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Your Body Shaming Made A A Teen So Conscious Of Her Own Body!

The signs of body shaming are often ignored and brushed under the radar. This real life story tells us how much it matters to teens.

The signs of body shaming are often ignored and brushed under the radar. This real life story tells us how much it matters to teens.

The last day before summer break is always fun and ends on a lighter note in my class. We discuss all and sundry right from books, movies, outdoor sports, la familia and every conversation is peppered with laughs and guffaws.

This year too was no different until the conversation veered into something serious, though unexpected. It was not meant to be serious when I asked everyone what are they planning to do in their break? An innocuous question!

While everyone came up with a slew of plans like meeting their grandparents, going to their native, or just watching good movies with friends; one girl was mulling over something which she clearly hid behind her radiant smile and luminous eyes.

But then, she surprised me by letting the cat out of the bag. Fresh and raw, out it came and swept me in its swirling wave of unabashed truth. “Ma’am there is a family event where all my cousins are going to come but I am not going.”

The effervescence in her smile melted into the grim reality. I did not interrupt her asking why and why not, as I wanted her to speak without anyone prodding her.

Her body as a subject of discussion

After a momentary pause, she continued in a plaintive tone, “Everyone speaks about my body. It always happens. Every time we meet, my body becomes the subject of the discussion.  So, I am going to be alone with myself this time.”

The silence followed and a gloom cast over the otherwise party mood. Before I could come up with a response that will appropriate her in a comfortable place, the rest of the kids found an opportunity and seized the silence to bark out their eventful plans out of their system. The class ended but that girl’s voice haunted me.

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A blooming teen should be bubbling with joy to meet her loved ones but here is a girl who is more than happy to be by herself because she thinks that will give her peace. Peace from the people who hound her for the way she looks.

Body shamers, you made it. You have conveniently cornered one human and pushed her to the shell. Are you satisfied? Who is your next prey? These questions are not only targeted towards her relatives but also to the entire society. The society in which people feel entitled to speak whatever they feel when it comes to other’s bodies.

Having said that, though we raise voices on this issue to make ourselves heard, society is still in the dark when it comes to body image and shaming. It is time we shed more light on it to normalise all body types and bring body positivity in the spotlight.

What is Body Shaming?

Body shaming is mocking and passing judgements on one’s physical appearance. It is publicly shaming others with hurtful remarks.  Ridiculing one’s body image just leads to sentencing them to the remote corner where they shy away to face the world further losing confidence in their own self.

To quote LA City Attorney Mike Feuer “Body shaming is humiliating, with often painful, long-term consequences. It mocks and stigmatizes its victims, tearing down self-respect and perpetuating the harmful idea that our unique physical appearances should be compared to air-brushed notions of perfect.”

The shamers do not realize the effect it has on the victims. Just like my student’s relatives didn’t, they are not aware of the damage that their words had caused. It is an invisible bruise. Often, it lurks in the dark but causes dreadful injuries that last for a lifetime. The indelible mark in one’s subconscious can debilitate their overall mental health causing them to break down even on the sunniest of days.

The insult and the infuriating remarks cause a person to withdraw from what they love most – as for example, the incident of Lindsey Horan, U.S. women’s national team midfielder which made a buzz and portrayed the toxic signs of body shaming.

She was repeatedly bullied for her weight which made her almost give up the sport entirely. In her words, “In France, that was the number one time that I felt like I wanted to quit soccer. I was not enjoying myself and there was just so much wrong being done, that I lost the love for the game”

Body shaming’s toll on mental health

Not just that, body shaming stoops to a real low when people are least aware of the different body types but put themselves in a box with a singular focus on only a set of body types prescribed by industry standards. Shamers’ words make one falter and they dissolve looking at themselves in the mirror just because some richly callous person is going to shed light on how they should look and how they are not within the bracket of some body type. Lindsey claims that her coach also fell under the bracket where only medium hogged all the attention and million other body types just did not exist.

“There was a photo shoot that we did and the guy asked what I needed for a certain jacket, and our coach was in there, and I tried on the medium, and it didn’t fit and I was like, ‘Can I actually do a large?’

