Back in school (during the 90s), I was thin and average looking. During the initial phase I used to feel very awkward because I did not possess strong grammar skills whereas my then best friend was a classic orator. At that time, body and looks did not matter as much as being known for all the right reasons did. I admired my friend and aspired to talk as confidently as him. Over the years, I tried to overcome my fear by participating in various activities. To a certain extent, I would say I was successful in doing it and people did start taking a note of me. I had achieved what I wanted to, was confident and was quite amiable, but right during that time, some of the teachers started to comment on my body.
It first happened in the school’s corridor that was full of people. In a not so low tone, a teacher commented “You seem to have put on weight, start working out.” I was taken aback for a moment. I started thinking how important my body was to them and why! And this coming from one of the highly respected teachers was very strange. But it kept happening over and over again. My focus then shifted from the uproar of board exams to how to lose weight.
That was when I had first learnt the concept of ‘commenting on other’s body just like that’. When I was just a mere 17-year-old and yes I used to be ‘thin’.
“When will you start exercising?” “How come you became so fat?” “How much have you been eating of late?” “Wear this when you have a body to flaunt.” These were the things people said to me. “Don’t eat this” also became pretty common in the last three or four years when I put on weight due to a number of reasons best known to me. Yes, best known to me! But you know how the ‘outsider’s eye’ is a self-proclaimed scanner. People perceive your “body” like it’s their right to inspect you from top to bottom every time they happen to see you, and slyly make a comment. I won’t say that I have been a part of severe “body shaming”, but yes, I was definitely judged on how my BMI is overwhelming and I should bring it back to ‘normal’. All the constant judging and bickering made me lose my self-confidence in many ways. Before meeting anyone or just casually heading out, I started to doubt myself as to how I look. And this soon turned into a habit.
I hear about and personally know people who have medical issues like thyroid, PCOD and the likes and hence they are unable to reduce that fat irrespective of right eating habits and exercise routines. No doubt, there are people who are genuinely concerned about health and want to help but that genuine worry somewhere gets lost when most part of the world is anything but genuine. The latter does not know what the other person is going through, does not know what is happening with them, to them and how they are coping. In my opinion some ridiculous mentalities only think that remarking is all that it takes, as if the other person would suddenly turn into an hourglass figure right there! They do not bother about “just one more mental damage” that they have drilled into the receiver’s soul and mind.
I have seen people, or rather unfortunately have had the chance of meeting such people, whose conversations are only about how one should get those extra kilos off, how one should not eat much (read: starve themselves). And mind you, these are not the people who themselves have chiseled 6-pack abs or muscle bulging out of their shirts. As unlucky as it may sound, these people are my distant relatives who I do not wish to see or meet ever after a few such incidents.
One incident happened at a family function, where everyone was enjoying themselves and letting lose, and so was I. Suddenly, this middle aged relative of mine (I wish he reads this article and it drills some sense into him) walks up to me. I exactly knew what he wanted to say, and I suddenly got into the defensive mode even before he could walk closer.
“Hi Fatty! When do you plan to shed those kilos?”
“Umm, when I feel like it.” (Well done, Aarushi! The self-defence mode seemed to work on its own)
“Aren’t you going to be joining college soon?” (I was just about to join my post grad college in a month’s time from then)
“Yes, so what’s the relation?”
“Are you going to pay for two flight tickets only for yourself, ’cause you’ll surely not fit onto one seat! HAHAHA!” (I mean WTF! Where do they get such creatively hideous things to talk about?)
“Yeah, I love traveling with extra space.” (Still going strong with self-defence, am I?)
“That won’t be extra space my dear, it’ll be the space you need to fit yourself into. HAHAHA!”
THAT WAS IT. I could not continue. I sheepishly smiled and went off.
I went to the loo with tears in my eyes right in the middle of a huge family function. My brother had witnessed this incident from a distance and he followed me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone right then and “create a scene” so I decided to quickly do a touch up and get back. But as soon as I came out, I saw my brother and his calming looks.
He just said one line, “Don’t bother, he is crazy!”
At this point, I couldn’t control myself and burst out into tears with abuses and curses choking my throat (literally!). My sister in law and my mother joined in and I narrated the whole incident, catching my breath between heavy crying. Within seconds, I caught hold of myself. The whole function for me was spent in really avoiding that man. It’s been two years and I have intentionally ensured that I do not encounter him ever again.
It’s dangerous how it is simply “funny” for such people to make remarks about another person. People who haven’t gone through that phase actually might not know what it feels like to be fat or chubby. Also, it is astonishing how some ‘fit’ or ‘thin’ people look down on you. And the moment you start working out or start reducing inches, you suddenly become their best friends and they have so much to talk to you about. They start quoting you as examples to everyone who does not meet the ‘body type standards’ that they have very conveniently set for you. Suddenly, it’s all good from there. (Haha! Well done, such people!)
