Recently, TMC leader Akhil Giri made sexist and spiteful remarks against President of India Droupadi Murmu, which rightfully drew the ire of politicians from different parties. To say that he is the only politician to have indulged in body shaming is untrue since politicians keep making patriarchal and disparaging remarks against women politicians at regular intervals.
Body shaming can be defined as the act of criticising or ridiculing someone’s physical aspects. In our country, body shaming has been normalised and turned into an art form to the extent that we have grown almost insensitive to uncharitable and objectionable remarks about a man or a woman’s looks and appearances.
To be honest, body shaming starts with our parents and is a big part of our school lives and childhood. If you attend any family functions, you may come across people getting a kick out of mocking somebody’s appearance. In school, instances of students being skinny shamed and chubbier ones being fat shamed are many.
The perpetual popularity of diet culture in magazines, social media and TV is an indication that if you are not slim and trim, then something is wrong with you. Diet culture robs you of your love for your own body. We imbibe this attitude right from our childhood when we see others doing the same to be socially acceptable.
Why are we obsessed with appearances? Why do we need to emulate others when it comes to looking presentable? After all, beauty is only skin-deep. One should never judge an individual by the way he/she looks. When somebody points out flaws in our physical appearances, we suddenly get self-conscious and start wallowing in self-pity. We are suddenly made to feel that life is not worth living if we are not physically attractive. There are certain things in our life which are not in our hands.
Men and women both suffer from body shaming. A boy is expected to be an embodiment of physical perfection by being tall and muscular. A girl is expected to be thin and with a skin which has zero acne and body hair. If they fail to tick all the right boxes, which is but natural since no one is born perfect in this world, they are constantly advised to improve their looks.
Even though body shaming affects both men and women, it is the women who bear the brunt most in a patriarchal society like ours. If a girl is fat, she is bombarded with suggestions to drink this, eat that, avoid starchy foods and even go for liposuction. Girls who are thin, conversely, are advised to start looking “healthy”. There is no winning this appearances game.
Earlier, being fat meant being wealthy and belonging to a prosperous family, but times have changed and being slim is fashionable now. To look attractive, men and women can be seen sweating it out in the gym. They post their pictures on social media to garner “likes.’’ Almost everyone today is under pressure to look physically attractive and those who refuse to accept the stereotype of beauty are seen as mavericks.
Even Bollywood actors over the decades have conformed to this pressure to look more attractive than they already are, bleaching their skin and undergoing other skin lightening treatments. Advertisements for cosmetics never tire of showing how it is necessary to have a fairer skin in order to land a job, while many food item advertisements are reminding us how crucial it is to lose fat in order to look attractive at a party.
This conditioning needs to be countered at a young age. And it starts with parents. Parents must teach their children not to judge people by their looks. They should be told that there are more important things in life than mere looks and physical beauty, but this is a tall order in our hidebound social framework. For their part, parents must refrain from passing insensitive remarks on somebody’s physical appearance in front of their children, because children hear and absorb everything around them — not only what is preached to them.
By making looks the focus of sociability, we are slowly destroying the core of our inner lives which nourish our creative spirit and a sense of well-being. In order to conform to social pressures, we have lost touch with our true self. Poet John Keats once said that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. By beauty, he didn’t only mean an attractive physical appearance; he rather meant the value of beautiful things that provide us timeless joy and leave an unforgettable imprint on our minds. In other words, every beautiful thing is worth preserving.
Aditya Mukherjee is a senior journalist based in Delhi