Disclaimer: Expletive language used.
Honestly, I don’t know how to begin this. This is a topic I have revisited multiple times. Last few weeks, it came up again with a lot of friends. This time, let’s start with a story.
It’s dinner time, and a family is waiting for their guests to arrive. They come in and even before the usual pleasantries begin, the well meaning Indian uncle looks at the host’s daughter and asks her if she ever plans on losing some weight. He continues in the same line with multiple different remarks. The girl is sick and tired of these questions and of trying to politely respond and navigate through such conversations. She continues smiling and retorts back in her own way making sure she doesn’t cross the suffocating boundary of forced politeness with your elders, but still gets her point through. Her mother gets furious at her, after all why did she even try and defend herself? Tells her the behaviour is unacceptable and no matter what, one cannot talk to guests that way. The daughter is angry and dejected that her own mother won’t see how this is affecting her and decides to skip that toxic dinner party and storms out of the house.
What do you think of this? Does it make you sad, angry or all you feel is indifference or even support for that uncle. Well, call it what it is! Isn’t that what people say?
Now, let’s just change this story a bit. This time the daughter isn’t on the heavier side (according to stupid and baseless societal norms) and is actually on the lighter side (again according to stupid and baseless societal norms). And clearly that girl/woman is me. And this happened a few weeks ago.
If your response to any of this is, “I wish I was like you, it’s easier to be skinny than struggle with weight loss”, can I answer that “I rather be plump because you can clearly manage your diet and workout to lose weight. It’s easier to eat less than more!”? But, because I have more sense than that, I know that both the perspectives are incorrect. I am a fitness coach and more often than not, I work with people who want to lose weight. Not just theoretically, but working with them months on months, day after day, I know how hard the whole journey is. A journey which our society makes harder. It isn’t as simple as “Eat less. Workout more.”
The constant remarks, judgement and comparisons push people to quit and give up or worse, take paths that harm them more than do any good. I am very small built. If you see the rest (most) of my paternal family, you would know it’s my genetic make up. And I learnt and accepted this very early in life. Honestly, I didn’t even notice any negative remarks till much later. I was a happy kid, adolescent and an adult. I was good at what I wanted to do, I always had a lot of friends, was super confident and had enough attention. The silly teenage jokes cracked by fellow girls that categorized us based on the size of our breasts and a** didn’t concern me.
Only much later when I was almost in my 30s, is when such comments started bothering me. Maybe because I was more aware of the struggles and the mental trauma they bring. I was “woke” in some ways. Also, this was a time when I got introduced to a new friend circle. People who haven’t seen me be the same since my teens. Most of my inner circle of friends is decades old. So, I was exposed to a lot more jokes, remarks and comments. People thinking they are just being funny, while slowly eroding my self image.
Even if you are confident in your self, constant jabs can make you insecure. It slowly erodes your self assurance and introduces self doubt. And these pokes are not just about the size of the dress you need to buy. They take all different routes. Everything that makes up your physical appearance is scrutinized.
Once (years ago) I had a few friends over for dinner. I think it was summertime and I was wearing a pair of shorts. One of them was equally, if not more enthusiastic about working out. He was sitting on the sofa and I was standing across as we compared notes of our daily workouts. I mentioned something about the leg exercises I do, when another friend sitting across points at my legs with disdain on their face, and says, “Then why are they still like that?” I am suddenly acutely aware of how thin my legs are. I sneak into my room and change back into a pair of jeans. I don’t want anyone to look at my legs. I am ashamed of it. Nobody notices the change of attire. Next three days, I stuff my face till I can’t eat anymore. And when I can’t eat anymore, I cry wondering why I couldn’t. Fortunately I come back to my senses after that and remind myself that I had nothing to be ashamed about. Every body is different! There is no standard template!
And constant jokes on my belly (people say, what belly?!) which obviously would show on figure hugging clothes post a long evening and night of drinking and eating has even pushed me to eat unhealthily, trying to get an absolutely flat belly which by the way my dear friends is not a long term, sustainable wish. Listen to this fitness coach. I swear, it isn’t. It’s a living body. You eat and drink, it has to expand!
What about that time when a friend randomly commented that my lips were like a girl’s and not a woman’s? WTF does that even mean? But full points for making such a subtle and ambiguous insult.
And then, that evening when I am in a car with another 3 women post a night out drinking . Out of nowhere they start comparing their breast sizes. And then the jokes begin about how mine are non existent. These are not young girls! We are all in our mid and late 30s. I cross my arms on my chest and try to look at the window. I try to smile, ignore and pretend it’s not killing me. It’s not the insults as much, as is the thought that I decided to spend my evening with such people. I want to get out of the car and get away as far as possible from them. I swear to never ever hang out with them again, unless I have my other set of friends with me. This has another side to it too. There are women who are perfectly curvaceous (again, according to our baseless societal standards) who have to face so many unpleasant and uncomfortable remarks, covered in the fake blanket of compliments. Trust me, no-one wants to constantly hear how great you think their waist, butt, lips or breasts are. No-one likes being objectified that way. People are way more than their bodies! It’s not about men harassing. It’s beyond comprehension how so many women are absolutely oblivious while passing such comments but, feel the same anger and disgust when they are at the receiving end!
What about that time when at a potluck party with other families from my kid’s school, multiple moms try to force me to eat even after my meal was done because……….. honestly, I don’t know why! One of them even grabbed my head and tried to stuff a samosa in my mouth. That right there is bullying and assault!
What about that time on a group chat where some silly joke suddenly turned into a guy calling me “no a**, no b****”? I wanted to hide in a hole and never ever come out! I avoided meeting any of them for weeks to come. It’s not that only women struggle with such comparisons. Men have to battle weight issues and the remarks that come along with it too. Not only that, all the locker room jokes you see in teen flicks are apparently real. Boys do compare, shame and ridicule each other. And then you have the egoists, who boast about themselves. You know what I am talking about right? There was this person who would keep subtly talking about the awe expressed by the women he has been with (This by the way, is wrong at so many levels!) I can’t even say that I can’t imagine what the men who get shamed feel like. It’s the same shame a lot of us women are put through too.
Now every time I have to meet new people, I brace myself. I start preparing retorts to all those comments and jibes on how I look. If you say, “You should eat a little more.” Can I say, “And you should work out a lot more?” While I don’t want to be mean and just do exactly what I am fighting against, it’s hard to remember that every time. Sadly, my preparation never goes to waste. Invariably I end up defending and sometimes overcompensating by being mean in that process. This is my coping mechanism, but unfortunately there are others who are pushed towards self destructive paths like eating disorders, depression and anxiety to name a few.
I am an extremely healthy (scary time to say such things and jinx it), strong and fit person. Of course there is a huge scope for improvement. When isn’t there not? Why can’t we focus on the kind of human one is? I am not saying ignore your weight and don’t care about how you look. Do what you want to keep yourself healthy and happy. Don’t let these media fueled, incorrect ideas of beauty dictate how you live. Don’t let anyone body shame you. What we need is acceptance of diversity. Put a stop to unreasonable social comparisons. Stop shaming others to feel better yourselves. Stop harassing people in the name of praise and compliments. There are multiple different body types, with their own history, genetic make up and above all, beauty.
Work on being beautiful. Not so much on the outside as inside.