What body shaming can look like
How it is often disguised as concern, and why even its defense can perpetrate the harmful notion
This community has been a long time coming.
I have been playing this scenario out in my mind hypothetically for many weeks now, toying with various ideas, stories, and experiences of mine - wondering which ones to pluck from my mind and showcase here meaningfully, when I happened to have a chance encounter two days ago that brought the crux of the issue to the forefront, again.
We recently moved to a new house. In India, as many of you may know, ceremonies, festivals, and new houses often attract hijras. We had two of them descend on us early in the morning two days ago. My family was trying to handle the situation by themselves, so I stayed behind in my room. After a while, they seemed close to a resolution and so I was asked to step out to seek their “blessings”.
These strangers, who had never seen me, and knew nothing about me or my marital status, immediately began to offer advice on what I may try to lose weight and began to proclaim that their blessings would get me married.
On the surface, this may seem harmless and even something of a sweet gesture to those who may look at this as an act of loving concern. However, there is a deeply disturbing outlook behind this seeming show of concern.
The essential themes to note here are that these were:
who felt comfortable commenting on my appearance
which were unasked for
making assumptions about my inherent lovability and desirability, and in essence, my worthiness
with the comments being a symptom of a deeper issue being the perpetration of fat phobia
Given that this has been a lived experience for me for the past two decades, it is something that I now can readily identify as being fat phobic and brush off.
I’d be lying to you if you told it had always been that easy - either to identify fat phobia as such or to brush such encounters off.
In this particular instance, it was easy to let these comments roll off my body (pun intended) because these were strangers. It was effortless to remind myself that since they were not people who knew or loved me, their opinions of me did not matter.
The situation becomes insidious however, when such comments, often disguised as concerns or advice, begins rolling in from people who matter to you.
Let me now tell you what happened next in my encounter.
When faced with these “concerns” from the hijras, my dad began to exaggerate the issues I faced in the past, saying that I was born with an under active thyroid (I wasn’t); falsify my diet (“She only eats a bite of this and a cup of that” - no, I don’t only eat a bite here and a cup there); before going on to add that I’ve tried everything under the sun to lose weight (which I obviously haven’t).
I guess I could have appreciated that my dad had my back when strangers were having a go at me - unfortunately, this approach is equally harmful.
Instead of attacking the premise of the issue, which is fat phobia, my dad, in his defense of me, promoted it.
His justifications only served and strengthened the notion that being fat was wrong, being fat made one less worthy, that being fat was a personal, moral, and social failure.
Given how deeply ingrained the notions of traditional beauty, fitness, wellness, and desirability are, the challenge facing this community is an almost herculean task. While my personal experiences are mostly around being fat-shamed, I am only one member of this community. I welcome each of you, if you are comfortable, to share with the community as to what brings you here and let the community know what support looks like for you.
I am hopeful that together we will build a diverse and inclusive world, where no one’s worth is questioned. May you all find belongingness here 🤍
The reading diet:
Anne Lamott, the famous author, recently shared her struggle with dieting and body shame in a post on her Facebook page.