No shame - PhMuseum

No shame

Mary Gelman

2018 - 2019

The problem of discrimination against overweight people in Russia is not made up. They face job search rejections, medical prejudice, they receive lower salaries than people with “normal” weight. They often have trouble finding their size when shopping for clothes, as well as finding positive media representations of people who look like them. Many of them are bullied and shamed throughout their lives.

It seems that society insists: there is no place in the world for overweight people.

In the modern world, being fat is still much more than just a body characteristic. If you are overweight, it is automatically implied that you are a lazy, weak, stupid, spineless, spoilt person. You can never be truly loved, you can never have neither friends, nor a happy family, nor a dream job. “They don’t see your personality, they only see fat and awful” - one of the participants said in her interview for the project.

Diet culture and beauty industry have been demonizing obesity under the guise of “concern” for fat people’s health and wellbeing. They’ve been promoting the idea that being skinny is morally and physically right while being overweight is wrong. According to one of the studies, over 50% of female respondents said they would rather be run over by a truck than gain weight and two-thirds claimed that it was better to have mediocre or even below average intelligence than to be overweight. Body image anxiety and fatphobia have become part of our daily life - and an established social norm.

Fatphobia is not about beauty or health, it is about power and control over other people’s lives. In manifests itself in different ways. Apart from open fat hating, it is often sugarcoated with “I’m just worried about your health”, “I just want to help you become a normal good-looking person” type of thing. As a result, being exposed to fat shaming and public disapproval on a regular basis causes stress, which in its turn leads to eating disorders, internalized fatphobia, feeling of guilt and shame for your own existence, depression and suicidal behavior.

«No shame» features stories of overweight people from Russia who experienced fat shaming in the past or still have to face it. The subjects of the project are people of different genders and sexualities, different occupations and professional activities. They refuse to stay silent and put up with the system that makes millions of human lives miserable.

The color light illustrates a metaphor that society still crowd out overweight people and sometimes they feel like people from another planet.

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  • Alyona, Saint-Petersburg.

    Pig, sow, cow, oink-oink – I heard more often than my name. All the people in kindergarten and school insisted that I quit dancing, a fat girl in dancing, sounds like a scandal! Once at school, we rehearsed a dance, and while I was dancing, about ten boys from the class surrounded me. They were grunting and laughing at me. I always loved to dance, but I left this as each time I tried I was kicked and bullied.

    It was a lot harder at home. My mother was ashamed of me, my father beat me. He always thought I ate too much and controlled me. He dumped a plate with food on my head or smashed it against the wall. I was afraid to eat and could starve for weeks. My mother hid food from me or cooked something I didn’t like on purpose. Sometimes I ate leftovers from the kindergarten that she picked for our dog. My father did not care for this food, so I could reach it. When my mother was in the hospital, me and my brother stayed with the father. He locked me in a room for about five days and did not give me anything but water. Everyone was obsessed with my weight.

    Probably the most time of my life I thought about death. It's hard to live when you are not respected and bullied only because of your weight. A couple of times I tried to drown myself, but my mother pulled me out. A few years ago, I found a love, learned about other overweight people on instagram, started to read about body positive and feminism. If not for that, I would not be here right now.

  • Sonia, Saint-Petersburg.

    When you keep hearing negative stuff about your looks you can’t help but start believing that there’s something wrong with you. But I looked at myself in the mirror and couldn’t get why others saw me as ugly.

    My mum is also overweight. She sorts of linked her late marriage to this fact and projected this idea onto me. She thought of it as a way of showing concern for my health and future. I was on diets from 11 to 16 because everyone around me, including my mum, told me I had to. And I just wanted to be treated like everyone else. Back then, I used to think that I was lonely because of my weight. I used to spend almost every summer in day hospital under the supervision of an endocrinologist. I used to get an exercise bike for my birthday and scales for New Year. I reacted to every meal negatively and violently, as if my hunger was a shameful thing.

    I was bullied at school. Other children called me “fat” and a “pig”, teased me chanting “Fat, fat, crazy bat”. It usually came from buys, so I fought with them all the time. I used to cry a lot because of this injustice, wondering what I did to deserve all that.

