By now, many women have learnt to block out the high-frequency unintelligible noise in the background that tells them how to live their life. “You’d look so much better if you’d just lose some weight…” they’d croon. By now though, if you’re on even one social media platform, chances are you have witnessed the fat-shaming dynasty crumble under its own weight and be overthrown by the body-positive warriors. You may have become an expert at sniffing this form of body-shaming out, but there is a lot more to the phenomenon than fat-shaming. Here’s your guide to knowing what counts as shaming, and how you can learn to be a body-positive cheerleader for yourself and everyone around you:
People gush about someone’s “twiggy-arms” and “boney face”, talking about how they weren’t cute enough as a child, while the poor “bag of bones” is standing right there, feeling like they weren’t a person yet, but just a ‘presence’. And if you “eat the darn pizza” everyone urges you to and it starts showing, you are back to square one, and will find yourself at the receiving end of some good ole’ fat-shaming. You can’t win. No matter what you look like – you will find yourself aspiring to work backwards or upwards to meet a standard that is superficial and man-made. People who are skinny may have exceptionally high metabolisms, or may even suffer from eating disorders or anorexia. You should know better than to shoot your mouth off on what is could potentially be a really touchy subject for someone.
Men who aren’t tall are stripped the opportunity to be dark and handsome automatically, and are made to feel like a lesser human being. While women who are, are looked at like an ugly outgrowth. In India, while looking for suitors for an arranged marriage, it isn’t uncommon for the families to compare the heights of the couple, to ensure the bride is shorter than the groom so as to not “emasculate” the latter. Think of Hagrid, and let his heartbreaking story of being picked on all through school for his towering stature stir your heart, when you feel like picking on someone over an aspect they have no control over, and more importantly, poses them NO health hazard.
And the next time someone asks you to choose the most desirable female character on Game of Thrones, you better Brienne of Tarth in the fray. What’s not to like– she’s gorgeous, valiant and can tear knights’ heads apart with her bare hands! Shaming a woman for being strong, having an athletic build, being fitis more of a reflection on their own insecurities. That women have frail body frames and men must be burly is a stereotype refuted by numbers alone. Moreover, even centuries ago, on the fated day when women lost the gender war to the “superior sex”, muscles, fitness and abs were never part of the property conceded to them, making it absurd for anyone to deem them masculine.
In Western nations, all communities that are not thin, blond and white are written off entirely as inherently unattractive. And if you are considered attractive in spite of it, people will never fail to mention that your beauty is an anomaly, is only relative. This carries on in India as an absurd deep-seated bias against dark skin in a tropical nation, or discrimination against the average “full” frames of Indian women. Moms often face this too – after their post-pregnancy body kicks in, we stop seeing them as beautiful woman, or even women perhaps, deny them agency, and just start viewing them as someone’s mothers.
The Internet started looking like a brighter place with Dadbod doing the rounds and legitimising itself in its flabby, misshapen glory. But alas, Mombod never saw the light of day. Women undergo a torpedo of changes when they push a human being out of their bodies, and the gruelling process leaves them ~slightly~ out of shape – as you can imagine. But, completely ignoring the gift of life they give us, we tend to pick on their inevitable chubbiness, and pressurise them on getting that ‘pre-pregnancy body’ back.
If Indian media is to be believed, you have better chances of graduating top of class, excelling at your job, winning the lottery, learning the flute, become a Nobel laureate, making delicious food, writing an Oscar-winning script, discovering a pot of gold, finding the cure to cancer, and achieving world peace if you are fair. While setting up the arranged marriage of a dark-skinned candidate, it is distinctly mentioned on their bio-data, and it acts like a “defective” stamp on their ‘package.’ They often get candidates who are also dark-skinned, in spite of better matches with another prospect who might be fair-skinned.
Shaming women who have excess body hair or facial hair is no uncommon practice- and you may have found yourself indulging in a few digs directed at them as well, on some occasions. I know I have. But, lately, I found myself sympathizing with Miranda, when the scene with Samantha cattily remarking on Miranda’s bushy-swimsuit-bottom comes on in SATC. It’s time we accept and normalize what is naturally occurring, rather than pushing it under the rug- or swimsuit, rather. Some women may not fancy the painstaking process of having their hair uprooted every fortnight, and they shouldn’t have to.
Having our breasts feel like a liability, of perfecting them as if they are only put there to please a man, is a struggle every woman is made to undergo. It is a candle that burns on both ends – as having too much leaves you feeling vulnerable and exposed to the treacherous male-gaze, and having too little will only make you feel inadequate. The perfect size also often receives unsolicited compliments – as if they were, after all, someone else’s property all along.
Sift through a woman’s magazine and you’ll often find fashion advice tailored to different body shapes – the shapes being described as fruits, vegetables, objects, and geometrical shapes. What were meant to be mere characteristics have a hierarchy, unfortunately, and give birth to the notion that some shapes are more desirable than others, thanks to various factors – like the media reportage on them, the kind of clothes available for each type etc.
This is another one of the other tug-of-wars where you would end up in the mud either way. It is important to understand that body-positivity means different things to different people. People have had constant conditioning about impossible standards of beauty, and perhaps, have not been able to internalise complete body-positivity, no matter how hard they tried. If they feel that fixing one body part will help them attain absolute body-positivity, we must not recklessly pass judgements at them for making the decision that will free them from the claws of insecurity.