How Fat Shaming People Nearly Turned Me Anorexic

FeaturedHow Fat Shaming People Nearly Turned Me Anorexic

Since I was a kid, I had been called many things: baboy, taba, tabachoy, damulag, dambuhala, tambukikoy. These are Filipino words used to poke fun at fat people. But in 2012, I felt like I was the happiest person on earth. People no longer called me names. I’m finally able to fit on clothes at ready-to-wear shops. From 120 kilos, I went down to 85. My waistline shrunk from 44 to 34. I could borrow my brothers’ clothes. And I said goodbye to double X apparels! I’m size M! Boy, that was the best feeling ever!

 

The fat/body shamers

 

But just I thought there’s nothing to worry about, people started noticing the changes in my body — in a negative way. You have so many stretch marks, your body is sagging.  You need to do sports, your body seem to be as soft as jelly. I mean, hello, how would I lose weight if it weren’t for sports?

And there were still people whose first topic for every conversation would be: hey, you’ve gained weight haven’t you? Have you been eating a lot lately?

It’s these kind of questions that get on my nerves.

Why on earth do these people seem to talk like they own my body?

Of course, I always make an effort to keep my composure whenever I encounter these kind of people. But, whenever I’m alone in my room, I would take off my clothes and stand before the mirror. I see a very fat guy. I would stare at him like it were another person whom I hate. I called him names. Although in reality, that guy is me, a guy who’s fat no more.

My desire to lose weight went on. I would eat only small amounts, weighed myself each morning (or whenever I pass by a clinic or a pharmacy). I would swim everyday, and at night I would jog. Takut gemuk, the fear of gaining weight…or in the words of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association: anorexia nervosa.

 

My weight loss obsession

 

In 2015, my body weight reached 80 kilograms, the lightest I’ve ever had. My body mass index was at 21.7. I was negative three points away from being clinically underweight.

And I knew things were not going right. My body spoke to me. At night, I could not sleep well. The night breeze felt like it was nibbling the bones in my elbows. I could not sit for a long time; the bones in my buttocks felt like it was piercing my behind.

While I never consulted an expert to declare that I was flirting with anorexia nervosa, I knew that I was at the brim of this eating disorder. But not all people are as lucky as me. Anorexia has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness. It is estimated that 4% of anorexic individuals die from complications of the disease.

 

How I saved myself from anorexia

 

However, one thing I’ve learned in life is that people will always have things to say; and they’re not really aware of the consequences. We must recognise that not all people think of the consequences of the words they say. And it is not your problem. It is theirs. People think that it’s okay to say that you’ve gain weight, even if they have not actually weighed you. It does hurt, but hey, at least you know you’re aware that the words they say are do not represent reality. In cases like this, the only way to know whether you’re fat or not — is by actually stepping on that weighing scale because numbers do not lie.

Also, ultimately, the best person who should be responsible for your own body is no other than yourself.

As someone who has studied sociology for more than ten years, and having learned that our environment bears a huge impact on who we turn into, I realised that there is no use of spending my luxury of time with people who rub into my face that I’m fat. Because I am not. I have known that three years ago, when I stepped into that store to try on medium-sized clothes. I have defeated obesity. And there is no use to be with people who will do no good — but to push you into the pits of anorexia, a disease that I might have been suffering for all these years. Similarly, think of them like unnecessary weight, they do will need to go…

…because whatever people will have to say….there is only one thing that matters the most:I have been successful in battling obesity. I have shed that critical body weight that I have been carrying for more than 20 years, that bodyweight people used to poke fun of me. I am happy with this bodyweight. No matter what people say.

 

My current body weight is 82.6 kilos. I am 192 cm tall. That means my Body Mass Index is 22.5, which is normal, according to the World Health Organisation.

So, am I thin or am I fat?

I do think that is not a question.

That shouldn’t be.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Watson

 

 

Poetry: Again (0:52)

FeaturedPoetry: Again (0:52)

At the crack of dawn,

your name is what

the sea hears from

my whispers. I say

it again, and again.

Meaning, to lose it,

it would need repetition.

Like, the countless nights

of not wanting to rise;

I persist on hoping

from the moment

your name is said

you’d mean less

with every breath.

Perhaps, it’s the same

reason: why, seldom do I

want to see the sun.

It’s the only thing I have

close to hope

of one day, I wish,

I no longer want you,

nor, the

the memories

tied to your name,

which to the sea

I repeatedly say

again

and

again.

There’s Another Kind of Poverty That Demands Our Attention

There’s Another Kind of Poverty That Demands Our Attention

Our common definition of poverty is when people do not meet their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, that’s when we start calling them poor. An estimated 896 million people or 12.7 of the world’s population fall under that definition, according to the World Bank. We have cut the poverty rate into half between 1990 and 2015. That’s something we should celebrate, something that should encourage us to strengthen our fight against global poverty.

But there is another form of poverty that we rarely talk about. There is no statistics that could tell how prevalent it is, but what I think is that it affects many of us.

 

Our Poverty of Words

In Indonesia, when one person declares that he’s depressed, it is easy for us to dismiss their state as something of less importance. We think that modern words like galau or baper is the best word to describe what they’re going through.