    When I started university and left my hometown, the environment changed dramatically. There was suddenly way less aggression towards me. I didn’t want to diet again and finally realized that I didn’t have to change for the approval of others. When I got interested in body positivity, I understood that what I experienced wasn’t unique, that it was part of systemic oppression. I started writing about it in my blog. I wanted to get this message through to others, especially to girls like me. I’m fat, and I’m fine with it. What I’m not fine with is how society sees us.

  • Asya, Moscow.

    From very early childhood I was quite big and tall. And then also fat. In the first grade, my feet size was already 36, and at 10 years old I outgrew my mother. She was 160 cm tall. They called me a “giraffe”, “elephant” and joked viciously. Due to school bullying, I began to hunch and wear baggy clothes, trying to hide my chest and fullness.

    Nobody thought of me as a person, I was an appendix. When I was 15, I met a boy. Once he said: “You know, your face, of course, is 9 out of 10 points but your body goes 2. I don’t know what to do with it, girl, you understand and forgive me.” I was shocked. I stopped eating amid stress and losing weight periodically. I had bruises under my eyes, my hair was falling out, and I looked like I was going to die right now. But I really liked myself, and I often got compliments.

    After taking antidepressants, I got very fat. Everyone began to discuss it and write me comments like: “What happened to her? "Well, she used to be normal, but so out of shape now." It was hard for me, and I stopped eating again. I just wanted to disappear.
    My blog helped me. I set the course for my own comfort. I started to take first photographs of me in the mirror wearing underwear and began to talk about my experience.

  • Mary, Saint-Petersburg.

    When I was seven, I learnt that I was fat and that it was a bad thing. My dad told me about it. Once we had guests over and he said casually, in front of everyone: “You see, our Masha is smart as hell - but not so lucky to have a face and an ass like this”. Words can’t express how much it hurt. It went on and was considered normal until I left home.

    That was the narrative I was growing up with. My mum was always dieting together with her friends, switching from Dukan to Kremlin diet, from Kremlin diet to putting needles in her ears to reduce appetite, from needles to Larisa Dolina’s diet. On the fridge door, new printouts with points awarded for the food you eat would appear on a regular basis. When I started living on my own, for the first couple of years I was sure that it was normal for a woman to be on a diet all the time. I used to start every day with weighing myself.

    At school I was a leader - everyone believed that I was really self-confident. But I was faking it, so that no one would notice that I cared about my weight. I didn’t want to face pity. I didn’t see myself as beautiful and I was very active - you know, the way fat girls must be convenient, cool, funny and caring. I had really high standards for myself. I had to be so cool that it would overweigh everything else.

  • Dasha, Saint-Petersburg.

    I grew up with the feeling that I am miserable and I need to be ashamed of my body, that I am one of the “freak show”. My parents constantly criticized me in public: how much I eat and also made jokes about it. Mom was bullied at school because of her “excess” weight and she was always dissatisfied with her appearance. She told me to be ready for the worst in my life if I do not lose weight. Therefore, I discounted the insults I regularly heard. “Well, at least not a head in the toilet,” I thought. At school they called me “jerboa” and “bomb truck”, for the folks it was “sweet and funny”. I felt insecurity and loneliness. Weight is something that you can’t get away from, because everyone around you says that something is wrong with you.

    I often hear comments on the streets that I should go to the gym instead of eating an ice cream. Once a man hit me in the stomach on the street and said: "I hate fat people." He just walked by, absolutely sober and decent. One more time, I was waiting for a friend coming from a party near a porch. Familiar guys passed by with the words: "Yuck, I hate when fat girls come to party." It was pronounced so that I could hear it, but as if not to me personally. There are lots of such stories, especially in queues. People discuss my body parts and laugh out loud, as if I'm not around, as if I were nothing. I often feel like I'm a character from Bridget Jones's Diary. You always feel like you are in a “fancy dress” among those who wear official clothes. I don’t fit in.

