A guest blog by Mel Ciavucco
If I were reading this, I would instinctively look for a photo to assess exactly how fat the “fat” person is. I’d then instantly feel guilty. We live in a society that tells us that fat is bad and thin is good. Larger women are seen as okay if they’ve got shapely hips or big boobs. As long as it’s sexy. It’s all about being sexy. And women are taught to constantly compare themselves to other women. It’s ingrained objectification stemming from living in a patriarchal society, but I won’t go full raging feminist on you, don’t worry.
I was always the fat kid at school that got picked on. I had no friends and was called Smelly Bottom (kids always thought ‘smelly’ was a genius way of adapting ‘Mel’). I was the kid everybody ganged up on and sung songs about. PE and games classes were the worst. I was afraid to get changed in front of the other girls. I was picked last for teams (it’s a cliché but it still happened). The teachers made patronising comments. One teacher even made the class give me “a clap” for coming last in cross-country. All of this made me hate exercise, yet surprisingly I still did a lot of it. I went to step-aerobics with my mum (it was the 90’s, okay) and I did two dance classes a week. The school nurse didn’t believe me when I told her the amount of exercise I did. It didn’t matter to her because the BMI chart said that I was too fat.
There’s an awful irony in our society about fat people working out. There’s a pressure to exercise to lose weight but then often fat people are ridiculed when they do. Or if not ridiculed, quietly judged with side glances, as if we might break something or someone. Then there’s the other irony - active wear often only being available in small sizes. I mean, there is bigger stuff but it’s pretty pricey. I can’t afford fancy brands; I buy stuff from Primark. I find women’s sizes are notoriously different from men’s generally. An extra-large for a guy is actually extra-large, but in women’s sizes it’s often barely a size 14.
My First Yoga Class
When I first started yoga classes I felt like the fat kid at school again. Everyone was going to be better than me. They were probably wondering why I was there; I bet they’d never seen anyone so fat in the class before. They were probably grossed out by my flabby arms and excessive sweating. I always felt the need to keep up. If I felt tired I wouldn’t want to rest in child’s pose if nobody else was. I was trying to prove them all wrong. They were expecting the fat girl to fail, because that would always happen at school.
But I kept going to classes every week. At first my arms would shake after a few seconds in downward dog but I gradually got stronger. My focus started to shift from worrying what everybody else was thinking, to my own movements and breath. It was then that I realised. I’d never actually even spoken to anyone in my class. I had absolutely no idea what they were thinking. Nobody had ever done or said anything judgemental towards me. I made my assumptions of what they were thinking based on the judgements of myself.
I went on to realise these weren’t even my own judgemental thoughts, they were voices of the past. This didn’t instantly make the problem go away, but it did help start a process of questioning and learning. I had counselling and attended a self-esteem course (if you’re in Bristol, this course is available through Bristol Wellbeing Therapies).
Five years on and I now do yoga every day. Some days it’s just 10 or 15 minutes, but it’s better than nothing. I can’t do a headstand or any fancy arm balances but that doesn’t matter. Instead, I learnt that it is possible to step out of the anxious corner of my mind, even if it’s just temporarily.
Hitting the Beach
I recently returned from a trip to Thailand where I did a little island hopping around the south with my boyfriend (who happens to be tall and thin – that’s important for this story). We visited Koh Tao and stayed in a place with a fabulous view of a gorgeous white sand beach in the distance. I asked one of the guys who worked at our guesthouse how we might be able to get to the beach. He gestured to my boyfriend and said that he could go, but not me because I was too big, and he held his hands out about a metre wide. He then went on to tell me that the receptionist could give me some special medicine to make me thinner (God knows what that had in it!) I politely refused. He looked surprised and asked “you don’t want to be thin?” and I replied with “no thanks, I’m fine” and tucked into my big bowl of Thai curry and rice.
We later read that there was only one road into that beach and they charged an entry fee. That made me even more determined to go. We climbed down the rocks from our room and got in the water. I’m not a strong swimmer but the beach didn’t seem too far and the sea wasn’t too choppy, so we swam. I swam right up to the white sand and sat down with a smug smile, giving a mental middle finger to the waiter.
Healthy Does Not Always Mean Thin
Yoga taught me that health isn’t what you look like on the outside but rather, what you feel the inside. But a step further than that, it’s not just about your body - the limitations are in your own mind. Yoga not only creates more space in the body, it creates more space in the mind.
The more times I prove my negative thoughts wrong, the more I know I can do whatever I want irrelevant of my shape and size. And if I can, you can do anything too.
Mel Ciavucco is a Bristol-based fiction writer, blogger, screenwriter and content writer. She has been published online and in print, and has appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2 and Radio 5 Live discussing the depiction of mental health and suicide in the Netflix show ‘13 Reasons Why’ following a blog post she wrote about the show. Mel is passionate about writing stories that challenge social norms, showcase diverse characters and contain realistic portrayals of mental health. She believes that storytelling, especially through TV and film, can help make us all better human beings.
Mel is the founder of Write Kerfuffle: Writing and Editing Services.