“Am I looking fat?” That’s a question we all ask ourselves irrespective of our age and gender. And after Shweta Nanda’s write-up about daughter Navya Naveli’s body-shaming at her England school, the question has apparently nothing to do with your social status either.
Navya’s surname, her education or her social media status – none of it saved her from being body-shamed. Amitabh Bachchan’s granddaughter was picked on for being too skinny at her England school. Shweta wrote in the article in DNA, “My immediate reaction was one of utter rage! You bring your kids up with such love and care, not a day goes by when you don’t tell them or remind them in different ways just how wonderful they are.... And then, someone callously brings it all crashing down and their only authority is that they are your child’s peer and their word will, for a while, mean more to them than manna from heaven. It is the worst kind of bullying, simply because it leaves the most lasting impact!!”
Shweta then recounted her own teenage years, when a growth spurt at 12 left her open for some mean-girling. “Painfully thin, gawky, with limbs that were growing faster than I knew what to do with... and then there was acne. It’s a miracle I ever left the house. And as if in conspiracy, everything I wore only helped to enhance my awkwardness,” she writes. Branded ‘Big Bird’ at that age for being ungainly, she somehow survived teenage.
But the scars are yet to heal, despite being on magazine covers and appearing in lists of India’s most stylish, she says in her heart she is still defined by that cruel nickname. “In my heart, I am always ungainly, flappy Big Bird! Knocking my elbows on table corners and getting my sleeves caught on door handles… a disaster in heels, my balance is always off. I prefer to make it sound like it’s an intentional sartorial choice that I wear flats. Though years of painful orthodontic treatment have sorted out the overbite, I still find it hard to open my smile for fear of any teeth showing.”
Shweta and Navya may inhabit a different, a more glam world than ours but their experience is that of everyman and everywoman. We all ask the mirror the same question everyday – too thin (sometimes) or too fat? Every hurtful comment we heard along the life’s way leaves a little mark somewhere, defining us and wounding us. That taunting comment may have come from a playground bully or from an unkind colleague, it may be your partner or a stranger who gives you the moniker to your face.
The most specious argument they offer is that they are doing it for your own good. That was what faceless strangers handing out fat-shaming cards on the London tube believed. It advised that the recipients should eat less to be “better off, slimmer and happy and find a partner who is not a perverted chubby-lover”.
This is the thought process which makes a lot of mothers encourage their children to go slow on food to stay slimmer. “You don’t want to become fat, do you?” is the helpful reminder as they colour the perceptions of the child for the rest of his or her life. Fat equals bad and ugly while thin is ideal, that is until you are too thin – like Navya – which is another reason to shame.
“Parents need to instill the right attitude towards body image in their children. We should intend to inculcate health at all sizes rather than an unattainable body image. Bodies don’t all look alike and pursuing what is, for many people, an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal can only give rise to eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. In certain cases, it can also lead to depression,” says psychiatrist Shikha Chauhan.
There is no one size that can be considered incarnation of beauty and a thought process like that can prove lethal. Learning to accept your body image and striving for healthy rather than thin can make all the difference.
After that, the rest can be chalked up to experience as Shweta wrote, “I ring her phone, she picks up, stifling her tears, I can feel her pain and my heart breaks a little more… I tell her this isn’t going to be the last time someone will be hurtful to her, but she cannot let the world define who she is. She is born into a family that prides itself on defying conventions. She won’t understand what I mean till she herself is much older, but has the sensitivity to make me feel she does. I hang up and can’t help but say aloud to myself, ‘Welcome to the world baby girl, learn to roll with the punches, it is the first lesson of adulthood.’”