Fatness in Urban India: Desiring and Being Desired

This blog is the first of our series of blogs on the experience of fatness in urban India, and is written by Deeksha Tiwari.

Desires come and go within us, as they are constantly replaced by new ones. We are motivated by our desires, which give our lives meaning and purpose. We are so accustomed to desiring that we are not conscious of our desires or what drives them. If we were, we would understand that our desires are not really our own. One can have a desire for years without acknowledging it or even allowing it to come to their conscious awareness. Even if they make it to the consciousness, we can only claim very few as our own. Before we do, our desires have to comply with benchmarks like others’ perceptions of us, and values instilled in us consciously by our families or unconsciously through socializing, media, etc. In a way, the desires that we claim openly as our own are desires that this conditioning ‘allows’ us to have. Therefore, it is no surprise that the desire for fat in any form is considered forbidden. 


To demonstrate; the Venetian botanist, Prospero Alpini, during his visit to Egypt, was beyond perplexed at how Egyptian ladies practised the “art of fattening” by injecting themselves with bran, sesame oil, and animal fat, among other methods. This, he explained, was a consequence of the Egyptian male’s lust and desire for the ‘fleshiest and fattest’ of women. He expressed his disapproval or rather, disgust to be precise, in the following words, “Can one desire anything more shameful than obesity acquired through the infamous vice of the flesh and of unchecked sensuality? This vice is so widespread down there that one sees most women flopped down on the ground like fat sows”


Fat has seldom been seen as just body size and shape. It is seen as an embodiment of softness, licentiousness, laziness, corruption, greed, and several other moral flaws. 

To admire or seek fatness is to transgress the unwritten yet widely accepted laws of virtue, harmony, and proportion that are the essential ideals of Western culture as a whole.


The “Fat Punchline” as portrayed in media

We rarely see fat bodies being considered sexually or romantically desirable in mainstream media. Moreover, being fat is often associated with many adjectives with negative connotations. A study found an inverse linear association between physical attractiveness and body mass index (BMI). The portrayal of fat people in the media as the non-desirable, non-sexual side character used for punchlines plays a huge role in why fatness is perceived as undesirable.


Domoff et al. studied the effects of reality television on weight bias by examining the show “The Biggest Loser”, a reality television program where participants compete to lose the most weight by following a strenuous fitness and dietary plan in order to earn $250,000. It is also among the most popularly rated shows watched by viewers between 18 and 49 years of age. The study had 59 participants (majority white females). The Biggest Loser was used as the experimental episode, and a nature reality show served as the control episode. Weight bias levels at  baseline and after watching the episode (1 week later), were assessed. The study found that after being exposed to The Biggest Loser, participants reported considerably higher levels of dislike for overweight people and stronger beliefs that weight can be controlled. The study also discovered that viewers of The Biggest Loser who were not aiming to lose weight and had lower BMIs had considerably higher levels of dislike of overweight people than viewers with similar BMIs in the control condition.


As a teenager, the show ‘Friends’ was my first exposure to sitcoms and I vividly remember how unsettling the ‘fat Monica’ flashbacks were to me against the sound of the audience’s laughter. Monica’s weight loss was essentially her revenge on Chandler who found her ugly before but couldn’t keep his eyes off her after she lost all the weight. Her weight loss was the key to her happily ever after. It was the happy ending we all dream of. 


Bollywood is riddled with similar instances. We all remember the cult favourite ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’. But when I think of it, the questionable portrayal of sibling tiffs between Rahul and Rohan in the first half of the movie comes to mind. Partly because I grew up being bullied by my brothers but mostly because there was no other dimension to young Rohan’s character except for being a punchline because of his weight. At least Rohan had a part to play in the second half after his “glow up” (read: weight loss). 

Throughout ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’, Sweetu’s entire existence was a punchline. She was constantly berated by friends and family alike without the slightest aggravation. Her sister casually compared her to a double-decker bus and her supposed best friend, Naina casually told her that she won’t find any guy unless she loses weight.

To a teenager watching these not-so-subtle portrayals of fat bodies as nothing but objects of ridicule, the message couldn’t be clearer. It was very straightforward: If you wish to be attractive, to be noticed by someone and want to have a shot at romance, or even if you just wish to be treated with respect and not be constantly made fun of, don’t be fat. With such portrayal in the media, it isn’t a surprise that fat people often have no access to their desires. They are not just told that they are undesirable, but also that they’re unworthy of desiring anything or anyone else.

