By Binita Kakati:
Recently, I read an article on YKA titled ‘I Will Use The Word ‘Fat’ Without Feeling Sorry, But Will Society Let Me?’ The author talks about her struggle to maintain bodily integrity as she is incessantly pestered with questions about her weight. Those who subject her to such scrutiny, don’t realise that their ‘external gaze’ is intrusive.
This brings to mind the recent issue of plus sized model Iskra Lawrence being shamed on Instagram because she didn’t conform to the ‘ideal’ body images constantly perpetuated in the media. She was subject to hurtful comments and trolling on a public platform because she chose to be comfortable with her body the way it is. In situations such these, the person being targeted needs immense emotional and mental strength to stand up to such vulgar criticism.
Both the YKA article and the Iskra Lawrence episode raise pertinent questions about the body being an active site of socio-cultural and political commentary. It is hardly enough for one’s body to be their own as they must constantly live up to the benchmark of the ‘ideal’ setup by societal prejudices. What is personal hence is constantly subjected to external influences and is forever caught up in tumultuous ideological clashes.
Those who don’t conform must naturally fall under the category of an anomaly, an alien and an outsider who must rise to ‘normal’ standard or be subject to ridicule, advice, and well-meaning ‘concern’.
Further, the idea of ‘health’ feeds this intrusive gaze. Under the garb of healthy and holistic living, people with no medical qualification pass instant judgment as to how a certain body type breeds illness better than others. It takes doctors a slew of tests to determine if there is a problem with someone, and more often than not body type, shape, weight and height have little to do with these results.
People must be made to realise that the body is a personal space and it is impolite to discuss or comment on something that belongs to someone else. Who is to tell them that a person who looks thin might be as healthy or unhealthy as someone who looks fat? Who is to tell them their notions of health is less based on scientific observation and more on skewed cultural perceptions?
To all those who have been at the receiving end of such enquiries, next time please don’t remain silent. Please engage with the person and ask them politely where they derived such bizarre ideas and judgements from. To your surprise, you may find the person fumbling with vague sentences about ‘obesity’. Too many times people who are right keep silent, and those who are wrong get away with saying what they shouldn’t.
The problem with our cultural perceptions is that we teach girls to be petite, to confine themselves to smaller physical spaces, and to live up to a stereotypical image of the docile, meek and obedient figure. While men are often burdened with the responsibility of appearing physically empowering, muscular, and imposing with a booming voice – a perfectly dominant image.
Our society ignores the fact that such benchmarks often pose serious repercussions where children grow up with the burden of living up to a ‘perfect’ body image; some starving themselves, some bleaching their faces, some pumping steroids into their bodies. What’s even more problematic is the mental image one grows up with – constantly looking down on themselves, perpetually aspiring to be something better, and in turn developing low self-esteem and depression.
It is about time we realised that we are not defined by the inches on our hips or biceps. Instead, we are defined by our aspirations, dreams, intellect, and depth of thought. It is what we do and what we aim for that matters, not how we look on a particular day. Let us rise above shallow concerns and focus on something that really truly is of importance. The temporal body hardly deserves such attention.