"Being fat-shamed by my husband completely broke my self-esteem"
How one woman transformed herself after coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship
I took an instant liking to Ajay* when we were introduced. He was very sweet and easy to talk to. We discussed everything from having children, to what our careers would look like post marriage. Even though it was arranged, he felt like someone I could fall in love with and build a life with. We were to relocate to Bengaluru a few months after our wedding and he readily agreed that I should continue working, enjoy my independence and explore this new city.
I didn’t expect his parents to move with us, but having them there made adjusting a little easier. I was so distracted by getting them to settle in that I didn’t have time to think about my own anxieties. When I got a new job, the comments from my in-laws began. We had domestic help but I was expected to run the show as the bahu. My mother kept telling me to adjust. “This is married life now beta, you have to adjust,” she would say.
I wasn’t able to manage full-time work and household responsibilities. My mother-in-law taunted me every morning as I’d leave for the office. “Oh, she’s leaving now. I guess us oldies have to fend for ourselves until madam comes back.”
My husband tried to placate me saying they have a traditional mindset and to, ‘just let it be’. He kept saying he’d talk to them, but he never did. He finally said, “Anyway, why do you need to work? I’m working nah? I make enough money to run the house, you manage here.”
I was shocked. We had spoken about this before marriage, and when I called him out on it, he simply said things change and I need to adapt. That he was making good money so I should focus on the house.
The pressure was too much, so I quit. I felt like my heart had broken just a bit. Eventually, I changed to part-time PR work, from home. Everyone seemed happier. It didn’t matter how I felt, but I took it in my stride and let it go.
At the same time, I started having health problems and putting on weight. It was a thyroid issue. The weight gain became even more after I had my first child. I never thought I’d be fat-shamed by my husband, because all women gain maternity weight.
His comments were subtle at first. All under the guise of ‘care’ and ‘helpful suggestions’. “My coworker was telling me about how his wife did this full workout program and lost all the baby weight. Should I ask him for the details?”
When our child turned one, it also marked over a year since my husband and I had been intimate. “This happens yaar, babies change things. Give it time,” said my friend. But the comments about my body didn’t stop.
“Look at all these clothes in the cupboard. If you were the same size, you could actually wear them,” he’d say. Eventually, it became an outright “you’re just lazy and don’t want to do the work to be fit and look good”.
I got more and more uncomfortable with the increasing comments about my body and being fat-shamed by my husband.
I was talking to a friend of mine about my weight struggles and how I couldn’t find the time to exercise, when she said, “Listen, we all have the same 24 hours in the day. If we can do it, you can do it. You just have to make time for yourself.”
I was running a house, looking after a toddler and working part-time. My 24 hours were already stretched thin. There was no time to exercise. I used to go for evening walks but that also became an issue. If I had time to spare, why wasn’t I pressing my father-in-law’s feet, oiling my mother-in-law’s hair, or organising the crockery cabinet?
My husband had started drinking heavily. Every time he would drink, he would get mean. Whatever stresses he had would get focused on commenting about how I look. “Just look at yourself. What have you become? I’m supposed to go out with you looking like this?”
I tried to bring it up with my mother-in-law but she took his side. “Of course he’s going to be disappointed. Men are visual beings. Who lets themselves go so early in their marriage?”
The more he’d drink, the crueller he’d get. He’d criticise me in front of others, like it was a joke. I was being tormented. Being fat-shamed by my husband made my confidence and self-esteem plummet to zero. The person I thought would support me through my health problems, pregnancy and more had become the chain dragging me deeper and deeper into unhappiness.
Food became my enemy but also my emotional comfort. It became a vicious cycle.
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I would cry on the phone to my mother who encouraged me to make more of an effort to keep the peace and everyone happy. That job always falls on the women. Little effort was made by anyone to talk to him about his behaviour and actions. Every time I tried, it would turn into a heated fight with him screaming, shouting and then leaving the house.
