It was a dream wedding. The air was thick with excitement, but not everyone was having a good time. The bride’s sister, upon being repeatedly ticked off by her mother for gaining weight, ran away just before the bride and groom exchanged garlands, triggering a crisis within the wedding party. She was found later that night by a gentleman, who, upon noticing her passed out on the roadside, took her to the hospital and waited besides her. Her parents reached soon after. Copious tears were shed and apologies were exchanged.
Fortunately, this story had a happy ending. Not all do.
There’s no doubt that parents have their children’s best intentions at heart when they ask them to lose weight. The problem is, they underestimate the impact of their words. A quick perusal of #theysaid gives you a sense of the long-lasting impact of body shaming. #Theysaid, which emerged on the heels of the #metoo movement, quickly gained momentum as people came out in droves to share their experiences of being body-shamed. It quickly became evident that the deepest cuts were often made by parents or grandparents.
As parents the sooner we understand we’re not churning out robots in an assembly line but living, breathing children of all shapes and sizes, the better. Constant disparagement, especially from a parent, is heartbreaking and has life-long repercussions. We can instead encourage a healthy body weight in children by feeding them quality foods, keeping junk out of the house and inculcating in them a love of sports. There’s no excuse for calling our children fat. It’s just another F word that should never be said in front of the kids.
Back in the day when body shaming was a term yet to be coined, I was often teased for being skinny, and took it in my stride, for the ribbing never really escalated into viciousness. It was harmless banter, and I could give as good as I got, largely because my parents never made me feel insecure about my weight. Nevertheless, I constantly strived to get a little broader and spent years and years measuring my waist line, forcing myself to eat foods laden with butter and cream, repeatedly standing on the weighing scale and dreaming of a day I too would have pinch-worthy cheeks.
“Don’t worry,” kinder aunts whispered to me even as others asked my mother ‘Don’t you feed her?’
“When you’re older, you’ll be thankful you’re thin!”
Thankful to be thin? Never in a million years did I imagine that day would come, yet here I am, all grown up, and yes, thankful indeed to be thin. I’m never teased now, but there’s no escaping those who choose to be cruel.
“You’ve lost weight,” an acquaintance said to me recently, in a sharp tone. “And I don’t mean it as a compliment.”
The person who so rudely proffered her unwanted opinion was obese herself and I wondered what right had she, perched in her glass house, to judge me on my weight. How was my weight gain or loss any of her business?
“Well you’ve put on weight!” I retaliated sulkily, and immediately felt bad for behaving so petty.
But not that bad.
Today the internet makes it possible to target anyone with the click of a finger. When a bubbly and vivacious friend uploaded a photograph of herself on social media, it didn’t take long before she received a private message from a ‘friend’ who noted that she had gained weight, and advised her to dress appropriately, to conceal her bulges. To those so generous with dispensing advice, here’s some for you: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.
People have different bone structures. A person with a wider structure may never have the skinny body so prevalent in pop culture, and that’s okay. The world would be a sad place if everyone was the same shape and size. In any case, a little extra weight is nothing to stress about. Fat on your face fills out sallowness and wrinkles and makes you appear younger. Some of my friends who are slightly overweight by their own standards are fit, lead active lives, are fun to hang out with, and have a glow on their faces. They’re gorgeous. We all are, in different ways.
We need to recognise the beauty in ourselves for there will always be those who see us as unattractive, and those who find us attractive. In the end it doesn’t matter what they think or what #theysaid. What matters is what you say to yourself when you look in the mirror.
So hold your head high, put your lips together in an Insta-worthy pout, and say “Wow!”
(This article was published in The Hindu, Open Page, on Sept 23, 2018)