from staring at you, honestly that’s kind of worse. Either way, God had blessed me with no ass and much boob size which was now my responsibility to keep hidden from men, other women, and the world.
Then I started to get into my twenties and I gained some weight, like quite a lot of weight. Remember when the elderly people in your family encourage you to eat because they think you are too thin? Well, the elderly people in my family told me I couldn’t eat rice anymore, or naan, or potatoes, or meat. I could just have the shorba in the curry and maybe some of the veg or meat. My dad’s oldest sister tried to get her daughter in law, who is a doctor, to diagnose me as obese at one family meal after telling me I would only be attractive again if I was skinnier. For the record I am overweight, but I’m not obese, I need to lose about 20 pounds maybe less to be a ‘healthy’ weight but any sort of weight became a disaster in my dad’s family. I hear stories like these, again and again, our bodies seem to draw criticism from everyone around us. We are too skinny, too fat, too curvy, we need to cover up and it’s all enough to plant something inside of you that will always look in the mirror and think you’re not good enough.
On my latest trip back home the same aunty told my dad I had gotten too tan in Chicago, to which my dad laughed and said being brown was always a good thing. But I’ve gone to buy makeup before at MAC and been given a foundation colour lighter than my actual skin tone because we are taught that fairer is better in our culture. We never discuss the fact we’re all super hairy but are expected to deal with it because it’s unattractive to be hairy. I think I’m always searching for a South Asian body type that relates to me, and it’s hard to find examples. So I tried a little bit to be my own example. I posted a picture of myself in a bikini I bought on my Instagram, and when I look at that photo I feel good. I look good. I also look big, because I am big. But that’s not bad.
Anyway here is a quote I’d like to end this piece with.
I am fat. There is a narrative I’m trying to create here; I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I know a big part of it is that I am fat. I am fat like I am smart, fat like I am kind, fat like I am brown. I have spent my whole life trying to fold myself into smaller and smaller pieces to be the tiniest version of myself I can possibly be, but I am fat.
I am fat when I sit and fill the whole chair. I am fat when my hips knock over chairs. I am fat when jeans tear at my thighs. I am fat when people pity me and tell me I’m not. I am fat when people are concerned and tell me I am. I am fat and I am Indian, and that’s two strikes, but I’m still out.
Maryam Hassan is a 32 year old Photographer, Montessori Teacher, Wearer of Yellow from London who transplanted herself to Chicago in 2015. She likes punk music, hash browns, animal facts and mangoes.
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