Ever since the pandemic started, I have found myself gaining weight. With my gym getting closed and the tragic events unfolding around, I resolved to the only coping mechanism I knew — eating. Then, it happened — I noticed my arms getting fatter, my chin gaining a twin, and my belly getting rolls. And what did I do? Like each one of us does, I freaked out.
I found myself googling quick fixes for the things that were supposedly wrong with me. I cut down on my diet and began heavy workouts. Of course, none of it worked as fast as I thought it would. It only caused me to lose more self confidence and made my body weak. One day, I found myself crawling into my mom’s arms, my mom, who is also a dietician. I shared my struggles with her and begged her to help me get “healthier”. She smiled and told me that I already was. But how can I be healthy, I asked. See, the beautiful woman on the magazine cover; I look nothing like her. I don’t have the thin, toned arms or the flat belly. Upon hearing that, my mom simply asked me: “But why do you need to look like her?”
And then, she took me on a tour of how her day-to-day life looks like.
It consists of hundreds of men and women coming up to her, unhappy with their bodies, asking her to “fix” them. And she only told them one thing (along with giving them a healthy diet plan, of course!): what is healthy for you might not be healthy for someone else, and that’s okay.
But where do we get this need to look a certain way? Where does the dissatisfaction with our perfectly fine bodies come from?
It all begins with the notions of beauty that society has taught us: that we are supposed to be thin, tall, fair. But can you imagine a world where we all looked the same? Would it be as beautiful if all our noses were thin and our breasts were the perfect size and our skin colours were alike?
I can’t even picture it! And I don’t want to. Our differences are what makes each one of us unique. Why do we so badly want to change that? Why do we want to “fit” into those definitions? And most importantly, why can’t people just let us be as we are in peace? It is all because of body shaming.
Body shaming has existed in our society for centuries now. The corsets that women were forced to wear to make their waists look tinier were excruciatingly painful and a huge health hazard. But they still existed, they still sold. Not just women, even men go through severe bullying because of how their bodies look; this shaming especially fixated on how tall they are.
Don’t people realise that by judging others for their appearance, they are condemning them to a life full of dissatisfaction and misery?
Maybe it is ignorance. Maybe if everyone knew how harmful this bullying is, they would feel ashamed to ever do it. We will learn all about that, but first, let us know what this is and what it looks like.
Body Shaming can be defined as the act of mocking or criticizing someone’s physical appearance. It has been normalised to the point that a lot of people don’t even understand that it is offensive and that it can have a huge negative impact in someone’s life. Most of us have either been body shamed or have done it to someone else at least at some point in our lives.
There are generally two types of body shaming — fat shaming & skinny shaming.
Fat shaming involves criticizing and harassing overweight people about their weight. People usually do that to make them feel bad about their bodies. They sometimes mask it as “concern”, saying that they’re only worried about their health. But even people who are not obese are fat shamed. So no, body shaming has nothing to do with the bully’s concern for the person. Some people, especially parents who fat shame their kids, believe that the criticism will motivate the child to lose weight, but it does the opposite. The bullying makes them feel worse about themselves and the stress leads them to overeat. So, if you really want to help someone with their obesity, ask them in a safe space if and how they would want your help. They might ask you to keep a check on their unhealthy eating habits or they might simply tell you to let them do it alone. Whatever it turns out to be, respect their choice.
Skinny shaming involves criticizing and harassing underweight people about their bodies. This is a real issue that does not get addressed much. Even while talking about body shaming, many people disregard the struggles of skinny people, saying they don’t have it “as bad” as the fat ones. Shouldn’t the standards be that nobody gets shamed for their body? Skinny people are often shamed for being too “bony” or “flat”, when mostly they are struggling to gain weight. Again, some people mask their criticism as worrying about their health, but if you really want to help them out, instead of suggesting “home remedies” every time you see them, just tell them they are beautiful just the way they are.
Overall, body shaming can look like:
• Criticizing or judging your own body, or comparing it to someone else’s body type.
• Criticizing someone else’s physical appearance.
• Commenting on others’ bodies or telling them to lose or gain weight.
• Passing jokes on someone’s physical appearance.
Examples of body shaming that I have personally gone through:
“Hey shorty, can you even see me up here?”
“You have elephant trunks for arms.”
Examples of body shaming that I have seen around me:
“You’re so skinny; if a powerful wind comes along, you’ll float along with it!”
“You would look so pretty if you lost some weight.”
“You shouldn’t even need a bra, right? You have no breasts!”
You might find these comments harmless but they can ruin a person’s life forever. This is bullying, and do you know the repercussions of that? People who go through bullying have a low self esteem and higher chances of getting depression, anxiety, loneliness, and overall living an unhappy life. Body shaming, specifically, has some dangerous effects too.
Effects of body shaming:
• Eating Disorders: body shaming is directly linked to an increased risk of eating disorders. If you have even heard of anorexia or binge eating, you know how harmful those disorders are for a person’s health. These disorders can disrupt someone’s entire life.
• Depression & Suicide: as mentioned above, people who go through body shaming are at a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, which can often lead to suicide. No one should be made to feel so badly about themselves that they choose not to live anymore.
• Poor Body Image: constantly being harassed for how you look and being compared to others causes body image and self esteem issues. Body image refers to a person’s attitude, perceptions and beliefs about their own body. Imagine this — you hating someone’s appearance can literally make them hate the way they look.
Due to the era of social media, we constantly see models and influencers looking too perfect and as a result, compare our bodies with them. They are beautiful, yes, but so are we. What they are not showing is the hours of hard work in the gym. What they are not telling you is that they are unsatisfied with themselves too. What they are not showing you is the photographer who clicked the picture from the perfect angle and edited out all the things that they find unpleasant about themselves. It is an endless cycle — this chase of the perfect body. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t strive to have a healthy body, but as you may not know, there’s a difference between the two.
Rising beauty standards are harmful in ways we can’t even think about. I realised its impact this year when I was unhappy with the way I looked. After that talk with my mother, I realised I am not unhealthy. I just look a bit different from when I was 20. And why wouldn’t I? I am an adult now. My body’s metabolism has changed, its routine has changed, it’s bound to change too! I don’t hide my chubby arms anymore. I think they are cute and I don’t give anybody else the power to comment on them. You know why? Because they are mine!
Our bodies have kept us alive throughout this global pandemic. It has lived through a life-threatening situation. And we dislike it because it doesn’t look as aesthetic as the beautiful model on a magazine cover? I think we need to re-evaluate why we need our bodies in the first place — to live, not to be society’s definition of perfect.
The journey of body positivity will be long for most of us, but if we decide to start today, we will reach there soon enough. First step: tear up those unbelievably unrealistic beauty standards and create your own standards for your own unique body.
– Anushka Jain