This portrayal of fat as a weakness of one’s moral character and social worth is incredibly harmful to fat people and the ways in which they perceive, understand, and engage with their bodies. There are ample instances of power imbalances in fat sexuality, based on the idea that fat bodies are so unlovable that they will settle for whatever morsel of attention is thrown toward them. Connected to the very social nature of desire and romance, often thin people’s sexual relationships with fat people are treated with a high degree of shame and secrecy.


The fetishization of Fatness

The meticulous conditioning that dictates that fat is not desirable does not extinguish the desirability of fat bodies, it just creates a taboo around it. Naturally, anyone who wishes to act on a taboo desire has to do so in secrecy to avoid the disapproval of those around them. This effectively reduces any form of fat desire into a forbidden fetish restricted to the bedroom. It has become almost impossible to talk about sexual intimacy as a fat person without the term “fat fetish” popping up like a dark cloud over our heads. It is either an intrusive thought in our heads or a remark made by someone “concerned” for our well-being. It is a confusing reality for fat people looking for any sort of relationship. While fetishes in general do not provoke such drastic reactions, when brought up concerning fatness, it has certain negative connotations.


Fat bodies being considered sexy and desirable in certain media might seem to empower at first, but this representation is mostly limited to fetish and pornography. Fat bodies are still excluded from romantic relationships, branded merely as objects of lust; unworthy of love and affection. Fat bodies, having been marginalised from discourses of beauty and desirability tend to settle for fetishism to explore or exhibit their sexuality.


While these experiences are traumatising and not uncommon, there is always a flip side. There is a possibility of a very natural and healthy attraction towards fat bodies without it being some pathological fetish. 


People are quick to infer that anyone dating a person larger than themselves could only be doing so because of some fetish for fat bodies. Because someone who has the privilege that being pretty and thin entails, couldn’t possibly love someone fat unless they were a “chubby chaser”. These relationships are often dismissed as casual and purely sexual because people can’t seem to perceive a thin person wanting to have anything to do with a fat person unless it is a kink that remains hidden away in the bedroom.


Why is there no guilt/shame in being attracted to tall people, individuals with abs, biceps, chiselled jawlines, etc.? If a person lacks these qualities, it may not be a deal-breaker even if they may be positives. Similar to how a fat body may completely seduce some people, there may be other factors at play.


Fat people have long been alienated from their sexualities and navigating the same, both as an individual and with other fat people, can be a nerve-wracking experience. When we run on the assumption that any attraction to fat people stems from a pathological desire, we send a message that only thin people are deserving of and can experience affection that is not “adulterated” by fetish. The lack of a language to describe fat sexuality and desire beyond the language of fetish only adds to the stigma. 

This is why it is increasingly important to bring visibility to and shape narratives of healthy, safe desire for and amongst fat bodies – to build counter-narratives that centre fat folks as active sexual and r0mantic agents with complex experiences and voices.


Thank you for reading this blog, which is the first of our series of blogs on the experience of fatness in urban India. This blog series is a part of our upcoming research study on Fatness in Urban India, focusing on building counter-power narratives on the experience of fatness in Mumbai; as well as developing an evidence base for documentation of the discrimination and oppression faced by fat people in urban India, with a focus on:


(1) built environments

(2) health and medical infrastructure

(3) careers – educational institutions and workplaces

(4) intimacies and interpersonal relationships


Further, we hope to document the ways in which fat people embody different physical-emotional conditions. Finally, we hope to use this research study to co-create recommendations for changing norms, policies and infrastructure to meet the needs of fat people in urban India. 


To become a part of this study, please consider participating in our data collection process by giving us 30-45 minutes of your time in an interview. To learn more about the process, check if you are eligible and to sign up, please visit: bit.ly/OFC_Fatness_Study


Fatness in Urban India: Desiring and Being Desired

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

For most of my life, public domains have not felt like a space I had any say or ownership in. They have always made me feel like a fidgety traveller. They were just places that I was existing in, in their liminal corners and not a place where I could express myself fully or that made me feel ‘belonged’ in any capacity. 


