I’m sure that all of us know a friend who is always mocked because she is obese or even over-weight for that matter. She either doesn’t respond to the mockery overtly or has begun responding with a fake and forced laughter or has started cracking jokes about her own body. The last is laden with anxiety. She does this before anyone else can do the same. You would be lying if you say that you have never came across a man below the height of 5’8” who hasn’t been asked if his mom ran out of Complan when he was a kid. I know many women who have been rebuked for wearing too much makeup and are branded as ‘loud’ or ‘gaudy’ and yet others who have been shown concern for, by being offered some make up tips to do away with the dark circles which obviously make them look less appealing.
For those who are still boggled about what am I talking, this very phenomenon is called ‘Body Shaming’. Body Shaming is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size’.
The practice of Body Shaming has been present since times immemorial. The idea of a disfigured body (the kind which doesn’t fit the conventional beautiful type) is always associated with shame, pity or sinister. I am unable to hold back myself from drawing the mythological reference of Manthara who is evil and ugliness personified and for the longest time, continuous connection have been made between the evil and the ugly. Just to site a few examples; Shakuni, witches in fairy tales, Vamps in Indian Soap Operas etc.
Those who humiliate others are called ‘Body Shamers’. Most of the Body Shamers when inquired about the reason behind their acts reply that they wish to serve as negative reinforces because of whom the receivers of rebukes feel motivated. However, according to scientists, the idea that shaming, for instance fat shaming, inspires the victim to shed weight is a myth. As per Prof. Rebecca Pearl from the University of Pennsylvania, “There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate an individual with obesity to lose weight and improve their health.” Painful messages and conversations force the person to seek refuge in comfort eating. Humiliating words, according to a study leads to increased risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Body Shaming also has a lot to do with culture, for example, an obese woman might not be perceived as attractive in western and most Asian cultures (due to obvious insightful learning imparted by the ultimate source of our knowledge and belief systems- worthy colonisers☺). But the same can be untrue if she were a Mauritian. According to a report by the NBC news, a Mauritian man was recorded saying, “I don’t like skinny women. I want to be able to grab her by the love handles. I told her that if she loses a lot of weight, I’ll divorce her.”
Similarly, small feet might be a sexual turn off for Chinese men today, but in olden days, when foot-binding was a practice, small feet would increase the worth of a woman in the matrimonial world.
Keeping scientific and socio-cultural reasons aside, I would invoke all my readers to sit back and think of the time(s) when they had fallen prey to Body Shaming. I’m sure it still rings a bell in your head because its effects are everlasting. One does not and cannot have any control over the way one looks and if everyone had to look a certain way to be beautiful, I’m sure mothers are fools to love their kids irrespective of their shape, size and colour.
According to behavioural scientists, the only way to get rid of Body Shaming as a practice is, by talking about the health hazards of one’s particular body type (if any) in smaller groups. Supportive and affirmative talks can bring about great changes and trust me; this isn’t superficial because I, a survivor of body shaming wouldn’t lie about the same. Two years back, I was this woman who wouldn’t wear bright colours because of her dark skin tone and then, college happened. Now, I don’t remember the last time I applied Corn flour to my skin to look fairer or the last time I vigorously rubbed lemon on my elbows and knees to get rid of the dark skin. Also, now, because the people around me keep telling me to experiment with the colour of clothes I wear, my wardrobe is full with all shades of pastels and greens and yellows.
Support changes lives. It did change mine.
So, the next time you think of suggesting someone to apply Fair and Lovely or to run up a tread mill or shave their arms and legs, try replacing it with a compliment about how pretty their eye lashes are.
For those who are bullied, next time, trying replacing your silence with something like, ” Aww. You don’t like the way I look but still can’t help watching what I do! You’re my true fan.”
Because this way or that way, Body Shaming has to stop!
Edited by Mrinaal Datt
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