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No matter who or where you are, I am sure each one of us has been body-shamed at some point in life. But have you wondered why people do it?
Body shaming. We’ve all heard this, but what does it really mean? What do you feel when you hear the words ‘beautiful, attractive, fit, slender, handsome, or gorgeous’? It makes you feel happy and confident, right?
But what do you feel when someone calls you ‘ugly, obese, fat, out of shape, dark and short’? Definitely not good, right? These words can be perceived as judgemental, trivialising and condemning. This particular act of nailing down a person’s physical attributes in a negative light is known as ‘body shaming.’
It is often intended to hurt a person and can even be categorised as a form of bullying. The spectrum of body shaming, however, is vast and includes (isn’t restricted to) fat shaming, thin shaming, colour shaming and hair shaming. It also includes shaming a person based on their facial features – the shape and size of their eyes, nose, forehead and even ears! Body shaming also includes shaming people for their acne and scars.
People are body shamed both in person and online. What people don’t realise is their words have weight. And no matter how they do it, if an already vulnerable person is subject to mockery, it affects them a great deal.
Body shaming in society manifests in multiple ways, especially when it’s done in front of the person or around them.
Criticising the self – We are our worst critics. If we resolve to find flaws in ourselves, we will find a heap of them piled in front of us. Healthy self-criticism helps us grow. However, criticism, where we end up shaming and hating our own selves, is the problem.
Criticising someone to their face – Imagine you’ve met someone and the first thing they bring up (even before saying ‘hi!’) is your weight. No matter what their intention is, it is a very uncomfortable topic to talk about – both in public and in private. Calling attention to someone’s physical flaws to their face is a direct way to body shame them and possibly hurt them.
Criticising someone behind their back – Talking about someone’s physical flaws without their knowledge isn’t just a form of body shaming but it also counts as maliciously talking about them. It tends to become a topic of ‘juicy’ gossip among the people involved. The person you’re talking about may not directly be affected by it but it might affect how people look at them. They may end up forming opinions about this person without really knowing them and only based on their physical appearances.
Social media has the potential to empower people and spread words of positivity and hope to society. However, if misused, it could do more harm than good. This happens especially when it comes to body shaming.
With social media’s current advancement, people have more platforms and opportunities to make cynical comments about one’s appearance. Online body shaming could also be referred to in a broader sense as Cyberbullying.
It could be incorporated anonymously or in an identified manner. From posting harsh comments on someone’s pictures to tagging people in inappropriate images to sending private messages or emails that intend to harm are some ways people are bullied online.
Most of us have probably been body-shamed at some point in life. This is mostly because we live in a world that puts a lot of attention on people’s physical appearances. Few people may say that they are just ‘giving well-meaning advice.’ Some others may do it with the intention of hurting or shaming other people and some do it due to their own callousness.
No matter what the reason, body shaming is not a healthy practice at all!
There are some other reasons why people body shame others. Let me tell you some of these
Inferiority complex. It might sound odd but this is one of the reasons people do what they do. When they feel like they are inferior to someone else in terms of their education, achievements, social image or economic state, they find ways to insult the other person.
This seems to give them the sadistic pleasure of being above the other person – at least in terms of their looks. So instead of analysing what bothers them and accepting it, they choose to body shame as an easier way out.
For a lot of people, it is hard to identify ways to express frustration without using body shaming. It is almost like an automatic response for them.
Growing up, a lot of us have seen adults body shaming anyone around them very casually. This has been rooted in society. In fact, a lot of pop culture depends on body shaming people and making them the laughing stock to gain views. Thus, in the real world, people target those with similar body types and make fun of them.
The belief that ‘thin is healthy and fair is beautiful’ is incredibly deeply rooted in our minds. This is almost taken as a norm and people who don’t fit this type are ridiculed and shamed.
Another reason for this could also be the indifference that people feel towards others feeling and lack the basic insensitivity to understand others.
Irrespective of age, gender and social standing, almost everyone has been body-shamed at one point or the other. However, it has different effects on different people.