    I was constantly losing weight, and I do not remember a day without blaming myself for the food I eat. Even for an apple. My mom bought books about diets so I read them. All this led to eating disorders. I have had bulimia for 15 years. As a result, it caused health problems and I gained 20 kilos after one year of taking hormones. My partners helped me a lot, my persistent character, conversations with myself and the understanding that for 15 years I was ashamed to go to the beach just to go for a swim.

  • Vova, Moscow.

    From the first year at school other kids called me a “fatty” and a “roly-poly”, constantly mocking me about my belly and my saggy breasts. I was the largest kid in class - and the smartest. It was like in stupid American movies. On one hand, I could get away with many things; on the other hand, I was bullied because of my weight. Those were hard times, and I always used to stand in the corner during recess, trying to stay away from everyone.

    We had a Vkontakte group where all the guys from my class used to chat with each other. At some point it became possible to create a poll, so one day my classmates created a poll to choose “a girl with the biggest boobs”. Someone wrote a comment under this post: “You should’ve added Vova, he could also compete”. It really hurt my feelings. It still upsets me when I’m with friends and someone starts discussing somebody’s weight. I always expect to be mocked again. At such moments, I wish I was invisible, so that I wouldn’t feel awkward and exposed.

    I had very few friends and I always had to adjust. I was friends with people who bullied me because of my weight. Those were toxic friendships. I had a friend at university; he knew I was gay and accepted it. But he would constantly ridicule me for my weight. You put up with one kind of discrimination just because another identity of yours is accepted. And it’s awful. Everything that happened to me at school left a mark I will never get rid of. Once fat - always fat.
    I don’t think that I’m a bad person because I’m overweight, but I used to think that I was lonely because of it. Now I don’t care about my weight and I feel comfortable in my body. Weight doesn’t define who you are, it’s just a number.

  • Ollie, Saint-Petersburg.

    I’ve always been overweight and I’ve always faced a lot of trouble because of it. It started back in kindergarten. There was a girl who was bullying me and setting everyone up against me. At school I was called “fatty”, “hippo”, sometimes it would escalate into fights. Everyone cared what I looked like and everyone was uncomfortable with it.
    I lived with my grandma most of my childhood. She always used to tell me that I was special and that life was going to be hard for me. She would ask me how others treated me and if I had any friends. But I mostly socialized online, because there people couldn’t actually see me. I felt inadequate.
    Around my teenage years other relatives also got concerned with my weight. Until I was 16, they only bought me clothes that I hated - they were ugly and covered my whole body. I was terribly ashamed of myself. I always tried to avoid my reflection in the mirror. I didn’t love myself because I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted.
    Later, at university, I met people who didn’t belittle me or criticize me for my looks. I started to see my family less often and shop for clothes myself. I would take photos of myself with my phone and participate in various photoshoots. I discovered feminism and body positivity. My self-image began to change. People still frown on me and I get tons of hateful comments on social media, but it doesn’t concern me that much anymore.

  • Anya, Moscow.

    “Why don’t you take care of yourself?”, “How could you go this far?”, mostly my parents and my brother ask me. He keeps on saying I'm fat and wrong. My closest offend me and don’t understand how it hurts.

    Together with my husband we have ten children. During my first pregnancy, I was afraid of getting fat and often caused vomit after eating (I learned about this at 13 and practiced sometimes). During each pregnancy, I gained weight quickly, but lost it without much effort after a childbirth. Everything changed after the fifth. The weight gained have not gone anywhere.

    It was difficult for me, I even could not find clothes that fit. Either expensive or no size. In the mass-market you can hardly find large sizes, and each time you feel some kind of “abnormal”. I ordered clothes mostly from abroad. I accept the fact, my body's changing and aging, though I don't like it.

    Women often tell me: “How could you go this far!”, “Wow, she’s not afraid of her husband cheating.” And I always thought that if my husband leaves because of me getting fat, so good riddance. Some people think that I am a bad mom because I am not trying to lose weight, or that I am not allocating resources correctly. And I thought like, what's more pleasant for me, to have children or not get fat? And I always chose children.

    The question of my weight doesn't bother anyone in my family. Children support me, we discuss such topics with them. It is very important to be accepted within your inner circle.