I feel that the whole idea of being a particular body type is also built up stereotypically because of what is portrayed in the media. I may have not come across many movies or films that support a healthy looking actor in the lead without any brouhaha. I respect that actors like Huma Qureshi and Vidya Balan have been really bold to stand up for what they consider is right. But on the heavier side of the plate, it has always been a perfectly toned physique (which we call a ‘summer body’ or a ‘size zero’) that mattered, and that is what people want to see. I at times wonder what if a plump girl like me wants to act and be an actor without changing her body? What if chubby girls also signed up for lead roles, or, you know, just became the face of any so called social appearances?
It breaks my heart to read stories from people I spoke to. One person said:
“I was body-shamed. And by who? My now ex-boyfriend. It crushed me from inside. I feel bad for putting up with it with a smile and simply ignoring it. I have been body-shamed by my relatives. Like their only business is to watch my weight. They will always notice a plus 0.5 kilo gain, but never a minus 5. Hated every bit of it.”
Another person was told, “Bhaago mat, earthquake aajayega bhai (Dude, don’t run, there will be an earthquake).”
Over the years, I have become this really under-confident girl who is jealous of thin people and detest the way I look. I used to think that being size zero and skinny is the best thing in the world. I longed to wear the so called body-fitting clothes that, in my opinion, only thin people wore. However, little did I know of what the so called ‘thin’ people undergo. I spoke to a few underweight individuals and their stories are no different. This is what they were told:
“You’re such a stick, will you be able to lift utensils when you get married?”
“Massage your breasts to make them fuller, before you’re married.”
“Does your mother not give you food?”
And “Hava chal rahi hai, tum ud jaaoge (There’s a wind blowing, you’ll go flying).” No, this is not a joke!
Only when I spoke to my family and friends, I learnt that even being thin is also not easy!
And just to break some typecasting a little more here, body-shaming is not just with two X chromosomes but also with the X and Y (and people other gender identities too!). I know guys who have been called out at, shamed for walking in a certain way, for being a certain color, and for being a certain height. Some were told “So FAT, who will marry you?” and “Are you carrying a family pack instead of a 6-pack?”
I just wish more boys spoke about this and how they felt. Through this article I wish to not only encourage people and give them strength but also to let the body shame-rs know that these taunts hurt really badly and more than that it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
So many movements, groups, and seminars came up regarding body-shaming, but one movement that certainly touched my heart (or rather biased-ly touched my heart) is the #IPledgeToBeMe movement, since I adore the creator (or I’ll say I am crazily in love with this personality!), my most favourite YouTuber, Prajakta Koli. She created this video with a self-sung song called “Shameless” wherein she enacted how the whole society judges you on various parameters. How one should not care and definitely be shameless.
My immediate family (read: nuclear) has been very supportive and thankfully never questioned my weight or looks. I am literally one of those people who hates dressing up. My idea of a make up is just eye liner and lip gloss. I know people might think that how can immediate family ever question you but believe me, there are individuals who didn’t want to stay at home with their parents since their parents only kept taking away their mental peace, leave alone the society.
One woman was told “When I dumped my boyfriend and he married another girl in around 6 months time, my mom’s first question was ‘Is she slim?’”
Talking about personal inspirations, there is this one person in this whole wide world who has despite all odds and being on the wrong side of the weighing scale since childhood, managed to inspire me with every passing day! This person is a survivor of severe body shaming despite being a national level Bharatnatyam dancer and a great badminton player, back in the day. This individual that I am quoting here is one of the most hardworking, the most positive, the most thankful-to-god person I know. And one of the very well renowned professionals in our city. She is my mother! Being ‘fat’, as we all call it, never came in her way of living life, enjoying life and being such a happy-go-lucky person! In fact, she would make fun of herself before others could even try. I am inspired by her but I am not strong enough just yet to not care about the societal stigma.
For me, “Log kya kahenge?” or “Woh kya bolega?” has been a serious disease that I am unable to recover from. There was this one time when I hated looking into the mirror, hated the fact that I was not super fair and hated who I was. I don’t know why but I always needed societal approval. I know it’s wrong but I am still unable to get rid of it. (Sigh!)
However just to get my confidence back, I realised that I would be able to do that only when I loved my body. To love my body, I need to feel healthy and not have any societal baggage in my head. I started working out and managed to feel healthy, both physically and most importantly mentally, if not shed enough kilos that can bring me a few ‘compliments’ like “Oh you lost weight!”
I only wish I can continue to do so to feel healthy and confident once again, to be able to get over the very serious build up of “Log kya kahenge?” in my own head. I feel that it will take some time for me to really be shameless in order to stop getting hurt and bullied!
But if we (everyone reading this article) stop judging the person on the other side, on the basis of their make, build, and color, things would definitely change for the better!
#NoneOfYourBusiness – is what it is! Let’s all pledge to spread the word and overcome body shaming.