When I was in school, I used to check my skirt multiple times before catching the bus. I would adjust it until positioned perfectly so that it covered my knees. I’d check the tightness of my shirt, tucking it out a little bit by bit so that it didn’t hug my growing, puberty-stricken body too visibly. I did all of this because on most days I was fearful — fearful that I’d get caught and be made to stand outside of the line during the morning assembly in a corner — too prominent against the red-bricked walls of the school. It was like losing shreds of my dignity every time that happened and not knowing what I did wrong. On most days, the school wasn’t a place that uplifted me because of how good of a speaker I was or for being on the student council. Those weren’t my identities. My identity on most days was reduced to being less of a dignified woman because of the length of my skirt. They weren’t running a school, but an assembly of shame. This story is relevant here because when you step out of school and into the ‘real’ world, all of your surroundings turn into that school assembly. I can assuredly say that in most public spaces and at most times, a large majority of women (close to all, if not all) can feel a constant stream of holes being burnt into their bodies due to uncomfortable gazes. A gaze that closes up your throat and shrinks your bodily autonomy. A gaze that makes your body shiver with the realization of the scrutiny on you and your criminally bare skin. 


And it’s not a suppression of just our bodily expression, but voices too. These voices belong to women, young and old, married and single, mothers and grandmothers, or just women even without these aforementioned identities. Their voices are muffled down in most public spaces, be it in restaurants when the bill arrives and is given to their fathers, brothers, husbands and male friends; it is stifled in offices, metros, parks and on the road in a car when people (mostly men) talk over women, mansplain and condescend. 


Hence, resistance becomes an everyday act and any place outside your own body is unsafe and uncompromising and sometimes even within it. Resistance becomes something like breathing, an involuntary act that your body gets accustomed to as you learn how to resist gaze and passive oppression. 


I started to resist and negotiate when I found a space, which for the first time wasn’t trying to pull me down and tug at me until I came apart. It did not attempt to disembody me from my identity as a woman. It was a place where I could breathe without having my guard up and feel more empowered than ever because of a collective feeling – a feeling of womanhood, of struggle, of achievement, of destabilization and alas, resistance. This place was a women’s college, which ironically, I did not want to go to in the first place because of questions like — how would I grow in a homogenous atmosphere, how would I learn to survive and fight amidst just women? I don’t know if it is the patriarchal narrative or the society that weaves these notions and made me think those things, but I can say that it was in the company of those unknown, strange, yet strong women that I felt as if I was in the presence of some kind of power. It was like living one of those hypothetical, utopian realities of what the world would be like without men? In one word — it was easy. 


Ironically, even though I never had to resist anything in that space, I did learn how to resist better there on account of the ideas and agency that flowed in the air there. It also made me realize that I fully accepted my gender identity, in fact, I was proud to be a woman and I was happy in my skin. I had never felt more like a woman and a feminist before coming to that college. It was in the absence of having to constantly fight the world outside, reclaim spaces and ask for my rights that I realised what feminism meant to me. It was because of that college that empowered me and allowed me to express myself that I could compare it to the other end of things — the not-so-utopian reality —  and understand better what I and many other women should have on an everyday basis, what kind of a space they deserved in this world. 


As for resisting the oppression that we face every day, the biggest act of resistance sometimes simply becomes showing up and not being bogged down. It resides in those little acts of courage people perform every day when they don’t deter or crumble under a gaze, a harsh voice or any other form of systemic oppression. Resistance also entails the process of unlearning the norms of patriarchy; in unlearning the stereotypes, sexism and bigotry. It is about rejecting ideas like ‘asking for trouble’, honour, dignity and who a good woman is. For me, it is also about unlearning the internalized shame that this system imposes on women and other marginalized communities.

Fatness in Urban India: Desiring and Being Desired

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

Started by the Centre for Women’s Leadership in 1991, 16 days of Activism against gender-based violence (GBV) is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and organizations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. 

Each year, One Future Collective participates (OFC) in this campaign under the United Nations 16 days, which begins on November 25 (UN-designated Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) and ends on December 10 (World Human Rights Day).


  • About One Future Collective 

OFC is a feminist social purpose organisation with a vision of a world built on social justice, led by communities of care. We exist to nurture people’s feminist and rights-based leadership and influence their micro-communities and ecosystems to achieve social justice: through an alt school, advocacy lab and feminist justice project. 

