Last week, I received a random message from someone I used to go to school with. It was late at night; I was on my third drink, binge-watching re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy. Was it Saturday? Or perhaps, Friday night, I forget. Does anyone really remember what day it is anymore?
He asked if I would like to join a WhatsApp group, a sort of ‘reunion’ for old batchmates from school I last met or spoke with 17 years ago. Some of them I still wanted in my life and are in my life even today. We might not be 3-AM-friends, but we do manage to catch up occasionally. “Ah, what the hell, let’s do it!”, I messaged him. Perhaps, it was the unstable, fragile mental and emotional state that I was in, or the number of vodka-cranberries I had by then; I agreed to join the group.
After joining, I figured I only had three phone numbers stored in my contact list out of the too-many-to-count group members, explained how WhatsApp groups actually function to the guy who added me, and then tried to decipher if I remember anyone at all. It was then while scrolling through the messages to catch up on what kind of discussion was happening, I stumbled on how some of them discussed about me.
“We called her a stick with a potato on the head”, someone had said, referring to my former, fourteen-year-old self.
A “friend” I grew up with, someone I chose to still be in touch with, who was an essential part of my wedding ritual, had written it. It took me a minute to come to terms with what had just happened. I had completely forgotten about it after school. For a few seconds, I felt a solid punch in my gut—that same pang from all those years ago. Not detailed memories of those days, but I remembered how it felt then being embarrassed, awkwardly uncomfortable—as if I were lesser than my girlfriends in some way. It all rushed back to me in a second. Those sharp taunts gave me shudders back then too, but I never said anything aloud because, you know, we were all “friends’’. Of course, I didn’t know better.
I read on. A couple of women on the group chose to discuss my figure further: “I was wondering when you will say this”, “she still maintains it”, another added, “she is hot now”. I also learnt a couple of these women teach little school kids. The irony laughed at my face while I took some time to get over the initial stillness in my body I had felt.
So, before leaving that group, I decided to call him out and the others for joining in to discuss my body, instead of, let’s see—my work—on a public group, in front of about a hundred random people, who I either didn’t know or had forgotten. Not surprisingly, a few of the men were too quick to jump in and justify his action as simply a friendly banter. When he personally messaged me to apologize with a justification that it was indeed a “silly joke”, which he never thought would hurt me and how he admired me now, I took a moment to myself to wish for a better, less misogynistic world for his daughter to grow up in.
Body shaming is not new. Especially, in these trying, frustrating times, some men have taken a rather special interest in belittling women for the way they look, while tripping on the age-old fantasy of women’s elusive ‘perfect body’. The fact that men are now trying to justify it under the garb of a casual joke or ‘being silly’ is profoundly pathetic and downright regressive. It’s 2020! Can we still hide behind the veil of ignorance?
Normalising misogyny is like the wind or the sun, we know it’s there, but we don’t discuss or bother too much about it, unless it suddenly decides to pour thunderously or someone dies due to the scorching, unbearable heat.
“Watch your waistline during this lockdown!” a friend of mine was advised when she mentioned to her friend about her craving a specific dessert while being trapped at home. A meme on social media read, “Salons are closed. Eyebrows in the air! A lot of them are turning into Krur Singh (a character with thick, furry brows from one of the old Indian TV serials, Chandrakanta) when they look into mirrors nowadays!”.
There are innumerable instances of men brazenly airing their misogyny out in public. At the same time, we somehow try to cope with our daily anxieties and unshakable fear of impending doom due to a global pandemic. In fact, women participate in it more often than we accept, acknowledge, or anticipate. A known singer recently posted on social media how she is oh-so-bothered by women of certain weight posting their dance videos because apparently it “lacks aesthetics and is just gross”.
It’s been the same story for way too long.
“How are you still so thin? Aren’t you married?” I have never understood what that means. It’s been years since I got married, but this question never stops coming at me from older women, every time I visit home in Calcutta. Whether it’s some of my extended family or my parents’ neighbours, they never fail to take a particular interest in my weight. I don’t get it, should I let go of my body or puff out disproportionately now that I have a stable man in my life?
Visit a few Bengali households, at some point or the other you will hear someone say to a young girl — “Exercise kor, bicchiri mota hoye jacchis (work out, you’re getting disgustingly fat!).” Visit any household in almost any part of the country, and you will witness girls being berated with “If you don’t stop chomping on food all the time, who is going to marry you?” or “You’re depriving yourself with the wrong attitude and misplaced priorities!” or some such.
When everyone from Jennifer Aniston to Priyanka Chopra to Miley Cyrus to Vidya Balan is constantly being judged and body shamed, is this even a battle we can win? Does being a woman means to be judged forever, no matter how you look or what you do? Where does it end, or when?
Anyway, the world seems determined to torture us, so I say—fuck being perfect—go for that dessert, or choose not to, women—because, whether you finish it or not—someone will always be ready to judge you. Never let a hater kill your good vibes. So, throw caution to the winds, fill up that cocktail glass, and just do what your heart tells you to do. Life is simply too short; we know now more than ever.