It’s 2021! Are We Still Going To Pretend Body-Shaming Is Harmless Humour?

It’s 2021! Are We Still Going To Pretend Body-Shaming Is Harmless Humour?

I have always struggled with my body. To be honest, I consider myself the quintessential normative perception of ‘ugliness’ – fat, short, clumsy, hairy and dusky – everything you find undesirable in a woman. And add a bald patch to that, voila, the Goddess of imperfection! Thanks to a cruel, cruel society that makes every woman crave for a seal of approval, I believe none of us ever feel comfortable in our own bodies. Body-shaming is a disease plaguing us silently. I bet that is the reason even Kim-K feels the need to airbrush her Instagram photos.

Body-shaming: Revisiting my teenage cellulite

Let’s start with my own tryst with body-shaming all my life.  From being a ‘hairy, wild pig’ in school to “You should join Cult. Fit” – I have come a long way with my flab and cellulite. Being among the top rankers in school did not help much when my crush of the year would secretly guffaw about my blessed bosom on a portly, pygmy body. I took to self-harming well into my teenage years. They catcalled, they made fun, they discovered my uncanny resemblance with a bulldog and I laughed along as I died a little inside every time.

I would pour in my insecurities onto my journal and fantasize a future version of myself that is some Angelina Jolie lookalike. Even as a teenager, I refused to wear anything sleeveless, body-hugging or above the knee. On rare occasions, I dared to wear my school skirt a little high, I would think everyone on the bus was staring at and being repelled by my leg hair. Of course, none of these stopped lecherous men from passing lewd comments or trying their hands in some ‘harmless’ public molestation.

I remember one weird moment at a rather boring Botany class. You see, I was infatuated with this ‘pretty boy’, and by the natural laws of attraction, he had no time to pay attention to the fat, short, hairy girl. After trying to impress him for ages with my appalling flirting skills, I finally gave up and confided to his best friend. This guy told me something that eventually became my mantra, growing up. He told me that it does not matter how you look now because once you get a job and start earning, you can undergo these cosmetic surgeries and become ‘sexy’ overnight. Rather bad advice, you would say.

On my farewell note in high school, my then best friend wrote I was nice as a person but needed to get a little ‘polished’ and ‘careful’ about my appearance. Well, you must have said the same if your friend was someone who brazenly exposed their Elvis-esque sideburns while tying their oiled hair into a messy pony.

chechez la femme
Plus-Size Model Tess Holliday (Facebook)

Are we all hamsters on wheels?

A few months into college, with all the beautiful, beautiful women (and men) around, I took to shaving, waxing and all the usual procedures to appear ‘presentable’ at least. Would you believe that me, a hardcore foodie, started surviving on lettuce and boiled vegetables, with half a corn on the cob for dinners? Well, there was a little more motivation for subjecting myself to such agony – there was another guy!

I lost an enormous amount of weight within weeks and started fainting here and there as a repercussion. So, crash dieting was off the list. Next came the photo editing software – where I took hours to turn myself into horribly photoshopped humanoids.

Things have mellowed down quite a lot now when I can afford the periodical salon sessions to turn myself socially acceptable. From editing software and crash diets, I have stepped down to body positivity and a little Spanx once in a while.

I work out regularly, well, almost. I think twice about what I am putting in my body (and yet gorge on pizza every now and then). I try to look presentable even with the love handles bulging out.

Kate Moss | Byron's muse
Supermodel Kate Moss (Credits: Byron’s Muse)

But, now as I look back and think of it, why at all billions of women on earth are expected to look like a very boring standardised version? There are so many shapes, colours, heights, curves and faces, but instead of being awed by the diversity, each of us secretly hopes to be a ‘little thinner’, a ‘little more toned’, a ‘little curvier’, a ‘little more busty’ or a ‘little less busty’, a ‘little fairer’, a ‘little tanned’. It is a vicious cycle that we have been conditioned to live in, not much different from a hamster on a wheel.

Are you a ‘football’ or a ‘matchstick’?

Even as we see and gape at the flawless curves of plus-size models, some twisted subconscious in us wishes they were a bit thinner. When we look at the gorgeous size-zero women who struggle to put on weight but can carry off any attire with elan, we immediately assume they are anorexic. And then our tone-deaf office HRs casually shame our body types in front of the entire workplace.
The grass is not greener on either side nor is it at the centre.
Curvy women like me have been bullied throughout their lives, so were our skinny friends. At social gatherings, we were called ‘footballs’ and they were called ‘matchsticks’. We were advised to starve and they were advised to overeat. At clothing outlets, while the shop attendants nonchalantly took away the M-sized dress from my hand and handed me a XXL one, he shamelessly redirected my skinny friend to the Kids Section.
When my once-slim friend put on a little weight, it did not take long for her neighbours to call her ‘an aunty’ or a ‘mother of five’.
And, trust me, it’s not just limited to the women. Ask any skinny or fat man, they will reiterate similar experiences.
Men of Manual raising awareness for men's body shame.
A campaign by Men of Manual against male body-shaming
Why am I blabbering on and on about body shaming? Is this article all about that cliched notion of ‘body positivity’ after all? Well, kind of. But, the point I wish to emphasise more on is how unknowingly you can be bullying someone as well, the moment you pass an unsolicited comment about his/her body. Be it when you are scorning at your boyfriend/girlfriend for their double chin or muffin top. Or be it when you are harmlessly cracking a joke about someone not being able to keep up with their workout or diet.
Each time you resort to something like this for a few laughs, you hardly know how much it affects the targeted person. A simple negative comment, under the pretext of humour. can drive a person into extreme anxiety or depression. For me, it does not even take a comment from anyone, a simple look at myself in the mirror post-dinner is enough fodder for a breakdown. Such is the toxicity of body issues ingrained in me, thanks to years of being pointed out.
If you can appreciate 39 types of skirt or 127 styles of top, you can bring yourself to appreciate at least a few different body types. So next time, try not to make an unwarranted comment or pass a piece of nonsense advice about someone’s body. It’s 2021, high time we all grow up.
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