Here are the events held by OFC during the 16 days of activism:


  1. Online awareness and knowledge building 


  • Tweet- a- thon on “Trauma-informed support for Survivors of gender-based violence”

OFC conducted a tweet-a-thon on “Trauma-informed support for Survivors of gender-based violence” in partnership with Nyaaya, Breakthrough India, Point of View Mumbai, The Gender Lab, Dream a Dream, and Gender IT. This tech-based interaction invited conversations on what trauma-informed means, and why it is necessary for the context of engaging with survivors of gender-based violence. 


OFC shared a note on the terms survivor, victim, and patient/ client. The terms survivor, victim, patient, and client are used interchangeably to refer to a person who has been subjected to any form of gender-based crime. We understand that their experiences are unique and do not intend to universalise or generalise individual processes in any way. We also understand that using the word “victim” can often take power away from the individual, relegating them to the role of someone who has only suffered. On the other hand, using “survivor” in the early stages after someone has experienced abuse can deprive individuals of their experiences and harm caused with the expectation of being an immediate survivor. Alternatively, “patient or client” is often used more professionally but can be seen as detached and cold.

The tweet-a-thon highlighted multiple ways the need for being trauma-informed in everyday life, specifically with survivors of gender-based violence. 


  • An interactive workshop on Alternative Justice 

An engaging workshop on December 1, from 4 pm to 6 pm IST, was a space for exchanging thoughts, critiques and reflections on exploring Alternative forms of Justice. Discussions began with how the notion of ‘justice’ itself is unique to each individual while navigating the meaning and difference between carceral and abolitionist feminism. The exchange of dialogue paved the way to delve into the essence of restorative and transformative justice and a part of alternative justice. 

The workshop ended with understanding the difference between compensation and reparation, situating various examples in the contemporary and past of India. 

Alternate justice workshop by One Future Collective

The workshop on Exploring Alternative Justice


  • Instagram Live: Discussion on Gender-based Violence in Online spaces 

An Instagram live was hosted on November 27, 7 pm to 8 pm IST with Shabana Praveen from Counsel to Secure Justice and Sohini from TechSakhi, POV Mumbai

The discussion focussed on the intersectionality of GBV on online platforms, including conversations around accountability, cancel culture, freedom of expression and opinion, and current security systems in India. You can access the discussion using this link.


  • Panel discussion: Dissent, Fascism, and GBV

The panel discussion by Raisa Philip (Manager- Programs and Innovation, CREA), Samreen Mushtaq (Ashoka University) and Meghna Prakash focussed on how women and other sexual minorities are seen as a threat to structures that governments go out of their way to stifle dissent, how identities interact with fascism and its effects on a community, and the socio-cultural barriers that exist in India.

17 folks were part of this discussion.

Panel Discussion | Fascism and Dissent by One Future Collective

Panel discussion on Dissent, Fascism, and Gender-based violence


2. Community Spaces 

  • Conversation space for cis-men and boys to discuss GBV

It is essential to include everyone, as a community, when we talk about GBV. Due to their identities, cis-men and boys often may not get this space. On November 30 from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm IST, Devanik Saha facilitated a conversation space for cis-men and boys addressing GBV with them. 


  • The Colourful Language 

The colourful language was a community space for folks, mainly survivors of GBV,  to come together and use art as a medium of reflection and joy. On November 27, individuals from multiple cities met online to foster this space with a sense of togetherness, community, and care. 

Colourful Language - a space by One Future Collective

The colourful language


  • Dance movement and Music sharing 

On December 10, from 6.30 to 8 pm IST, Vishakha Shivkumar facilitated a space on Dance movement and Music Sharing. The only rule was to dance like no one is watching, and to shake it off! The session ended with folks making a collaborative playlist to listen to and enjoy, and an OFC community member trying and sharing their tunes on a guitar for the first time. 

Dance movement and Music sharing with One Future Collective


  • Exploring Activism through Art and alternative mediums 

The language of activism can have multiple forms including songs, poems, graffiti, and more! On December 2, from 6 pm to 7 pm IST OFC facilitated a community space on navigating art and alternative mediums to activism in today’s world. From reflective tools to studying the history of types of dissent (for instance right from the times when India was under colonial rule to now, poems have been a strong force of activism), the space welcomed discussions and encouraged sharing different platforms where folks have come across activism. This included Hannah Gadsby’s “Nannette” to Faiz’s “Hum dekhege”. 


