It is never just frisking. Neha Bakshi, 27, has lost count of the number of times she’s stepped into the security check enclosure at the metro station, has been stared at and asked, “Aap kuch khate nahi ho kya? (Don’t you eat?)” or “Aap ka waist size kya hai? (What size is your waist?)”
It happens at other places too. At work (“Do you sniff your food?”, “It is not fair you’re so thin”, “Are you anorexic?”), at family get-togethers (“Hai! kitni patli hai”, “Don’t your folks feed you?” “Have you seen a doctor?”), at the gym (“Have banana shake every day,” “Eat mashed potato mixed with curd”), and even in public spaces.
“One time, a lady just walked up to me in the train, grabbed my thin wrist, held it up to eye-level and said, ‘Kuch kha liya karo’,” recalls Bakshi*, a journalist.
Everybody knows it is rude and hurtful to call someone fat, at least to their face. But shaming people for being skinny through unsolicited advice, remarks, jokes and unnecessary ribbing is not even recognised as offensive. “People don’t realise that commenting on someone’s body because they are thin is just as demeaning as doing it to someone fat,” says Bakshi. “And it is very annoying.”
The fact that being thin is considered desirable in popular culture makes it harder for skinny people to call out this form of body shaming or voice their hurt. But body shaming of all types affects the victim’s self worth in the long term. The negative attention pervades the everyday and becomes a constant reminder that something is wrong with your appearance.
“It makes you feel less than others,” says Paromita Bardoloi, 31, a writer. “You are treated as half a human. I am a good eater. People don’t understand that some body types are just skinny.”
Doctors says body image issues often become the underlying cause of other disorders such as social anxiety, withdrawal and even depression. “Not everyone reaches out to mental health professionals because they are thin,” says Dr Rakhi Anand, a clinical psychologist at Indraprastha Apollo hospital. “Often people come to us for something else and while talking to them we may figure out that they have a poor body image which is resulting in a particular problem.”
“I am treating a young girl, who is very skinny, and avoids talking or making eye-contact with people at work,” says psychologist Dr Aruna Broota. “She says if I do, people try to be friendly and do so by asking me why are you so skinny? She says I eat and eat, but I just don’t put on weight.”
CATCHES THEM YOUNG
It’s tough enough to deal with body shaming as an adult, but it can be quite traumatic and confidence-sapping during adolescence. “When you are young, you don’t understand how this negative attention affects you. It makes you feel inadequate. You either become withdrawn or try to act cool as I did,” says Bardoloi. “I am still recovering from the thin shaming I’ve lived with since I was four.”
Bakshi agrees. “I had severe body image issues as a teenager,” she says. “But I grew out of it as I realised I was good at other things.” Still, the thin trolling has driven her to the gym for weight gain. “I am tired of hearing: ‘haye kitni patli hai’”.
GENDER NO BAR
Like fat shaming, thin shaming doesn’t gender discriminate either. Delhi University student Raghav S, 18, is constantly picked on for his stick-thin body. “My mum is on the heavier side, so we often get jokes like, ‘do you eat all the food and feed your son nothing?’ which is embarrassing and annoying,” he says. “Sometimes I laugh along, sometimes I give it back, but mostly I try to ignore it.”
To deal with any sort of body shaming then, it becomes important to have a support system that helps the victim deal with all the external negativity. “Most of our self esteem is derived from our interaction with our family,” says Anand. “If they are able to strengthen the victim’s self image then he or she can easily dismiss what outsiders say.”
Sonu Kumar, 35, an engineer, says he even tried binge-eating as a teenager to add some meat to his frame. “I shopped for jeans in the ladies’ section,” he recalls, “Till I decided to buy denim and have them made.” He admits the social disapproval (manifested through unsolicited advice and queries) made him acutely conscious of what he wore at that age.
LOVE WHAT YOU’VE GOT
Advertising professional Kritika Bawa, 28, too, has a slight frame, despite the generous use of desi ghee in the kitchen of her Sikh Punjabi household. But all the thin shaming over the years has inured her to the jibes.
“On a windy day, I am often told, ‘I think you should put a five-rupee coin in your pocket so that you aren’t swept away’,” says Bawa. “I don’t let the negativity get to me because I am okay with the way I am. I tell the body shamers I am blessed to have such metabolism.”
Whatever may be your perceived issues with your body type — too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too dark — try and tune out the negative and focus on your strengths. If you feel the constant concern trolling is getting to you and stealing your mojo, seek help.
“Rather than focussing on your body per say, start focusing on your strengths and your skills,” says Anand. “Once you do that, you will automatically have better self-esteem, increased confidence and will stop giving importance to what people say about your body.”
*Name changed on request
From HT Brunch, August 29, 2016
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