By Shasya Goel:
“Beta, why are you so thin?” “Don’t your parents give you anything to eat?” “Did you consult a doctor?” Harassed by such incessant questions since childhood, I often find myself clenching my teeth hard, lest someone fall prey to a fatal blow. Resorting to sarcasm and retaliating by saying that my parents have devised a secret plan to starve me to death, and thus get rid of me, doesn’t help. Neither does a scientific explanation, entailing the reason as to why people with an ectomorphic body type find it hard to gain weight; or why a fast metabolism prevents them from attaining a physique like that of the great Khali.
I’ve often been told by my friends to get rid of the gigantic glasses I wear and see the world with my bare eyes. It is not the desperate need to ‘look good’ that startles me as much as the stereotypes that draw a thin boundary around the definition of beauty, falling out of which one is relegated to the not-so-blessed category. The irony is hard to miss and harder not to wince at. Hackneyed beliefs and yardsticks of judgement form an impenetrable cage that binds us with its dos and don’ts, imprinting on our minds a fixed expectation of appearance, thus creating a divide instead of bringing people together. My experience of studying in a convent college at Delhi University further confirmed this observation. Girls with a lean frame could be seen directing envious glances in the direction of those more well endowed while the latter fumed with jealousy at the sight of slim figures.
Recently, Parineeti Chopra launched a campaign called ‘Built That Way’ to inspire overweight girls to lose extra flab. The initiative in itself is laudable, but not the method in which the campaign was endorsed. More than an exercise at promoting fitness, it seemed like an act of defiance on the actress’ part to prove that she too can fit within the narrow realm of Bollywood expectations. The pictures of her photo shoot that circulated on the web contained expressions that urged one to ‘leave the average behind’ and ‘kill the weakness instead of hiding it’.
Seen in isolation, nothing strikes as objectionable in these pearls of wisdom. But as soon as you scrutinise the subtle connotations and put it in context with the issue at hand, things don’t appear gung-ho anymore. These simple, straightforward adages disguised as worldly wisdom take on a ghastly appearance as you look beyond words, and realise that the weakness being talked about in this case is your inability or unwillingness to lose those extra pounds. This is regarded as distasteful since you’re not striving for excellence and settling for mediocrity.
Parineeti considered herself “chubby and childish” four years earlier, and now what she wanted the most was to be confident. If one is made to feel uncomfortable in one’s skin to an extent that it undermines their confidence, then we need to do a reality check to ascertain the kind of society we are living in. Such a society fosters an atmosphere, not of growth, but one of unhealthy competition that sows the seeds of insecurity and anxiety. More than the need to be fit, it is the media and the people who claim to be her ‘fans’ who seemed to have played a role in this transformation. Her sudden realisation did not show signs of stemming in the absence of criticism, but only when faced with a barrage of ridicule. Irrespective of whether she may or may not have been happy with the way she looked, the mounting pressure ensured her plunge headlong into this societal construct.
A while back, when I went to consult my gynaecologist for some problems I had, I was told that I may be experiencing a slight hormonal imbalance. This would, in the long run, affect the way my body functions. One of the effects it can have on one’s body is to slow the metabolism down. The thought of turning into a ‘fat potato wedge’ for the rest of my life when half of it was spent being ‘thin as a stick’, amused me more than it should have scared me. Smirking in delight at the prospect of watching shocked reactions of those who were so concerned about my physique, I mulled over the possible questions that would come around this time. “Beta, you’ve grown really plump, did your parents give you too much to eat this time?”
When we walk out of the house with layers of artificial paste stuck to our face, I wonder what it is that we wish to hide so badly. Instead of moulding how we look, how about we give ourselves a chance to mould how we think or feel about ourselves? Not merely in terms of appearance, but with regard to our core essence that makes us human. How hard is it to grasp that a mirror is merely glass, with nothing of its own to reflect. It simply throws at us copied images of the universe. Would anyone willingly let such an artist paint a picture of them? For beauty lies in what you see, not in the colour of your eyes. In the words that come out of your mouth, not in the curve of your lips. Beauty lies in what you feel, not in the way you look.