I was mentally drained and reaching a breaking point. On a trip home with my son for my mother’s birthday, I completely broke down and told my parents everything in detail. The constant bullying, the taunts, the toll it was taking on my mental health and just how verbally and emotionally abusive he would get whenever I raised my voice about it. Seeing my state, my father said, “You’re staying here, that is not a loving home for you.”
My husband called non-stop, screaming at me to come home. My parents took the phone away. My in-laws at first said things like it’s just a disagreement, these things happen with couples. That I must be stressed. “This is why we keep telling her to leave her job and focus on the house”.
Finally, they showed their true colours. “He’s giving her everything she wants in life. What does she have to complain about? Can’t he expect better from his wife after everything he’s doing? What is so wrong if he wants her to look a certain way?”
If it all came down to how I looked, and my weight, then the least they could have done is give me the time and space to focus on being healthy and getting fit. When was I supposed to go to the gym? When I was changing and feeding our child or cooking meals and cleaning up after everyone in the house? But it wasn’t just about weight.
When my parents asked me what I wanted to do, I really didn’t know. I had a one-on-one meeting with my husband to explain my side of things and try to come to some resolution. I could smell the alcohol on him. He laughed off my insecurities, the fact that he’d broken my self-esteem. His ego couldn’t handle being called out.
“I don’t want to be with a bhains anyway, I have many other options, you do what you want,” was the last thing he said to me before he left.
We stayed separated for a few months. At that time a lady reached out to me on Facebook claiming to have had an affair with him, apologising, saying she didn’t know he was married and had a child. He denied it all. He changed his story and said they met on a work trip and became ‘friends’. Then with more questioning, he said “So what if I did?”. I hung up.
I filed for divorce and his family didn’t contest it. I knew deep down there was no changing when it came to him, it would only have gotten worse.
It’s been almost three years since we ended our marriage and I never thought I’d be this happy. Lots of people told my parents to send me back to my in-laws’ place. To work things out. Because being divorced was worse than being in a relationship with emotional and verbal abuse.
Even though they’re quite conservative, my parents stood by my decision and helped look after my son. Though they did ask me not to tell anyone that I had started therapy.
I made my health my priority – mental and physical. Signing up with a fitness instructor and nutritionist who tailored a meal plan to combat my thyroid issues. With their help, I have worked hard over the past year and lost over 40 kilos.
In the beginning, I think I did it out of vengeance towards my former husband. But then I realised that it wasn’t just a weight loss and fitness journey for me. It was a complete transformation inside and out.
I finally felt like I could focus time on myself. I could breathe without having to worry about sucking in my stomach. I didn’t have to get all dressed up every morning to impress the people in my own home. Nobody was making taunts over my meal portions. Instead of worrying about how drunk my husband would be when he came back home, I could spend time meditating, going for a walk with my son and doing the meal prep for the next day. Without the mental drain and anxiety of having to always be on guard on where the next jab, pointed ‘critique’ and outright verbal abuse could come from.
Now I live in Chennai and am working full-time again. My son is happy, healthy and has a relationship with his father and grandparents who come to visit him from time to time. They speak regularly on the phone. A coworker set me up with one of his cousins and we’ve been taking it slow and dating for a few months now. He knows all about my past experiences.
I still have comments coming from people who scoff at the fact that my marriage broke over ‘weight issues’ and getting fat-shamed by my husband. They laugh and point out another news story about a woman filing for divorce after being fat-shamed and abused.
For me, it was just one part of a toxic environment of constant humiliation and belittling that no one should go through, regardless of their gender. Especially coming from the person who is supposed to be your life partner and support system.
Maybe if I lost all the weight while I was still married, then my husband would have been nicer and not cheated on me? Perhaps, but maybe not. His cheating, drinking and abuse were not ‘caused’ by me. They were his choices.
People may not understand my decision. But that’s alright because I am happy where I am in my life right now. I know now what it’s like to have a supportive partner who respects me.
*Name changed upon contributor’s request
As told to Sara Hussain