Galau, by definition, means kacau tidak keruan (pikiran). Many times, I have been told to have gone through kegalauan. Galau, because I don’t look the positive things in life. Galau, because I dwell on painful memories. Galau, because I refuse to move on.

I am impressed by how easy for many people to diagnose what I’m feeling, and I wonder what body of knowledge has turned them into experts in giving unsolicited advice to people suffering from kegalauan.

But of course, as many of you who have experienced kegalauan, galau is not as easy as imagined. In societies where our priority is to fulfil our material needs, there are things that are placed at the sidelines, such as depression, a condition often equated to galau.

 

My Struggle With Depression

I have been sporadically battling with depression since 2008, the beginning my tumultuous journey with life. Between that that year and 2015, I lost a college friend and a mentor, a colleague, an aunt, and encountered hundreds of families grieving for their loved ones washed away by natural calamities in Southern Philippines. The events happened at short intervals, just right after I thought I have recovered from each of them. In 2012, a month after I got the news that I was awarded a scholarship for a postgraduate study, I was informed by my employer that I have been accused of plagiarising a news report, an act that I denied but somehow people like spreading rumours that plagiarism became an inside joke among people I used to consider as friends. They weren’t.

Sure, I know that while the glass is half-empty, it is also half-full. I tried to look at the positive things of every problem, but depression is a selfish companion that thinks only for himself. There would be mornings where mustering the will to get up is a challenging task. Meeting people was a difficult task. You did not want to meet and talk with people. Your subconscious self refuses to talk. You lose vigour. You wish there wouldn’t be tomorrow so there’s no need to wake up next day.

In developing countries, treating depression does not have the same footing with treating common illnesses. It is understandable. After all, I do not expect much for people to see doctors when they feel they’re suffering from depression (as it may be costly). But, what’s not acceptable is when we try to silence depression, as if it weren’t there.

Depression is “the secret we share,” says American writer Andrew Solomon in his TED Talk. The thing keeping secrets is that it makes understanding even more difficult. Solomon discussed in his speech that people tend to confuse depression, grief, and sadness.

“Grief is explicitly reactive. If you have a loss and you feel incredibly unhappy, and then, six months later, you are deeply sad, but you’re functioning a little better, it’s probably grief, and it will probably ultimately resolve itself in some measure. If you experience a catastrophic loss, and you feel terrible, and six months later you can barely function at all, then it’s probably a depression that was triggered by the catastrophic circumstances.” — Andrew Solomon

Solomon went on to expound on the current state of depression treatment in the world, which he described as appalling. “They’re not very effective. They’re extremely costly. They come with innumerable side effects. They’re a disaster.”

He did not mean that people suffering from depression should not go see a specialist. “But I am so grateful that I live now and not 50 years ago, when there would have been almost nothing to be done.”

Such is true, and what we can also do is to treat depression by exploring such state through language.

 

‘Poverty’ and Poetry

In 2002, a research published for National Poetry Day said that England’s National Health Service could save nearly £200,000 a year using poems to help people with depression. The report based on 196 people with psychological problems found that 75% found writing poems as an emotional release. Two thirds found reading or listening to poetry helped them be able to relax and feel calm.

Historically, artists have conveyed depression through metaphors. Emily Dickson described it like “a Funeral, in my Brain.”  Bei Dao saw everything as “an endless beginning” and hope “hedged with doubt.”

But fast forward to the present, depression is simplified into galau.

Unlike economic poverty which is an important discourse globally, we do not talk about poverty of words. We might have different international lending institutions like the World Bank, but we do not have Word Bank, a multi-lateral organisation that aims to battle our word famine. That doesn’t mean, however, there is nothing we can do.

In the summer of 2014, I found myself applying for a literary fellowship, where I met some of the Philippines award-winning writers who gave me a deeper understanding of poetry.

For one week, we would listen to lectures, and in the afternoon, the works we submitted before the workshop would be critiqued by these esteemed writers.

The fellows came from different backgrounds. But what was strikingly common was that all of us were facing battles. We were needing a weapon, so when we come back to our normal lives, would have the ability to navigate the complexities of life.

The task of poetry, according to Filipino poet Mikael Co, is to never run out of words. Its task is to let those who battle the spectre of despair become victorious, in an age where people suffering deep inside continue to find the words that best describe their state of mind.

If some of you happen to be in the same predicament as mine, I invite you to enter the world of poetry, and discover what creative language can do for you, in dire situations where you think there is no more reason for you to live.

Because there is. And to support what I believe, let me leave you a poetry that I continue to read, especially when depression creeps.

 

 

Also All (in answer to Bei Dao’s “All”)

Not all trees are felled by storms.

Not every seed finds barren soil.

Not all the wings of dream are broken,

nor is all affection doomed

to wither in a desolate heart.

No, not all is as you say.

Not all flames consume themselves,

shedding no ling on other lives.

Not all starts announce the night

and never dawn. Not every song

will drift past every ear and heart.

No, not all is as you say.

Not every cry for help is silenced,

nor every loss beyond recall.