  • Yulya, Saint-Petersburg.

    When I was 12, my mum died, and my sister decided to take care of my looks. She took me to the endocrinologist who examined my dubious BMI and concluded that I’d be dead by 18.
    I remember walking from that clinic to the car and crying my eyes out. I couldn’t understand what was going on since I was feeling just fine.

    After that, my sister got convinced that I had to lose weight as soon as possible. She would tell me that only some pervert could love me the way I was. That was a message I never forgot. I was dieting constantly, I developed an eating disorder, experienced body dissociation, I would get into a number of toxic relationships. Because when you’re told “Hold on to everyone who finds you attractive”, it destroys your self-confidence and the belief that you deserve to be loved. That you deserve to find happiness in things other than weight loss.

    For me, being overweight in this society means feeling ashamed all the time. It is instilled in you from a very early age. I never sit down on a bus to avoid conflicts and take up less space, even if I’m tired and my legs hurt. I always have to choose between sitting and writhing with shame – or standing all the way. At work all the chairs have armpads, and I feel shame and physical discomfort every time I try to sit down because I can barely fit between them. When you are overweight, you try to be “convenient”, to smile and fit in. As if there was something wrong with me and not with the world.

  • Sasha, Saint-Petersburg.

    No one ever told me that it was normal to be overweight. I was growing up with inferiority complex, blaming myself.

    At home, my parents weren’t happy with my appearance and at school I was bullied and beaten up every day. They would mostly hit me in the head or in the body. I was afraid to be around my classmates during recess and hid in the toilet. Our teachers saw all that but did nothing. Once my mum came to school to talk about it - after that the bullying stopped for a while, but then started again. I was alone because no one wanted to be friends with a fat girl. At home, I was often told that if I didn’t lose weight, no one would ever want me. All of that drove me to a nervous breakdown in 9th grade when I ended up in a mental institution.

    When I was 22, I decided to go on a diet, hoping that my life would change. I counted calories - I was allowed to eat 1000 kcal a day. That is how I lived for the next few years. I lost 45 kg, from 83 to 47. It gave me nothing but period loss and dizziness. I felt cold all the time and it was hard to do virtually anything. My life revolved around those 1000 calories and what I could or couldn’t eat. It just couldn’t go on like that.

    After pregnancy, I gained some weight and started learning to accept myself. I discovered plus size models, overweight women who didn’t hate themselves, body positive online communities - that helped me understand that I could - and should - live differently. With self-love and self-acceptance.

  • Katya, Saint-Petersburg.

    So I’ll lose weight and will just be a person,” I was growing up with this thought.
    Father often told me and mother that being fat is not normal. He kept on saying this until I got 21 and I told him: “Fuck off. That is enough."
    They signed up to all sports sections for me to lose weight. I was always the fattest among all the children. I remember that in ballroom dancing I never had a partner. I hated myself.

    I thought it normal to hate your life because you are fat. When you are fat, you feel guilty for taking up a lot of space. Like you don't deserve it. I am still slouching, because all my entire adult life I tried to become thinner. That means that you need to shrink.

    My life mostly consisted of attempts to lose weight. I thought that a normal life will begin when I lose weight. I had eating disorders and bulimia because of diets. I took prescription pharmacy drugs to lose weight. It nearly killed me. I didn’t eat anything, and if I did, I vomited. All the time, I was losing weight then gaining back. The fact that this does not work has been proven long time ago. Diets, bulimia, self-harm were means to punish myself.

    I did not know then that fat people can live a normal life and be happy. Also love, enjoy and be realised. I thought that there was not such a way, such an option and it is impossible. This was not mentioned anywhere. My world turned upside down after body positive.

  • Mary, Moscow.

    At 11, as soon as I first started putting on weight, my relatives began to take notice of it. There was an unspoken rule in our family: “You are a good girl but it’s very important not to be fat”.

    My grandma would point out all the changes in my appearance. She was overweight herself. I would hear her say things like “Don’t tell me you can’t lose weight - there were no fat people in blockaded Leningrad”. I was 21 when I bought my first pair of shorts - just because it was too hot. I came to see grandma and told her about it. She looked at me and said, “Do you really think you can wear shorts? If you ask me, you can’t even afford to wear pants”.

