Editor’s Note: This month, that is July 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Body Image, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront, with respect to our bodies in private or public spaces, or both. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Namrata K
I was skinny as a child. While growing up in a small Indian town, I thought it was perfectly acceptable to make fun of someone’s appearance—their skin color, hair texture, height and especially weight. I rejoiced at referring to the “chubby” kids as “mottu” (Hindi for “fatso”). At that time, I thought, to body shame someone is harmless fun and had no idea how it affected those being made fun of. However, things would change soon.
Puberty hit me hard and I started putting on weight. I joined a new school around this time, and from the beginning, my new classmates referred to me as “mottu.” When directed at me, the term which I had been casually using for other “chubby” kids didn’t seem funny at all. It hurt, but I pretended to “like” this nickname to appear “cool” and didn’t say anything. Looking back, I know that my new friends weren’t being malicious; they were just naive kids, who in their ignorance, had no idea how their words were hurting me.
It was a different story at home. I had begun to notice my mother weirdly looking at my body frequently, her mostly expressionless face betraying just a hint of irritation. I should mention here that my mother had never been loving towards me, so her sudden interest in me—or more specifically, my body—was somewhat disconcerting. I could sense that she wasn’t happy with the way my body was developing, but what exactly it was, I couldn’t pinpoint. Then one day, it all started to make sense.
Body-Shaming is a Form of Emotional Abuse
As a little girl, I instinctively knew my mother didn’t love me, even though it would take me almost three decades to realize that I had been subjected to years of intense physical and emotional abuse at her hands. In the small town I grew up in, children being slapped, hit and beaten up by their parents was nothing new. It was “normal.” So were girls being told that they were a “burden” on their family. As a child, I believed it when my mother told me that I ruined her life by being “born a girl, a burden.” My recent weight gain and other puberty-related issues only complicated the situation. If having a girl wasn’t a burden already heavy enough, my mother now had a “fat and ugly girl with a face ridden with acne.” The kilos kept piling on over the years, and by the time I was 15, my family was seriously worried.
“She is so fat, who will marry her?”
“How will you find a boy to marry her?”
“Tell your daughter to lose weight, otherwise no one will marry her!”
“I’m telling you, it’s not easy to find a groom for such a fat girl.”
These were just some of the questions my mother was asked by our relatives regularly, and that too, in front of me! In a society as regressive as ours, being considered “a desirable prospect” in the “marriage market” is the only thing that determines a young woman’s worth. By drilling into my young, impressionable mind the idea that no man would consider marrying a “fat and ugly girl” like me, my family effectively made me believe I was “useless and unworthy.”
When I was 17, I began to realize something. Even though I was still “fat,” there was no dearth of nice boys who liked me and wanted to date me. Maybe, I wasn’t “ugly” after all! However, my mother still didn’t love me, and I thought it was all my fault. By this time, the guilt of being undeserving of my “beautiful, slender, wonderful” mother began weighing on me heavily. I cried myself to sleep daily, and this feeling of “unworthiness” manifested itself in the form of eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
If only I could lose some weight! Maybe my mother would love me then. By the time I was 20, I had indeed lost much weight. However, that didn’t change the way my mother felt about me. She wasn’t happy about my weight loss. There was still no love, no acceptance. If anything, her dislike for me only seemed to have intensified, much to my confusion.
We live in a highly misogynistic and sexist society where most women grow up internalizing the hatred they had been subjected to because of their gender and perpetuate the same hatred onto women more vulnerable than they are. Mothers abusing their daughters is a common, though rarely discussed, issue. Body-shaming is yet another form of emotional abuse many Indian women go through, often at the hands of the very ones who are supposed to nurture and protect them. Being abused by your mother can leave you with long-lasting psychological scars that refuse to heal. It took me several years to realize that being body-shamed by my mother was never about me, my weight, or my worth as a human being. It was all about her insecurities and issues.
Also read: How Being Body-Shamed Left Me Traumatised
If you have ever been body shamed by your mother, please realize that your worth as a human being is not determined by what someone else thinks of you. After finally learning to accept and love my body for the way it is after years of being body shamed and abused, I can tell you that this journey is not going to be an easy one. However, it is possible to heal your past wounds and develop a positive body image with time and effort. Here are a few resources you might find helpful:
Namrata is a freelance writer + vegan blogger + intersectional feminist. Against all forms of oppression, she’s on a constant journey of unlearning her internalized misogyny. You can find her on her Blog and Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Kaanchi Chopra