The younger generation has faced both direct and indirect body-shaming however, they are the worst affected by body-shaming themselves. The causes of this can be chalked up to the influence social media often has on younger minds.
In this age where we seek this perceived perfection, everything revolves around ‘perfect’ bodies, ‘perfect’ hair and nothing less than that is acceptable.
When the younger generation finds itself not fitting into the criteria of perfect, they feel incompetent and worthless. This may lead to lower self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. In fact, in some extreme cases, it may even lead to the person slipping into depression.
While both men and women are body-shamed, it seems to affect women more than it affects men. Since the body standards for women are generally unrealistic and unattainable, body shaming tends to be more prevalent in women.
With the advancement in the beauty and fitness industry, more and more women are criticising their own selves since they feel inadequate. They feel incompetent when they are unable to meet the standards of ‘flawless’ skin and the ‘perfect’ bodies.
This results in increasing the fortune of the beauty industry and a decrease in the self-worth of the women. Also, society has set irrational body standards for women in order to get themselves the ‘perfect’ groom.
Basically, for every single aspect of their lives, women have to fit into beauty standards set by society. They need to fit these standards in order to sustain and flourish.
Hellen Keller has said it the best, ‘Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.’
A number of people are victims of body-shaming and a lot of them some times even succumb to it. But there are some who overcome it too. These people don’t just rise from the ashes, but they become an example for the ones around them.
Here are two stories that have touched my heart.
‘Growing up, I had big breasts, so everyone including my friends and family thought I was fat. In fact, I didn’t even know the correct bra size for me for a long time. All this impact my self-image well into my adulthood. I never felt like I was good enough.
‘But as I grew up, this changed a lot. I heard from people that breasts are not something to be ashamed of, no matter what their size. And I started understanding my body more and got the right bras and outfits that enhanced my looks. Over the years, my confidence grew and today, I am quite self-assured and I absolutely love my body.’
Honestly, the person called it a transformation story.
‘As a kid, after my tonsils operation, I started getting chubby and soon that cute chubby boy became obese due to bad eating habits. And by class 10, I had gained up to 107 kgs and my fat was stored in all the places it shouldn’t be in.
‘During my vacations, whenever I would roam around with people, they would either get awkward around me or taunt me about the fat on my chest. They’d call it my man boobs or even touch my stomach and make fun of me. My friends and family members teased and taunted me whenever they saw me eating. I was called things like bakasur and what not!
‘For a whole year, I wasted my time thinking about these comments and crying about my body. And then, one day, I decided to get serious about my fitness and prove them all wrong. In fact, I wanted all those who insulted me to come and ask me for suggestions for their fitness!
‘And that is exactly what I did! I transformed myself from the earlier weight to 81 kgs in six months. This was a tough decision but daily diet checks and two hours at the gym helped. I still remember, an hour before my class 12th mathematics paper, I had spent two hours in the gym and had a blasting chest workout!
‘In fact, right after my results, my elder brother called me and asked me for tips about a home workout he could do. That was the day, I genuinely couldn’t contain my happiness.
‘So that was my journey towards loving myself. And today, I help people transform themselves and get out of their bad phase. I only had one motivation and I would constantly tell myself ‘Beast mode on! Keep pushing yourself to your limits and you’ll get the results.’
We are all unique and beautiful in our own ways. The most important step in overcoming being body-shamed is self-assertion and loving yourself. Try to find people who love themselves for the way they are and celebrate their bodies instead of criticising others.
It also helps to talk it out. Just confront the people who perpetuate body-shaming, tell them upfront that their words are hurtful and bothersome. Be vocal.
And lastly, discover yourself, trust me you are much more than your body. Engage yourself in something close to your soul, any form of art or social activity, taking care of animals or spending time with the elderly. Share love, positivity and kindness, the world needs it!
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Gippi
Noopur Joshi Bapat, Software engineer by profession, discovered her love for writing very early in her life. Right from writing poems, speeches and stories in school days, her passion for the art lead her to read more...
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