    Three years ago, I had a severe mental breakdown. It was really bad. I was prescribed medicine but I was afraid to take it because I had read that they make you gain weight. But I couldn’t go on like that anymore so I had to. I ended up gaining about 20 kg in three months. I barely ate anything. I had a serious metabolic disorder that didn’t have anything to do with food. (Yes, it is a thing and it happens to many people.) I remember being hungry all the time and feeling nauseous every time I ate. I watched my diet and kept a diary. After a while, the meds took effect and my mental state was better than ever. But everyone around me started to doubt: “Are you sure it’s worth it?”, “I don’t think you understand what you’re doing - you’re gaining so much weight”. I had to hear these things from my loved ones who knew what I’d been through, even from some doctors. It was pure hypocrisy: no one actually cares about overweight people’s health.

  • Marina, Vyborg.

    I was overweight since childhood and immediately got into the list of those to make fun of.

    I understood back then that I mustn't keep silent. Otherwise, they will mock me. I need to defend myself. Although I have always been an open and sincere child. At school, peers called me fat and fatso. It was unpleasant, it offended me. Adults treated me differently. Sometimes with aggression, with undisguised pity or leniently. There were problems with teachers too. It is believed that if you are fat, then you should be quieter and lower. But I, on the contrary, was active and constantly spoke up, rebelled and was punished for this.

    From relatives I mostly heard: “Why did you feed your daughter so?” My parents are post-war people who lived at a time when food was scarce and valued. Sometimes there was nothing to eat. They were glad that I ate and I basically have had food to eat. And I always wondered why everyone was discussing my weight, standing me out other children. At first, the complaints were spoken publicly to my parents, and then to me personally. Mostly that I'm fat and I need to lose weight. Indeed, this is something beyond for a girl.

    I protested against public convictions for spite. If they told me to lose weight and that they would not give me food, I rebelled. "Stop eating," - for me there was an infringement. I said: "I will go to Aunt Masha and eat there." In fact, I felt confused and aggressive. I was looking for a way out of this situation. To just keep up with me, because inside I felt normal, and they tried to tell me that I'm not.

    My character became persistent due to the struggle for myself. For my place in the society where there are many stereotypes about fat people. My body suits me, but everybody around me can't calm me down and feel protected. They see only forms, not a person. People want to fit you into the "framework" and, if you do not, they try to drift you off. But you can avoid obstacles, resist and move towards harmony and self-love.

  • Sasha, Moscow.

    No one tried to tell me that everything was fine with me. It's bad that you are overweight, but you're lucky to be sweet and kind. At 12, I began to look at myself differently. I'm cool, but ugly.
    My mother has always been overweight, and I saw how she treated herself. She drank teas for weight loss and always said that something was wrong with her and she did not love herself. For me, this was an example of how to treat myself. Indeed in films and books no one chooses a fat girl, and it seems that you are meant to be alone. To get fat is supposedly the worst thing that can happen to a girl.

    After the death of my grandfather, before the exams, I gained weight. Everyone wanted me to lose weight, and I was ashamed of myself. I covered my stomach with a pillow at a party or took a bag to hide it behind. I lived in constant restrictions, was ashamed of what I eat, and was glad if I did not eat all day. I went to sports and every day I hated myself. My closest people complimented me, but physically I felt bad.

    I didn’t like myself with either 50 kilos or 100 kilos. I tried everything to lose weight, and decided to just live on without any special effort. I went to therapy to learn about self-acceptance and self-esteem. But finding a specialist was a real challenge. During a session, a woman therapist once said that I needed to accept the fact that there are people "like me", and there are "like Angelina Jolie", and there are people even fatter than me. In the way that I'm not the worst thing. She suggested that I come to terms with it. I didn’t come to her the other day.

    I started taking pictures of myself as a way to see my body from the side. I handed out all the clothes that did not fit and studied body positive materials. I am tired of adapting to inconvenience and shame, and justifying myself. I am not propaganda and not a piece of fat. I am human.


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