We’ve all heard the stories of “former fat kids”—chubby youngsters who had to deal with years of body shaming and bullying, just because they looked the way they did. Their stories have served as plotlines for multiple sugary romantic comedies, usually unfolding with said fat kid transforming into a sculpted Greek god/goddess by the end of the movie, and being showered with love, success, and all-around good luck as a result.

What they don’t show you, however, is what follows the Ugly Duckling transformation.

Before I go any further, allow me to mention that I myself am a Former Fat Kid (or FFK for short). I never knew a time in my childhood when I wasn’t, without exaggeration, round. Growing up, my nicknames at school were usually “Moti”, “Fatso”, “Tamaatar”, and variants thereof. I was always the fat girl in class, the one who was conveniently the butt of jokes, the one no boy was ever interested in, and the one who sought comfort in food when she stayed home every evening.

And I’m here to tell you, it never really goes away.

Despite losing weight and actually getting very fit in my 20s — which is what we’re told is “winning”—the damage that was done to my self-esteem in my childhood lingered. And as I battled this and spoke to other FFKs, I realised it wasn’t just a common theme to our pasts. It was actually part of the very foundations of our personalities and our lives. It had become a part of our identity.

So what does being an FFK usually translate to? While I don’t mean to paint an entire category of people with a broad brush, I have noticed that we do share certain commonalities. Most FFKs will live with crippling body image issues most of their lives, regardless of the way they look as adults.

I have met FFKs who have even gone on to become global fitness icons, but who still have minor anxiety attacks if their bellies ever feel just a tad softer than usual. I myself, despite being at my healthiest ever, would panic every time I saw my stomach bloat even a little after a pasta dinner. It has taken years of training my own mind to finally overcome that anxiety, and to truly accept my body.

Another trait a lot of FFKs share is an unhealthy relationship with food. Most of us have spent a large part of our lives either starving ourselves or trying every fad diet in the book. Ironically, we also find comfort in food, which just drags us into a vortex of bad food decisions. That translates to going weeks watching everything we eat, cutting food groups, counting macros and calories—and diving headfirst into a packet of chips the moment we have a bad day.

Food is both a chink in our armour, as well as the very armour we use to guard ourselves from the stresses of the world.

They usually also struggle with their own self-worth, particularly in relationships. I, and several other FFKs I know, have entered and stayed in bad relationships (friendships, marriages, work arrangements) solely because a part of them feels they couldn’t do any better. After all, the messages we’re fed by society and the media almost always tell us that success and true love are the spoils of the fit and attractive.

Not all the traits of FFKs are negative ones, though. As clichéd as it may sound, there’s one thing those romantic comedies usually get right—the former fat kid usually develops a great sense of humour and an overall kinder, friendlier personality. Most fat kids, while still kids, will go out of their way to work on themselves and develop their personalities, usually in an attempt to be viewed as more interesting by their peers. While this may or may not yield the desired results in their teen years, it often pays off later in life. Many an FFK has grown up to be very charismatic, a quality that often results in professional (and sometimes personal) success.

FFKs also tend to be kinder and more empathetic. Having faced their own personal struggles right from their growing years, they tend to be far more sensitive to other people’s pain and struggle than most.

Most FFKs I know have turned to paths like life coaching, therapy, or activism, which allow them to use their own past experiences to help those struggling with their own.

The sad truth is, the vast majority of people don’t realise how the impact of childhood body image issues spills over into adulthood. And while it would be prudent to ensure our children have more active lifestyles, it is equally important that we teach our children that all bodies are beautiful and to be respected, not mocked. Most children who bully do so not realising the long-term impact their actions have on their victims, and teaching them body positivity and empathy at an early age could have an amazing ripple effect.

Being a former fat kid never truly leaves you. Any FFK will tell you it’s a part of their identity now, whether they like it or not. It takes a lot to learn to live with that part of you, and to not let it define you. To be able to enjoy a meal or a new outfit without that niggling voice of doubt. To be able to love your body, regardless of how it may look.

So here’s to all my fellow FFKs. May we forever embrace the experiences that shaped us, share the empathy and strength they have taught us, and learn to love the bodies that hold us.

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  • Chitra Balachandran

    Writer, fitness coach, and body positivity advocate

    Chitra Balachandran, better known as Bombay Bellyrina, is a former fashion designer and dancer who found herself on a fitness journey following a prolonged illness. Along that journey, she learned how there's so much more to health than a dress size, and how healing her mind and self-esteem offered far more significant results than a flat stomach. She now works with brands and individuals to help them realize the power of good health, intuitive eating, self-love, and body positivity.