Hunger 2.0: An essay on my body

Inspired by Roxane Gay’s memoir, “Hunger”

I watched a movie once and a certain scene caught my attention, inspiring me to question everything in which I ever believed. It was a scene in which the female lead thanked a male friend for loving her, adding how his love had taught her to love herself. That’s the moment when the question popped into my head: Do I love myself?

At that point, I fell into an abyss.

My Punnet inheritance square

If I could draw my Punnett inheritance square (a diagram that depicts genetic inheritance), you’d realize that my excess weight is not because I regularly devour a container of ice cream when I crave sweets at midnight. Both of my grandmothers, who were sisters, were overweight (unlike their husbands, who were brothers and stick-thin). My mom and dad married and produced me. With F representing “fat” and T standing in for “thin,” there were two possibilities for my own genetic code: FF or FT. You do the math.

I dreaded publishing this piece for months. But everything I wanted to say made me restless. And no matter how much I pushed the thought away, the more I felt the urge to write. I don’t really have to explain my obesity (a task I am tired of repeating), but I am resigned to it for the sake of this essay. I was born chubby – as most kids are. But my baby fat never went away. It’s still here. Sometimes I find myself blaming my parents for because it’s their genes that cause me to live in a body like mine, in a world like ours.

Over and over again I tried to convince myself that if I didn’t see myself as a problem then no one else would. But it didn’t work. Because it is truly the other way around.

I love me some cheesy pizzas, saucy burgers, fried rice, kimbap rolls, full-of-fat fast foods that I don’t have to cook, wash dishes for or clean the kitchen after. When I try to isolate myself from these addictive comfort foods, they drag me back.

The torment of school kids

In elementary school, I was “stocky.” Then I became outright fat as I hit puberty. Now I’m obese; I became so as I struggled to survive the stress of my tawjihi year. (Tawjihi is the final exam of high school, which determines not only whether a student will be permitted to enroll in university, but also limits their selection of majors and classes.) Yes, I love food. But I hate eating around people. It feels like they’re watching me eating, measuring how much I’m stuffing into my mouth – even if they’re not really watching. I hate eating in front of people because I feel like I have to prove my fatness is not because of the amount of food I eat.

There were two classes with which I had a love-hate relationship: I loved PE because it didn’t require studying but hated because I was the reason my team lost races. And I loved physics because numbers, equations and finding solutions but hated it after my teacher said, “If Omnia and [thin] Mai competed in running, whose kinetic energy would be greater?” The answer: “Omnia! Because her invariant mass is bigger.”

Reading my poetry at an event

I was in a meeting for writers once. The host was my friend. To make new writers feel welcome, she decided we should play “Two Truths, One Lie.” We all jotted on sticky notes and then we had to guess each person’s lie. When my friend read the statement “I love food” on one of the papers, she said jokingly, “Omnia, did you write that?” Everyone laughed. I laughed too, but it was fake. Those words still ring in my head.

Importance of role models

I’m overweight and I don’t deny it. So, don’t dare tell me, “You’re not fat,” thinking you’re being nice. You’re not! But I didn’t admit I was really “fat” until recently. Rebel Wilson’s role as Fat Amy in the film “Pitch Perfect” gave me the confidence I needed to embrace myself. Explaining why she gave herself such a derogatory nickname, the character says, “So that twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” It hit me to the core. I didn’t start calling myself “Fat Omnia.” But I embraced my fatness. I am fat. Obese. And I’m fine with it even if I prefer to be different. This is the reality of my body. My fat. My curves. My lovable, chubby cheeks. My nonexistent thigh-gap.

Often, when I’m walking on the street and see people laugh, I imagine they’re laughing at me even if they’re most likely not. When I see kids playing on the streets, I purposefully change my route, so I don’t pass them. Kids are so brutally, innocently honest. They don’t hesitate to call out how fat I am: “Dobba! Dobba! Dobba!” (Bear! Bear! Bear!) I’ve heard that few times as I pass by them. I wished I could grab them by their feet and swing them over my head – like a cowboy with his rope – and fling them as far away as possible.

My version of Roxane Gay's book!

As I walked with a friend and her 8-year-old brother to a restaurant, he popped the question I had been expecting.

“Why are you so big?” he asked, stressing “big with a widened gaze.

“I eat a lot,” I replied. (I figured I might as well just say what he already thinks and be done with it.)

He nodded and then asked, “Are you pregnant?”

