The hidden struggles of being plus-size

My size is a topic that seems to loom over every social interaction with new people

Shanjida Nowshin Chowdhury
Published : 25 April 2023, 01:30 PM
Updated : 25 April 2023, 01:30 PM

Despite my solemn oath to live as a hermit secluded from the rest of society, I recently found myself at a networking event for Dhaka's top young professionals. A large organisation arranged the event. Many fun games, challenges and team activities kept the atmosphere exciting and lively.

I hate to admit it, but conversing with bright and ambitious individuals the same age as me was emotionally and intellectually fulfilling. I was almost convinced that going outside was worth the trouble. That is until one dreaded sentence brought my sudden love for life to a screeching halt.

"Please collect a t-shirt in your size from the reception and wear them for tomorrow's session so we can take a group picture".

The host's tone was warm and welcoming. Yet, to me, it was clear that it was time to say goodbye.

I am often asked why I didn't participate in extracurricular activities at school and university. To avoid going into detail, I usually say I'm shy and introverted. However, this was a massive oversimplification. The real reason is my size.

I was in the fifth grade when I finally got too big to pass as what most Bangladeshi people consider 'normal'. Every event and activity, from volunteer activities to spelling bees, warranted matching t-shirts. And as someone who could never find a t-shirt in their size, the difference in clothing was the ultimate symbol of how much of an outsider I truly was.

The issue never stopped with clothing either. In almost every social setting involving new people, I found my size to be a topic hanging over peoples' heads like a balloon begging to be popped.

Some people would go out of their way to tell me how cute I was, as though it were a given that I thought of myself as ugly. Others would try to think of new jokes about my weight, as if needing to address the elephant in the room (pun not intended) before the tension became too much to bear.

In class discussions about health, diets or fitness, I always feel everyone trying to avoid looking in my direction. But even that is better than a friend reassuringly squeezing my shoulder – a gesture that feels like even more of a slap to the face because it comes from a place of affection.

Often when we talk about obesity or being plus size, we lay out a narrative where society is to blame for not being more inclusive of people of different body types. I won't try to deny that, in certain situations, this narrative is true.

However, with years of experience being a plus-size woman, I have learned that being hated by society is a wishful dream with little grounding in reality. Society does not hate me. Society does not think of me at all. And in the rare instance where I must meet it face to face, all that society can give me is a fleeting moment of pity.

As I left my networking event, the receptionist stopped me on my way out. "You forgot your t-shirt," she said, "What size would you like?"

I told her to give me the largest they had. She rummaged through the neatly assorted pile near her desk until the curved edges of her smile flattened to a straight line.

Adding an XXL t-shirt to my goodie bag, she gave me a rundown of the next day's activities. I smiled and nodded in response, but something told me she knew I wasn't coming back.

As we exchanged cordial goodbyes, she thanked me for coming, and I thanked her for the gifts. But what I was most grateful for was her silence as she saw me tell my new acquaintances how excited I was to see them again tomorrow while making my final exit.

This article is part of Stripe,'s special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.