Body-shaming – an issue I hold close to my heart and am vocal about. Apologetically vocal.
We all encounter body-shamers in our day-to-day lives – the nosy aunt feeling you must lose some weight to become a good marriage material, or the husband passing a nasty jibe, the over friendly colleague teasing you about your big bust, or the gym-friend passing a nasty comment on how huge your butt or arms are, are all body shaming.
Collins dictionary defines body shaming as ‘abuse of a person due to perceived physical flaws’. Note the words ‘abuse’ and ‘perceived’. Hence body-shaming qualifies as abusive behavior and the abuse is based on the abusers perceived physical flaw of the victim. This definition makes complete sense because not only people with imperfect bodies are body shamed but even people with the shapeliest bodies possible, including models and actresses, are victims of severe forms of body-shaming.
We are exposed to tremendous body-shaming by the media, movies, and advertisers. Ads promoting fairness creams, movies depicting fat people as comic characters and magazines showing grossly unrealistic air-brushed pictures of models are nothing but triggers for body-shaming.
Today, for girls, as young as ten, “how do I look” has taken precedence over academics and career-building. Body-shaming can lead to a vicious cycle of judgment and criticism causing deeper psychological scarring, dampening of self-esteem and in extreme cases lead to suicide.
We need to understand and address the issue to help create a society where bodies are loved, celebrated and nourished for a healthy and happy existence.
Why do people body shame?
People body shame because they are governed by their sociocultural and religious upbringing which coupled with their limited exposure to the world outside leads them to develop rigid body image perceptions over time. In their enthusiasm, they extend their personal perceptions to others.
At times, some of our close well-meaning friends and people in our social circles pass insensitive comments and jibes on our bodies without even realizing it qualifies as body shaming. Judging bodies, especially those of women, seems to be ingrained into our psyche. It starts at home when as children we hear parents and elders sham a female character on TV for wearing certain kind of clothes. Instead of exercising the option of changing the channel, we engage in moral policing. In our naivety, we as a culture are responsible for initiating, encouraging and establishing body shaming as a normal conversation. We now dread to think of the proportion it has taken.
How do we deal with body shamers?
It’s not about you, it’s about them: To be able to deal with body shaming in a positive way it is important to understand that it is not about you. It’s about the shamers inadequacies prejudices, biases, and values. You have to make the choice of not absorbing and internalizing their words and being hurt or devastated in the process.
Engage directly without being rude: As a culture, we are taught to be tolerant (for almost all the wrong things) and forgiving. Most times we ignore body shaming as trivial or because we have no clue how to deal with body shamers. It is critical to deal with body shamers right there on the spot. Unfortunately, I have realized this after years of being confronted with body shaming.
If the body shaming is coming from someone you care about and trust, try to engage with them. It is perfectly okay to have an open and honest discussion letting them know what they are doing is wrong. The motive isn’t to humiliate them in return but to educate them. Personally speaking, I have done this and it has worked in most cases, with the abuser feeling sorry (or at least saying so) for his words.
It’s okay to get angry without being apologetic – In some cases, when the body shaming is extremely hurtful, derogatory or humiliating, getting angry without being apologetic is acceptable. And by anger, I don’t mean or encourage expression in the form of rage, verbal or physical abuse.
The most productive way to express anger is to unapologetically let the person know you’re angry and distance yourself from him/her without allowing him a window to explain (because body-shaming cannot be justified) until he/she comes around seeking an apology.
Take a firm stand against body-bullying – People know me as a vocal advocate against body shaming. I take a stand, not only for myself but also when I see someone being body shamed. Over years I have grown out of the fear of being judged or evaluated. You can do the same. Let your zero-tolerance for body shaming be openly known. Once people know your intolerance for any negative body-related comments for yourself or for others they will watch their words.
Educate and spread awareness – Body shaming is an issue which many of us brush under the carpet, firstly because it is rarely direct and mostly subtle, and secondly, because we have no clue how to deal with it. Many a time people engage in body shaming without even being aware of it as being an abusive behavior. When educated they become apologetic. Take this as an opportunity to educate people and spread awareness about body shaming, and help people take notice of and take a stand against it. Become a crusader of body positivity.
So the next time someone says “You are too big”, or “You are too thin, you need to put some flesh on”, do not ignore it instead, take a bold stand that reflects the pride you take in yourself. Embrace body positivity. You are more than your body. Take pride in your stretch marks and curves. They are the testimony of your life, childbirth and more. Take steps towards a healthier and fitter you, not to look good but to live a healthy life that is disease-free, pain-free, medicine-free, a life where your body supports you to empower others to take a step closer to a healthy life. As for body shamers, some will always be around, no matter what.
The fight against body shaming is a fight we need to take heads on. Right now.
PS: This article has been published as a guest post by ForeverFit http://www.foreverfit.in/body-shaming-not/
Namratha – you’ve come so so so far from our Gokhale days. Of course you’re work in progress; we all are. But do take pride in the huge progress you’ve made over the past few years. As someone who’s been ‘plump’ (don’t really know how else to say it) for most of my life – I’ve recently taken to fitness and I know just how bloody hard it is to change your body, especially after year of unhealthy habits. Our battle is harder and more uphill but boy, are we getting stronger and better as we climb! I love your enthusiasm and how vocal you are. You’re looking awesome. Fit and strong! Keep it up.
Hey Praveen, Thanks a bunch. Yes I have come a long way from our Gokhale days. I cherish memories of the wonderful place and people who shaped me into what I am. You have been an achiever and your professional trajectory has been tremendous. You are more than your body. Practice body positivity with commitment. Workout towards a fitter you, not as if you want to punish your body for being imperfect, but because you love every inch of yourself. I am truly touched by your words and am glad you like what I write. Love. N
I hear you. But it’s not that easy! I do love the improvement in me. Every single day. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to become fitter. But equally – I do constantly feel I should be thinner or more toned!
It is unforgivable. Sad and miserable people reflect own serious inadequacies in some sphere of their life through hurting others. What’s the intention ? The intention is to demean, victimise the perceived ‘vulnerable’ (that’s where I don’t think it is innocent act, would the abuser say this to a person who is more socially, economically or status wise ‘powerful’ than them).
It deserves a fitting hard-hitting response ‘on the spot’. Btw even complimenting someone about the way they ‘look’ is actually not anyone’s business cause anyone’s body is not an object to be evaluated.
Thanks Prof for being my reviewer and critic.
Well written, it is so common in our socuety that often we don’t even realise it’s not healthy. We take it as a part of life.
Thanks a ton Ekta. Yes, its time we practice and propagate body positivism. Cheers!
Very well written Namrata. Perfection is an ‘infinity’ and the thing with infinity is that it’s difficult to define and impossible to measure. So all of us can only have a partial often biased perspective at best on what perfection is… Everyone is perfect in their own way and thinking of someone or yourself as not being perfect is the real imperfection. Our society is full of calcified ideas about body image but glad that you are able to transcend these and inspire others to do the same.