“And he was like, ‘At some point, you need to be in a medium, you shouldn’t be in a large in this jacket.’ And he smiled and laughed”

Body shaming makes one feel worthless about themselves to the point that they start hating their own body. It damages one when they start believing shamers’ words and stop believing in their own self. And that just leaves them unsatisfied, dismal and in despair. It pushes one to adopt unhealthy measures to reach the point where they would be acceptable in society’s eye.

Lindsey just did that when she lost more weight, getting to a level she felt was not healthy for her. Why? Because she can be accepted by her coaching staff and not for any on-field reasons.  “I was very unhealthy, and the funniest thing was the coaching staff absolutely loved it,” she adds, “They were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, look what we did to her, she’s so much better for it. She is so beautiful now’.

Like Lindsey, there are many who have idolized shamer’s words and gotten themselves where they couldn’t redeem themselves. It is important to pause and introspect if the words are healthy or just plain unhealthy, caused to derive pleasure and assuage their own insecurities. Friendly jibes or penetrative comments pivoting on looks/body image should not be accepted if it crosses one’s tolerance threshold.

That just makes us ponder on why one indulges in body shaming.

Why does one indulge in Body shaming?

  • Makes one feel superior and acts as a balm to their own insecurities
  • Cutting jokes at someone’s expense fulfils one’s wish to be in the limelight of a social setup
  • Gaining a sadistic pleasure in letting one’s confidence down
  • Lack of awareness and knowledge about body positivity

Given shaming has gained attention globally, there are people who are just ignorant in this aspect. Sometimes, they don’t mean it that way but the damage is done once their words are out. Sometimes, they don’t know that a direct way of speaking about body image is just not acceptable. And many times, it is the conditioning that is the culprit of body-shaming-led toxicity. To address it, it is vital to know the signs of body shaming.

What are the signs of Body shaming?

These are some of the common signs of body shaming: 

  • Passing judgements on how others look especially passing presumptuous/derogatory remarks on their built and physical features
  • Mocking the body type and making it as a subject of the discussion in social setting
  • Giving unsolicited advice on how one should improve their health to look nice and presentable
  • Using offhand comments ‘Too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short and so on’ and unnecessarily pestering them to take charge of their body to look perfect (a flawed notion of perfect that they have formed in their own mental imagery)
  • Deriding one and making them feel worthless in their own skin

While there are different reasons, feeling superior and nursing one’s own insecurities by letting down others rank higher in the order. People who indulge in it find pleasure in dominating others.

Tips to handle body shaming

  1. Draw a boundary by telling people politely that you don’t feel comfortable talking about your body.
  2. Be polite but firm even if you are addressing your family or friends
  3. Losing marbles or your face betraying the emotions will only cause the shamer to heave their chest in pride. Instead, look in their eye and say that the words make you uncomfortable and do it with a straight face.
  4. Give them a piece of your mind by stating facts
  5. You can always give a graceful response saying, “Thank you but I like it this way”
  6. Be around people who see beyond your body or physical characteristics and accept you for what you are.
  7. Stay away from others who find ways to debase your dignity by pointing out flaws in your looks
  8. Last but not the least, if you don’t feel like answering back, you don’t have to. Instead, divert the conversation to the safe place where your peace finds a home.

Body positivity

Body positivity is not only respecting others body image and body type but also accepting your own body. Embracing your original self without getting haunted by the notion of a perfect body type propagated by media and giving room for your body type to breathe by not being harsh is also what body positivity is all about. Stop looking at your body from others eyes instead be comfortable in your skin.

How and how not to dress up should be your choice and should not be advocated by others and even if they do, you don’t have to necessarily subscribe to that theory. That said, being healthy matters than being in a size that is universally accepted/worshipped. Your eating choices should be targeted towards your health goals (physical and mental included), not the goals of the society you live in.

My teen student is so young to be worried over these issues. Her life has just started and is going to be replete with accomplishments but these unworthy body image issues and designs of some narrow minds have crushed her confidence.

She couldn’t see beyond her body and before it goes out of hand, I have to pick her scattered pieces and talk to her, rebuild her confidence and give her a safe place where her ideas and thoughts, not her body, will be seen/heard and becomes the focal point of the discussion.

Image source: Scenes from the Hindi movie Size Zero

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About the Author

Saranya Iyer

A writer/Educator and Spanish Language trainer. Loves Reading, Music and Art. Favorite Author is Jane Austen who inspired me throughout my writing journey. I mainly write on Drama fiction, social issues, relationships and parenting. read more...

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