"Heyyy! You've lost so much weight! You look great!"
There it was. The statement I'd heard directed at me rather often in the last few months.
And as always, I didn't quite know how to respond to it.
Sure, one might say I don't know how to take a compliment, but the question that always races through my head is - why is this a compliment?
And just like that, in that one moment, through that one question, I find my smile freezing up, while a million thoughts and memories flash through my mind.
- Hitting the teenage years, which brought with them lethargy and weight-gain.
- Being constantly reminded by people that I was over-weight.
- Being told that certain clothes wouldn't look good on me, unless I lost some weight.
- Mom and me, not discarding my old clothes, in the hope that one day, I'd fit into them again.
- Watching friends go on diets, and seeing their horrified expressions that I didn't want to do the same.
- Giving in, and finally deciding to go on a diet, only to give up after ten minutes, when I realized I wasn't allowed to put sugar in my coffee.
- Being told over and over how much better I'd look if I just lost a little bit of weight.
- Going from someone who used to love posing for photographs to someone who was suddenly too self-conscious.
- Feeling disappointed every time I looked into the mirror.
- Hearing people around me comment more on the weight of actresses than on their acting.
- Hearing people around me comment on the horror of fat women wearing tight clothes or bikinis, because it just didn't look good on them.
- Hearing a friend get excited about having an appendicitis because she heard it might cause weight-loss.
- Seeing people look elated at having lost a few kilos, and depressed when they put them on.
- Watching people all around me striving towards better body types through a variety of fitness regimes.
- Never quite having the will-power to do the same.
- Watching advertisements for weight-loss products, and feeling tempted to try them out.
- Speaking up lesser and lesser, to avoid drawing attention to myself or my body.
- Learning about stereotypes, body shaming, media portrayals, and finally starting to realize that perhaps the problem wasn't my body.
- Feeling an anger rise at the media and society around me, that forced people to start hating their own bodies and lose every ounce of confidence in themselves.
- Still having people around me feel the need to comment on my weight, and the weight of every single person they came across.
- Moving to India, and losing weight as my lifestyle automatically changed with work.
- Feeling happy at the weight loss.
- Going to college and putting on that weight again.
- Feeling sad about the weight gain.
- Subconsciously trying to lose weight before my brother's wedding, while simultaneously trying to tell myself that I was fine the way I was.
- Feeling tired of having my happiness depend on a weighing scale.
- Refusing to be a part of the circus I'd started to hate, and resolving never to go on a diet again.
- Using this new-found-anger as an excuse to not exercise, under the garb of refusing to follow the body-shaming bandwagon.
- Arguing inside my head, trying to separate weight from fitness.
- Trying to argue with others when I heard them body-shaming someone.
- Not being able to stay away from the weighing scale myself.
- Meeting new people who never felt the need to comment on my weight or theirs, and sought to discuss bigger issues plaguing the world.
- Finding solace and inspiration in the new friends surrounding me.
- Finally resolving to start running, in an attempt to increase my stamina.
- Telling myself, over and over again, that I was doing this for fitness and health, not for weight or looks.
- Feeling elated at being able to jog 1 km.
- Feeling elated at being able to jog 5 km.
- Realizing that I actually enjoyed running.
- Going for a run with my dog.
- Over-time, shedding some weight.
- Continuing to shed some weight.
- Having my clothes become looser.
- Still telling myself, over and over again, that I was doing this for fitness and health, not for weight or looks.
And so, as the memories continue to flood, I find my smile frozen on my face. Do I say thank you, and accept that my weight loss is actually something to be celebrated? Do I give them a lecture about body-shaming, and how, unwittingly, they're contributing towards it just by the means of that one statement?
But the truth of the matter is, that every time someone compliments me on losing weight, a part of me, one that's hidden deep, deep inside, reacts with a twinge of elation. It's the same part that, despite all my knowledge of body shaming and stereotyping and social norms screwing up so many lives, secretly feels happy when I look at the weighing scale now.
And as I stand there, listening to the 'compliment', I feel a surge of sadness wash over me.
Despite everything, I can't stop my weight from affecting my happiness.
Despite everything, the damage is done.