When Healthy Means Fat, And Good Looking Means Slim

Body shaming in India knows no bounds, with every 'aunty' ready to give 'well-meaning' advice to women on being slim, trim, and therefore 'good looking'.

Body shaming in India knows no bounds, with every ‘aunty’ ready to give ‘well-meaning’ advice to women on being slim, trim, and therefore ‘good looking’.

Shehnai plays, varmalas are exchanged, kanyadaan is going on. Sprinkling akshada (the turmeric coated rice) as a form of blessing, I hear a conversation between one well-meaning aunty and another.

Aunty Number 1:”Kitni pretty lag rahi hain na!”
Aunty number 2: “Haan, bas thodi healthy hai.”
Aunty number 1: “Ab ek baar shaadi ho jaegi toh aur bhi put-on karegi!”

(She is looking so pretty. Yes, she is just slightly healthy, but now once she is married, she will put-on more weight!)

What is it about the society wanting women to be ‘slim and trim’?

A few days ago, before my best friend was getting married, she was given some ‘very important advice’ from her aunt, “now that your wedding is fixed, weight-loss shuru kar do” (now that your wedding is fixed, start your weight loss).

When her wedding trousseau was being decided, another such remark was made by another ‘well-meaning’ aunty.

Everyone seems to care so much for your ‘health’ (read weight). Being well-educated (in the real meaning of the word: education and not acquisition of degrees), being a person of good character/conduct, being well employed (not that this is a prerequisite), etc. is not enough, in making you the sought after commodity’ in the bride bazaar.

A girl must be good-looking (read ‘slim and trim’). The obsession with lustrous hair is slowly dying. But fair skin and an attractive body are very much a prerequisite even today. So much so that the first thing people notice about a woman whether in the context of marriage or otherwise is “oh my god you have lost so much weight” or “you have put on a bit since the last time we met”. Just this one statement could be a party spoiler for the person who has allegedly ‘put-on’. Since the last time ‘we met’, this lady who has allegedly put-on’ might have some wonderful achievements personally or professionally but her seemingly put-on weight can alter the course of the entire discussion.

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What ‘they’ say

“She is a good person, bas zara si healthy hai.”

“She is a mother to a 14 year-old, but see how she has maintained herself.”

“Pregnancy toh theek hai, par watch your weight haan!”

Fat v/s Fit

There is a huge difference in asking someone to be slim and in wanting them to be healthy or fit. In a marriage, the burden of ‘looking good’ is also dumped on the woman and sadly this is done more by fellow women. Just deny a piece of sweet offered by them, and the very same people will disdainfully say “ohhh dieting, haan?”

Woman’s health – whose priority? (of course her own, you, he and they say, but…)

If we are really concerned about her health/fitness how about working on ensuring that she leads a life that is physically, emotionally and psychologically healthy.

Do people even realize what effect such a discourse could have on the woman who could be fitter than an allegedly ‘slim and trim’ girl/woman who is automatically assumed to be healthy? The self-image and self-esteem of a reasonably balanced person can go for a complete toss if he/she is constantly hounded for being ‘fat’.

And here I am not talking of being overweight/obese as per medical science. It is what the people decide or what the brand/designer labels decide. The transition from L to XL, XL, to XXL, or 3XL is decided by the brands (especially all the foreign brands in India) and not by the varying body types.

Obsession of any kind is unhealthy. Yes, fitness and health are of paramount importance. But not to the extent that each time you put a morsel you count the calories or worse even feel guilty for having eaten. For a woman, finding time for maintaining an optimum level of health can sometimes get very challenging in the multiple roles that she has to play in her everyday life. (Do I hear now some more well-meaning advice on time-management and how there are super-women who manage it all- work, home, themselves etc.?)

It is unfair, the pressure on a woman

The point is, can’t a woman’s health (physical and emotional) be the entire family’s prerogative than being her lone struggle in managing multiple roles and time. However, it is good to see that women are investing time in interesting forms of fitness (zumba, yoga, walking etc) as much to stay fit as to get that dedicated hour of me-time.

The pressure to constantly fit in this ‘ideal body image’ can get very overwhelming, at times even altering a person’s state of well-being. It creates a constant stress that ‘the world looks at you as being fat’, no matter what you wear or what you do and more importantly who you are. This struggle to maintain a particular body image could actually lead to many psychosomatic illnesses and this is as much true for women who are allegedly ‘thin’ (read: weak) and are well-meaningly told to ‘put-on’. 

A fitness routine needs support

Yes, we all need to accept ourselves, love ourselves irrespective of our body size while staying on the track of leading a fit and healthy life. It stands true for both men and women. But the more this becomes non-negotiable, the more the need to create a conducive atmosphere to pursue one’s health/fitness regimen.

You can’t just buy her a gym membership and expect her to not miss sessions, if the housework and her professional schedules are unreasonably hectic. (Yes, we have a retinue of support staff at home, but you know there is always this “will you drop Meenu to school today, I need to rush to office for a presentation”, OR ‘I hope you are reaching home on time to ‘manage the maid’!)

Can we look beyond the ‘Looks?

Lastly, can we look beyond the ‘looks’ and allow a woman to ‘be’, to ‘breathe’. Seriously, she has had enough, she really doesn’t need all that well-meaning advice unless they are genuinely ‘well-meaning’!

Image source: plus sized woman by Shutterstock.


About the Author

Lakshmi Padmanabhan

Life happens, everyday. Of everyday life stories.

12 Posts | 142,221 Views

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