Not every chasm spells disaster.

Not only the weak will be brought to their knees,

nor every soul be trodden under.

It won’t all end in tears and blood.

Today is heavy with tomorrow—

the future was planted yesterday.

Hope is a burden all of us shoulder

though we might stumble under the load.

 

 

Photo courtesy of János Csongor Kerekes

My Advice to Young Indonesians Who Aspire to Write in English

My Advice to Young Indonesians Who Aspire to Write in English

 

As many of you might have known, I teach courses in writing at a university in Malang. Writing has been my profession for seven years, and since then the task of filling an empty space with words has been a blessing. Not only has it provided me food on the table, it has pushed me to constantly improve my communication skills through language. In a way, I think that if it weren’t for writing, there would be no reason to mount Durian Writer, my personal blog that brims of my ideas, most of them born from the fragments of thoughts I keep in my diary. Or, if it weren’t for writing, I would have shied away from joining Malang Toastmasters, where each speech project not only requires you to speak in public, but as well as to prepare for a speech that requires a process of crystallising the meat of your talk which shouldn’t go beyond 7 minutes.

I intentionally wrote this piece because there are many young Indonesian students who aspire to become writers in the English language. And to become one is a challenge. One huge factor is that English, like where I teach, is not the medium of instruction. What’s more, in this country, English is not the language for everyday conversation, nor the commonly-used language in mass media.

Of course, I do not mean to disparage Indonesia for this. What I’m concerned, however, is how the English language is taught in schools and how these institutions try to lure the students in enrolling into their programmes using Caucasians in their advertising materials.

There are many literary theories of writing. Therefore, in as much as I want you to read this with a willingness to learn, please do not take my advice as your lone guide to writing. I came up with this piece to share what I think many of the young Indonesian aspiring writers should put into mind.

 

Reading is the Religion of Writers

Just as a painter can’t become one without immersing himself to great works of art, a writer cannot succeed without making reading his religion. When I was practising journalism in the Philippines, my day begins and ends with reading the news to keep myself abreast to the current affairs. I also read newspapers and online reports because I needed to know how other journalists reported the news. One of the journalists that influenced my writing includes my dear friend Germelina. What I like the most in her reports is how she uses her creative writing skills which engage the reader. I had the chance to work with her sometime in 2013, when she was editing my journalism project.

Apart from her, I fell in love with the works of Jhoanna Cruz, a Palanca awardee and a literature professor at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao. Jhoanna happened to be one of the panellists of a writing fellowship I attended in the summer of 2014, where she and other award-winning writers generously critiqued my literary projects.

Other writers that informed my writing include Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Laksmi Pamuntjak (The Question of Red), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah), Adonis Durado (Not Everything that Falls Comes Down), Mikael de Lara Co (A Poem That Had Some Difficulty With The First Line).

If you want to become a writer and wish not to read, I say forget writing.

 

Writing Workshops Won’t Turn You into a Writer in One Day

Writing workshops nor your English lecturer won’t turn you into a good writer in a short span of time. And the same goes to, I’m sorry, language camps that promise you to become a fluent English speaker at the end of the programme. Enough of this craze. Improving your skill in writing is a lifetime process. Despite having been married to this profession for seven years, I still wake up everyday angry and ambitious. I have always been reluctant to give writing workshops because apart from feeling guilty of charging participants slash making money out of trainings, young aspiring writers should realise that they come to workshops only to gather inspiration to hold on to writing. Do not expect that you’ll soon be able to write a book after attending a workshop. My favourite writer took her more than a decade to publish her first book.

 

Write Everyday

Keep a diary and promise that you’ll fill it with words every day. Journals are a good exercise as it will help you get used to expressing yourself through the written language (in this case, the English language). In the beginning, writing each day could become a challenge. But hey, wake up. As the trite proverb says, practise makes perfect. Write down what goes in your mind. If a big idea suddenly appears, capture and find the words for it. Later, when you turn back the pages of your diary, you’ll be surprised of the things you were thinking about.

 

Grammar Matters

Once in 2012, a student quoted me as saying “grammar is dehumanising. It violates man’s freedom of expression.” First, I would like to clarify that when I said that, I was attempting to make the audience laugh. Seriously, grammar matters. Without it, our works would end up impossible to understand. (Also, I myself struggle with the English language grammar. And I thank my editors for saving me from humiliation!)

A lot of my students apologise for their terrible grammar before or after they submit their assignments to me. We all know how confusing the English language could get. But the constant asking for an apology does not make sense, most especially if they never take note of grammatical errors they’ve committed.

In Ayn Rand’s “The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers”, she said:

“Too many people today think: “I’m a creative genius, I’m above grammar.” But nobody who thinks or writes can be above grammar. It is like saying, I’m a creative genius, I’m above concepts” – which is the attitude of modern artists. If you are “above” grammar, you are “above” concepts; and if you are “above” concepts, you are “above” thought. The fact is that then you are not above, but far below, thought. Therefore, make a religion of grammar.

To the young Indonesians who wish to aspire to become writers in the English language, I wish you well. For those based in Malang, let’s meet!🙂