His sister pinched him to get him to shut up, but he just ignored, waiting the answer.

“No,” I replied calmly, trying to suppress my laughter. “Why? Does your mother look like me?”

 “Oh no!” He replied, offended. “You look like my dad!”

This is actually a funny memory. I like how I played with his questions and how nonchalantly I answered. However, this confidence is not always there.

How not to talk with a fat person

People seem to like to discuss dieting when I’m around, as if “need to diet” is written on my face. They share their stress about the meager one or two extra kilos they need to lose. Seriously! I mean, look at me! That’s as bad as when a girl complains about how thin she is. I’d be glad to donate some of my fat to you. But it’s when I hear, “Omnia, why don’t you diet?” that really gets to me. Thank you! I’ve never actually considered that! I don’t know why it hadn’t crossed my mind!

I’ve tried so many types of dieting. I’ve exercised and starved myself, or banned whole categories of food, for days – just to prove to myself and others that the problem is not simply lifestyle. Nothing works. When a friend follows the same diet I’m on with much less effort but loses 10 kgs a week and I barely lose a half a kilogram, it is so demotivating. I went to a nutritionist once and he too was surprised I didn’t lose the predicted kilograms.

The group photo

I love walking. I walk about 3 kilometers or more nearly every day. It makes me feel alive, even light. I love jumping rope too, and I do it with my niece. But my legs cramp when I jog, my calves feeling like they are being hit with iron bars.

I was a member of a Facebook group for writers a few years ago through which I made several online friendships. I was still in a phase when I was not used to sharing personal photos. But I participated in many events in which group pictures were taken and I freely shared them. One time, one of my new writer friends asked, “So, which one is you?”

“Which one do you think?”

He started guessing. He picked every girl in the picture except me. When I was the only one left, he said, “Don’t tell me you’re the girl with chubby cheeks?”


Being fat in a thin world

I’ve been told it will be hard to get a job if I don’t lose weight. A few months back, I applied to a project for writers and readers and I was eager to participate. and I made it as far as the interview. But as I entered, the interviewers stared at me from head to toe. Suppressed disgust was apparent on their faces. I immediately knew it would be a “no,” regardless of how good my answers were. And I was right.

I’ve also been told I wouldn’t find a husband with a body like mine. I was with a thin friend once when she was stopped by a woman wanting her number and address so she could ask for her hand in marriage for her son. She barely glanced at me. I thought, “A rotten apple keeps eaters away. Only sleek, firm apples attract them.” I am a rotten apple.

I was told by thin friends that “it’s okay to be fat; I feel fat too.” But they aren’t even close. I am fat, but I feel and am lively, active, energetic. Unlike anything people assume when they judge my body.

If you never hated shopping because you know you won’t find anything that fits or look good in it because “plus” sizes aren’t stylish, then you don’t know how it feels to be fat.

If you’ve never been told by countless relatives that “you’d be pretty if you lost weight,” then you don’t know how it feels to be fat.

If your friends haven’t told you to stay the way you are because they can’t imagine you thin, then you don’t know how it feels to be fat.

If your big behind doesn’t fit into swings and slides that your childish soul yearns to ride, then you don’t know how it feels to be fat.

If people don’t blame every possible pain you feel on your weight, then you don’t know how it feels to be fat.

If taxi passengers never eye you as if they are thinking, “Oh God! Why does she have to sit here!”, then you don’t know how it feels to be fat.

If you never compared yourself to another obese person and try to determine who is fatter, then you simply don’t know how it feels to be fat. You just don’t. And never will. 

I eat because I love food. I eat because gaining weight is so much easier than losing. I eat because I yearn for someone who doesn’t care about looks. I’ve always daydreamed about being in the company of a person who makes me feel beautiful. I do believe such person exists and would help me love myself. Then I think, would I always have to feel grateful to him for having enough guts to ignore the opinions of others?

This is my body. And now that I wrote this, I feel naked on a stage in front of thousands of people. But I am more than my body. I am more than anything you assume of me before getting to know me well. Still, I wish I will someday become as healthy-looking and fit as I want to be, especially since diabetes runs in both sides of my family. I wish I will feel free enough to stop wearing my black cloak because it covers every inch of my body and makes me feel thin. I hope I will feel comfortable wearing skirts, jeans, blouses and dresses and walk publicly without anyone piercing me with judgment in their eyes.

I know I’m worth it. I know I deserve everything to which I aspire and more. But… do you?

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