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Body Shaming In The South Asian Community And It’s Consequences

Of Course you are not too fat or too Skinny. Too short or too tall. Too fair or too dark.

Remember, you are who you are and you become what you aspire to be. Not what they suppose you be.

Courtesy : Love Beyond Sizes
This video is an awareness about how body shaming manifests in our daily lives.

Growing up as a brown girl, being face to face with body shaming was an everyday thing. Our communities are so obsessed with appearances that criticism based on colour, weight, height and hair doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. It’s not deemed unfair when confronted by uncle jis and aunty jis with demeaning questions and comments such as “Don’t you get to eat or do you work too hard that you don’t find enough time to eat?”, “You should eat less or no one will marry you.”, “Having a big ass is not okay. Makes you look like you already had kids.”, “You don’t have any curves so please stay away from saree and/or they won’t look good on a figure like yours anyway.”

Expressions like Moto (Fat), Kaali (black), Bhoori (Brown), Haddi (Bone), Lakdi (Stick), Gitki (Small) are used as nick names. Imagine being called all these words every single day?

It’s not easy to find your place in a community where the standards for how you should look are set so high. Males are supposed to be tall, strongly built with a hint of brown skin but not too dark. Females are supposed to be fair, clear skinned, thin and short but not too short. What is this “too” factor that has everyone hurting so much? Both genders face extensive body shaming if they don’t seem to have the artificial beauty levels. Indian men can be insanely insecure about their physique or god forbid if they are any shorter than 5’8, their childhood could be turned into a complete disaster by these so called relatives. Girls, definitely get it worse since the whole point for her entire neighbourhood and family is to look into finding a suitable match for her marriage. So automatically, her looks have to a top priority for literally everyone.

I am thin and fair and I am sure I got it easier than those who are on the heavier side with duskier skin. I have noticed my female cousins and friends struggling way more with self esteem and confidence issues due to all these not so subtle insults thrown at them. We are offered suggestions such as use turmeric paste, apply fair and lovely, don’t go out in the sun, don’t drink black tea, don’t eat potatoes or rice and so much more. It never stops. Why do we care so much after all? Who came up with this perfect image of how a brown person should look like? For god sake, we are brown for a reason so what’s with the complex enthusiasm for fair skin.

My story

I know not being passed off as the prettiest in my family for having darker skin than all of my first cousins and at the same time hearing even meaner things about my extended family for I was lighter and skinnier than them. However, recently I lost a little weight and somehow all of a sudden I am being referred to as a stick. How is it okay for a random stranger (who I haven’t even met before but happens to be related) to come up to me and tell me that I shouldn’t put on a Lehnga (long skirts) because it makes me look weird? My aunties think it’s funny when they tell me that I am flat chested or there is not much to work with my suit stitching since I have small breast size. On the other hand, I have been called overweight and fat frequently because my lower body is thicker than my upper body. My fat thighs and legs apparently make my shape appear strange to a few.

I was also told to walk on my toes and stretch intensely for a good year so that I could grow. I am 5’2 which means It will be tough for my family to find me a guy and I have been informed of this situation hundreds of times, bluntly and loudly. I am also nick-named Bingi (crooked) probably for having a crooked nose or probably because I was flat footed and couldn’t walk straight. I’ll never know. But what I know is I have always struggled with accepting myself. I was scared to take pictures until last year because of my nose. I still don’t let anyone shoot me until they know of my insecurity and offer to let me stay in my comfort zone. I do not like the way I look and I know it. I don’t know how to take compliments because I don’t believe them. The fear of being ugly is always there.

What they don’t realize?

What our folks don’t realize is the impact body shaming could have on someone’s mental health. Why is self love such a foreign concept for brown people, has anyone ever given it a thought? Naturally the derogatory statements that are used to define us result in inferiority complex and self hatred. The fear of not fitting in sits deep in our hearts. Many kids have to deal with eating disorders and emotional imbalances at a very young age. Some isolate themselves and forget how to build relationships and a few even get to a point where suicide seems like a better option than trying to live.

It’s beyond my understanding that how people fail to comprehend what’s wrong with calling someone out in regards to their weight, body hair or height. How do they not see that the latter could feel ashamed and embarrassed. Read this article on global village space titled, “Body Shaming and its effects on mental health” to inform yourself of different types of mental health issues people face due to humiliation.

What can we do?

I have come to a conclusion that there is no such thing as a perfect body shape and size in our society. No matter how thin or fair you are, someone will find a problem with your physical attributes. So, don’t let them get to you. But more than that stay strong for your younger siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces. They are the ones who need us to be strong. Show them that it’s okay to love their bodies exactly how they are. When an aunty tries to tell a kid that he or she isn’t fair or rightly built, you tell them in front of the kid how their personality and body is beautiful. Help kids feel proud so they don’t grow up feeling the way we did. Times are changing and we need to be on board with changing the obsession for colourism and body image in our respective communities. We can’t continue with letting our elders make discouraging comments look funny because it is not okay. Lastly, don’t become like our elders. Don’t turn into someone who instead of stopping people from bullying others, would rather join them while they continue with the mockery. We as a society need to do better.

P.S – This post is dedicated to that special girl who made me want to vent so much. I am sorry for everything you went through and had to listen to things that shouldn’t have been said to you. Remember, you are gorgeous and I am proud of how far you’ve come.


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