The Curse Of The ‘Ideal Body Type’ On The Mental Health Of Girl Students

We have a warped idea of what is called the 'ideal body type', and this is seriously affecting youngsters, especially girls everywhere.

If you shame someone for looking ‘ugly’, it is your perceptions about the ‘ideal body type’, not their physique that requires serious cleansing.

In the American comedy-drama ‘Ugly Betty’, we come across a scene that today’s teen can resonate with.

Betty is made to model as a substitute just to make a laughing stock out of her. Though generally optimistic, Betty is seen wilting from the way her body is being perceived by the people around her at that moment.

The stark contrast in bodily features between Betty, a shorter, chubbier girl wearing spectacles and braces and the two models she was standing alongside, both slim and leggy, deeply heightened her insecurities.

The notion that there is an ‘ideal body type’

Pop culture often instils the notion of ‘the ideal body type’ which, believe it or not, changes every now and then. However, these ubiquitous and dynamic standards have a severe impact on the day to day lives of many, especially students since they are already grappling with struggles of their own in this vulnerable period of their lives.

With many celebrities projecting unrealistic body standards onto us, we must realise that these ever-evolving standards of an ‘ideal body type’ can never be met.

The girl you thought was perfect while walking into the mall probably cried herself to sleep while mulling over her waist size, since it didn’t fit the prescribed ‘32-24-32’ hourglass figure. A while ago, thin eyebrows were in style. However, with the rise of the Kardashians, people have been found investing in brow pencils to make their eyebrows look fuller.

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Bullying of those who do not fit these everywhere on campuses

In a way of combatting their own insecurities or maybe because they are just irrational, boorish bullies, some students on campus highlight the so-called imperfections of their peers.

It was pointed out to a friend of mine that she had thick moustache hair. This is supposed to be an insult since in our society girls having even the slightest bit of upper lip hair are frowned upon. Later, her boyfriend jokingly pointed it out as well. Naturally, this made her uncomfortable and she was vocal about it. Yet, she couldn’t get past the lingering feeling of self-doubt and so she has been enduring the pain of getting her upper lip hair removed on a regular basis ever since.

The never-ending body shaming of girls and women

Though body shaming isn’t solely restricted to women, we must accept that women are usually the victims of it.

A woman’s worth tends to be associated with her ability to get married and reproduce. It is also a known fact that according to the formula of society math, a beautiful woman equals increased chances of her getting married, which further equals not only her success but the upholding of her entire clan’s name! Girls are given creams to brighten their skin from a very tender age in addition to prohibiting them from playing outside in the sun.

You must be tall, but not taller than your husband, you must be fair, you must be slim, you must be curvaceous…. uff! The list is truly never-ending! We live in a country where it has been etched firmly in our minds that fair is lovely. Rampant colourism and constant nagging to use a myriad of creams to look ‘brighter’ (since in our ‘woke’ society we don’t use the terms fair and dark anymore:/) are still quite prevalent, in rural and urban areas alike. Women are constantly belittled for their looks and are never made to feel like they are enough just the way they are.

I remember how it was… and how it stays with us!

An instance that I remember vividly, is being laughed at and subtly shamed for not having developed breasts when I was just eleven years old. I was a slightly late bloomer and while I was picking out a lehenga at my mom’s friend’s place, aunty and her daughter laughed at me whilst staring at my chest and calling me flat. Though they didn’t mean to hurt me, it stayed with me and made me feel abnormal, almost like there was something wrong with me.

This may make me sound like a petulant child, however, several such instances at even more bothersome levels happen to multiple people on a daily basis, where we glorify a problematic idea of the ‘ideal body type’.

An acquaintance once told me of the time when she had been reprimanded by her relative, who in effect had stated that she had become chubbier and that she had looked better before. To the person passing the comment it was just a mindless statement that probably slipped out of their mind in a jiffy, however, to this day the girl is unable to heal her relationship with food.

I am not advocating binge eating or obesity here. It is essential to be healthy. However, it is highly inappropriate to comment on someone’s physique without knowing what they are going through. They might be healthy regardless of their current weight! They might have a disorder such as PCOS or thyroid which makes it tough for them to shed the weight! It is between the person and their physician of choice to decide on a plan of action, if pertinent. People who appear ‘too thin’ for societal standards are also shamed and asked to eat more or at times even worse, force fed! These acts contribute to the person in question becoming overtly conscious and developing eating disorders in addition to several other mental health issues such as anxiety, impulse control and addiction disorders.

Hearing rude comments about your physique always hurts. However, when they come from the people you look up to the most, your family members, it hurts even more! A mother I know eternally refers to her daughter as ‘Gundamma’ which translates to fatty. Comments like this shatter an individual’s self-confidence completely. There are better ways to communicate with your loved ones if you believe that they must do something to improve their general health. Incessant body shaming isn’t a solution to anything!

We need to have more positive instances of diverse body type representation

Despite prevalent atrocities on a day-to-day in the form of mindless comments and acts that propagate body shaming, we must acknowledge certain changes that have been made.

Miss Nepal Jane Dipika Garrett created history by being the first ever plus-size model in the Miss Universe pageant. A 2020 Gucci beauty campaign which was launched with the purpose of celebrating the beauty of diversity, featured Ellie Goldstein a model with Down’s Syndrome, among other models.

One may ask why all of this matters.

With more and more diversity in pop culture and general campaigns, beauty standards will evolve to not just include but also celebrate the beauty of every individual. Increased representation of people of all skin types, body types, hair types and so on will cease the notion of the ideal body type and foster acceptance of every kind of body. On that note, let us pray for more lipstick shades that suit all skin tones and more sizes on the racks at malls.

Image source: a still from the film Gippi

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About the Author

shreya krishnan

An engineering student with a thing for writing, I hope to become a force to reckon with in the world of media and journalism someday read more...

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