Names changed to protect identities)
In Part I , we featured two plus-size women who’d journeyed from being defined by their size to slowly accepting it, and more importantly, themselves, with the help of supportive partners.
In patriarchal India, the men seemingly have the best of it. There’s a joke that no matter how ugly or unimpressive the bridegroom, he always wants his bride to be Aishwarya Rai. But what if you’re fat? Do only women get browbeaten and insulted or is it men also?
We spoke to Arindam Das, 39, New Delhi, and Joshua Paul, 36, Mumbai, about their lives and experiences.
Joshua laughs, “Oh, I was told I was fat. I was called ‘jaadiya’ – and I couldn’t keep up with the other kids, so I was aware from a very young age. It’s weird, because I’ve been a national level silver medallist in archery – I was a sportsman. But even at the peak of that, I was always big, or bigger compared to others. We tossed around the excuse of ‘big bones’ for quite a while.”
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Arindam has a similar story. “I was always overweight as such, but put on a lot of weight in my 20s. I was always conscious, but became more so when I couldn’t enjoy sports or outdoor activities as before. At work too, I had to start dressing better and – there was very little in my size.”
And did their weight affect their relationships with the opposite sex?
Arindam smiles roguishly. “Not at all. The women I was attracted to were as attracted to me. But then, I became fat later. I met someone recently who made me feel extremely insecure and now I feel like I lost confidence in myself.”
Joshua grew up in a small town.
“We weren’t conscious of how we looked – sure, we found slimmer people attractive but it wasn’t like it is now, with social media and this society-wide acceptance of only people who look a certain way being considered attractive.”
“Also, I studied in a boys’ school. My first girlfriend and I only met in the school bus. I was rejected by someone slimmer for being fat before that, but we were really young.”
The conversation swings around to sex much quicker than with the women.
Joshua’s first relationship was in college. “I looked like some sort of genetically mutated pear by then – a paunch had settled. My girlfriend and I hit it off while co-hosting a college event and everything was great. She was slimmer, and would occasionally ask me to lose the weight – we’d go jogging or walking together – it became another way of spending time together. We’d also have a lot of sex, under the guise of burning calories,” he laughs.
Arindam ponders the question. “I’d never felt that my weight was a hindrance. I mean, in cultures like Dubai there is a lot of emphasis on looks and there, I doubt I’d get a chance. But I’ve always enjoyed success with women, so to speak – again, until recently. Before, I had all the usual fears – do I last long enough, am I well-endowed enough? But in the last few years, I feel like I need more energy; some positions are difficult or impossible and some partners feel the weight is too much during intercourse.”
Joshua got married a year ago, after dating for a year and a half. He says of his wife, “I knew pretty much as soon as I met her that I wanted to stay with her. We have so much in common and I was very sure very quickly.” Was his weight a factor at all? “To some extent. But more because of health – I lead a stressful life, and sometimes, all of the factors affect my performance in bed. My partner has never nagged or made me feel bad – any emphasis on weight is only about being fitter/better in life.” Was he nervous about meeting her? “Yes, well, the stakes are higher with someone you like, no? So yes, at the back of your mind, you’re hoping she doesn’t reject you. And thankfully, it was all fine.”
Arindam’s last relationship was very difficult. “The weight was very much a factor even though she sort of came to terms with it over a period of time. However, the journey and the constant discussions were not pleasant for me.”
She also insisted on taking him to medical professionals.
“She wanted me to lose weight, somehow, anyhow – and surgery was an option because it would be quicker. That was the worst part of it all.”
Arindam faced a lot of criticism, directly and indirectly, in his last relationship. “I think my partner would have desired me more if I had been in shape. She related my weight loss to her having a better sex drive as well as her family accepting me easier. Her mother would also ask me to lose weight and lecture me on health.”
Joshua’s friends have always been ribbing him. “Her family does make subtle, polite comments but I’m very good at ignoring people.”
Joshua’s attitude is remarkably refreshing. “I’ve been friendzoned and told diplomatically that I’m not someone’s type. But then you see who they date and you realise it’s the weight. I’m lucky in that my inner critic is quite a jolly person – I figured out early on that everyone has their preferences in terms of height, weight and even finances – I’ve had women reject me because I wasn’t rich or of ‘equivalent status’. I’ve always bounced back. Frankly, I think it’s a matter of meeting as many people as possible – the more your attempts, the better your chances of getting lucky. There is someone who will like and appreciate you for what you are, as I found out.”
Amen. That’s all that one could wish for.