For most of her teenage years, actress Zareen Khan was fat. She weighed about a hundred kilos, was very comfortable with it, and never allowed anyone to bully her about her size and shape. So she found it hilarious when, ironically, she experienced her first-ever incident of body shaming after she lost weight.
“I put up a picture of the ‘thin’ me on Instagram, and got rude comments,” says Khan. “People said things like: ‘not possible without surgery’. But I’ve always been thick-skinned. I just shrug, laugh and move on. People’s perceptions change every day. Body shaming is not worth losing sleep over.”
The world would be an easier place if everyone were as confident as Zareen Khan, but unfortunately, for many people, body shaming can be a traumatic experience. Few people like being told they’re somehow different in the first place. Even fewer can deal with being bullied and insulted about it – even extremely successful people.
Successful people are highly vulnerable to taunts, simply because they are already under so much pressure, says Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist at Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital.
“Models, actors, athletes – people whose work values a certain size and shape – are more vulnerable to body shaming than others,” says Chavda. “I once worked with an athlete representing her state, who also happened to be academically excellent. When she was in class 12, the pressure of staying fit for her sport and dealing with her studies got to her, and she began a cycle of not eating, then binge eating, then not eating again. It took months of therapy to get her self-esteem up, ease her stress and get her back on track.”
Body shaming tends to happen the most to people defined as overweight, but actually, anyone who does not look like she or he came off a fashion model assembly line is victimised. The shaming can be of two types. One that is direct and includes harsh and personal criticism. The second type is more subtle, such as the messages sent out by society via the media where the emphasis is on ‘perfectly shaped’ people, for example.
The fitness industry and ‘kind’ relatives body-shame us as well, with the former’s emphasis on size and shape rather than health, and the latter’s beliefs that the search for a suitable spouse can only begin if you look a certain way. As actor Taapsee Pannu says, this is ridiculous. “How can you let others decide whether you are thin or fat, pretty or ugly? These are subjective terms and hardly important,” she says.
But the real secret, the real shame of body shaming doesn’t come from the negativity of other people. It comes from within ourselves. You feel the most traumatised when you look in the mirror and see a person you’re ashamed of. “Studies have found that body shaming can cause a profound psychological harm,” says Dr Ashima Puri, consultant psychologist, Aashlok Hospital, Delhi. “Weight discrimination can cause depression, eating disorders, reduced self-esteem and all kinds of mental and physiological problems.”
Many people believe the only way to motivate themselves to exercise and eat well is by body shaming themselves. They look at themselves with critical eyes and tell themselves they’ll be lovable if they’re a certain shape and size. This dependence on other people for a sense of confidence can worsen cases of depression.
Kickboxer and actor Ritika Singh, who won a special mention at the National Awards for her role as a boxer in Saala Khadoos felt dreadful when one of her favourite actors, Wentworth Miller, became a target of body shaming after he gained weight, and said his dependence on food was a way to deal with the depression he suffered since he was a child. “No one is safe from body shaming and it needs to stop, because we all come in different sizes and we all are beautiful!” asserts Singh.
Sometimes parents use body shaming to control their children. For 25-year-old Ankita (name changed), the best thing about being an independent adult is telling her father “I don’t care” when he tells her to watch her weight. “‘Eat less and exercise more’ – this phrase would be part of all our conversations,” says Ankita. “The more he nagged, the more I ate.” The process of weight correction should not be stressful. When it is fun and doable, you’ll follow it through. When you try and shame yourself into staying fit, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Everyone is born with a certain body type. You just can’t change that. For instance, Ritika does not want to be a size zero. “We can’t change our bodies drastically, all we can do is to make sure that we keep fit by working out, eating the right foods, and becoming fitter and stronger,” she says. Taapsee agrees. “I am a Sardarni with a broad body structure. Hoping for a model-like waistline is silly. I amp up my fitness instead.”
Though Taapsee has lost just a couple of kilos, she has a beautifully toned body, and says she feels fit enough to take on the world. Her secrets: She did not drastically cut down on food, stuck to playing squash instead of regular gymming, and stayed as stress-free about her body as possible. “Staying happy is most important, it helps reflect health from inside out,” she says.
The writer is a nutritionist and the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People
From HT Brunch, August 7, 2016
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