3. Launching OFC’s resources 

OFC is delighted to have launched the following resources during the 16 days of Activism


  • Gendered Household and Care Work in Urban India 

OFC launched the study on Gendered Household and Care Work in Urban India on December 10. Historically, the division of labour for household chores and care work has been gendered, where women have to contribute significant time towards this activity. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a significant hike in the amount of time spent on household work. OFC conducted a study examining the incidence and impact of gendered differences in time spent on unpaid care work before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically between 25th March – 31st May 2020, in India.


Our key findings indicate that women performed significantly more unpaid care work both before and during the pandemic. We also identified ways in which tasks were gendered through the assignment of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ values. 

You can access the study here: Gendered Household and Care Work in Urban India Study | One Future Collective


  • Conversation Cards on Domestic Violence

OFC believes in the power of conversations as a driver for social change. To this day, domestic violence is a topic that is not openly discussed.

In light of this, we hope that these cards can serve as anchors for you to initiate conversations in your communities, for addressing domestic violence and ideate on building trauma-informed pathways to support survivors.

Such conversations can become the beginning of change and inform the actions of individuals, communities, and over time, systems.

You can sign up for free and access the conversation cards here: Get a Digital Copy of Domestic Violence Conversation Cards [One Future Collective]


  • Relaunch: A self-paced course on Economic Violence as Gender-Based Violence

OFC re-launched the self-paced course on Economic Violence as Gender Based Violence on November 5. This online course explores

  1. How economic violence can manifest as a form of gender-based violence, 
  2. The legal framework surrounding economic violence;
  3. The relationship between economic violence and mental health;
  4. The role of larger systems of oppression in fostering economic violence.

33 participants are part of this course. 


We also launched the Social Justice Zine “Where do we go from here”s first edition on “The Culture of obedience”. You can access it here: Get a Digital Copy of Where Do We Go From Here Zine – An Interactive Magazine [One Future Collective]


  • Zine Edition 1: The culture of Obedience 

Often as we grow up with multiple agencies of socialization, we may internalize discipline and obedience, on an individual and socio-cultural level.

The zine unpacks how obedience is defined, rewarded, and what it looks like as an experience. You’ll find community insights into various institutions including schools, media and religion.

The zine ends with a reflective and interactive toolkit. 

It can be accessed by filling out this form: bit.ly/SignUp-SocialJusticeZine-OFC 

This zine is a part of the “Where do we go from here” series, a community-driven space- stringing together pieces of our stories, everything from the rugged edges to the softest centres.

This resource is curated by Shefali Gupta & Vandita Rungta


4. Peer Support Program 

OFC launched its pilot Peer Support Program on December 9, which will go on till January 6. 

Taking cognizance of the stigma and socio-cultural barriers to seeking mental health support in the country, most people may feel more comfortable talking to a familiar peer than a professional stranger. Since providing peer support emphasizes treating everyone as an equal, it reduces the chances of having a power dynamic between the sharer and the listener. Thus, it does not limit an individual’s mental health to their personal responsibility; it finds value in relations as a way to bring about transformations. It views the sharer-listener relation as a partnership that inspires learning and growth. 

More details can be found here: Peer Support Progam | OFC 


The cohort of the Pilot Peer Support Program


5. In-person sessions 

OFC held a workshop followed by a sharing circle on Invisible forms of GBV at K.C. College, Mumbai. Additionally, we facilitated a session on Gender sensitization for the crew members of Tiger Baby Films. 

Workshop and Sharing Space for students of Gender Issues Cell, KC College on ‘Invisible forms of gender-based violence’

Workshop and Sharing Space for students of Gender Issues Cell, KC College on ‘Invisible forms of gender-based violence’


We turned 5 this year! You can read our impact report here: OFC turns 5! 2017 to 2022

Meanwhile, we have some enriching Cohort Based Courses scheduled for the coming year, you can read more about them here: Curriculum Outline | CBLP | One Future Collective – Google Docs




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Fatness in Urban India: Desiring and Being Desired

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective