Editor’s Note: This month, that is February 2021, FII and The Minor Project are looking for article submissions on the topic of Narrating Violence and Trauma from Childhood to highlight the ways we in our childhoods, experience various forms of brutality from our adults, mentors, peers and even their institutions that may lead to a sustained memory of difficult experiences and mental health issues. The Minor Project is a digital platform for public dialogue to promote discourse on ending violence, abuse and exploitation of children by Leher, a child rights organisation, whose focus is on building communities that care and act for the safety and protection of children. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Your thighs are too fat’, ‘Your arms are too chubby‘, ‘Should you wear that short dress?’, ‘Maybe eat less, you are getting healthy, beta‘, ‘Ever tried drinking lemon water in the morning?’, ‘ Please go on walks, see how fast you lose your weight.’ These sentences may seem like mere statements to you but to me they are instances of the times when I was body-shamed not only by strangers or by friends but even by my own family.
Body shaming can be loosely defined as the act of criticising or mocking one’s physical aspects. Body shaming has been normalised, systematised and has been an ongoing social practice for very long. It starts from your home and somehow never ends. The culture around body shaming seems to never mellow down. It starts with our parents and is a big part of our school lives and childhood. It is seen in our family functions, in our schools, in our tuition classes, on social media and even in our closest friend circles.
The diet culture found in magazines, books, social media, TV shows and other forms of media only further this practice of feeling embarrassed of your own body. It is a big part of mainstream media and advertisements. Diet culture ruins your body image and even your love for your own body. This culture is imbibed in us right from our childhood when we see others doing the same to be socially acceptable.
Body shaming starts right from our school life to our childhood. From adults policing our diets and outfits to making comments like ‘You are getting really healthy, huh‘. As a child I have faced body shaming from my friends, teachers and even my friends have faced the same. My skinny friends have been skinny shamed and my chubbier friends have been fat shamed. Most of my friends have experiences of body shaming since their early childhood.
“I have always been teased and bullied because of my weight,” said Yash Mukkherjee, a high school student. Yash has been called ‘puny’ and ‘short’ all his life. He has been bullied by his friends and has even been called names by his relatives. “I have been skinny shamed by my friends for being too skinny as a child,” said Rai. Rai suffers from body issues and dissatisfaction because of the same shaming culture she has faced. This culture of body shaming is everywhere, it us in our homes and even in our colleges and schools. “I have been called a cow all my life because of how overweight I was in college,” said Trisha a student. She, like many of the girls, have been a victim of this culture of making individuals feel insecure about their bodies.
Also read: 6 Things Your Fat Friend Needs From You
Just like Trisha and hundreds of other young women, my experiences with bullying, body shaming, fat shaming has been very cruel and brutal since my childhood. I was always on the ‘chubby’ or the ‘healthier’ side. I used to love being called ‘healthy’ or ‘baby-like’ until I understood how they were adjectives used to demean individuals. Phrases like ‘Glaxo baby‘ we’re casually thrown around to denote my chubbiness.
I have been ‘chubby’ and ‘healthy’ most of my life. I have been ‘chubby’ as a child and even as a teenager. I have been overweight, under-weight and I have been obese because of my relationship with my food and with my body right from my childhood. I always adored food and always found great solace in it. I loved it so much that it soon became my favorite thing. Food made me happy. Food saved my bad days and was my knight in a shining lunchbox as a child. My only love then was butter chicken.
Food kept me happy until I understood how it was making me gain weight. Even though my parents called it ‘baby fat’, my friends surely did not. Remarks like ‘motu‘ or ‘elephant ‘ even ‘graisse‘ we’re thrown at me. I have been body-shamed by my closest childhood friends not only for my body weight but also for the way my body grew. The school became a living hell for me because body shaming and fat shaming seemed to be the norm in junior classes. I had seen my more ‘healthy ‘ friends get rejected from dances because of their weight. I had my more ‘skinny’ friends getting shamed for their weight and how they would blow away with the wind.
I had hit puberty earlier than most of them making me more ‘mature looking’ at an early age. Puberty made my life hell. It made people not only fat shame and body shame me, but also sexualise my body which made thirteen-year-old me hate my body even more. I always had a small frame and puberty gave me stretch marks and more weight gain which only worsened my dislike for my body. I started dressing down for school. I wore skirts extremely long and I made sure that my shirts were loose as well just so my torso wouldn’t be visible.
Also read: Are ‘Fat’ People Unworthy Of Companionship?
I never realised how real my hate for my body was until I stopped looking at mirrors and started to hate shopping. I hated how my body never looked like that of my friends. I hated how my grandfather thought it would be more appropriate for me to start wearing more ‘loose’ clothes because ‘fat’ people looked good only in loose clothes. These comments scared me so much that even after losing weight I am afraid of wearing fitting clothes.
My body issues didn’t go away after I lost weight, it only got worse. I started hating and being repulsed of my body more than I should have been. I started counting calories and limiting my meals to such an extent that it made me sick as the days passed on by. I started wearing loose clothes and darker colours just to hide my body. My mother found my dressing sense ‘odd’ for a child. She always thought that I should dress however I wanted to. She always thought I looked ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’ as a child.
Being a petite girl with a ‘chubby’ body was honestly the last thing I wanted to be. I wanted to be healthy and I wanted to have a thigh gap and a flat stomach. I wanted to change my entire body because of the hate it received not only from myself but also from everyone. I watched over 500 videos about weight loss and started trying diets of all kind. My body issues only worsened since my body weight kept on fluctuating. I have spent nights crying about how my mother would call me ‘fat’ and about how ‘big’ my thighs are. I did arm workouts to lose fat in my arms and starting clicking pictures without my arms.
Also read: ‘Pele Colour’: How Casteism & Colourism Dictate Sartorial Choices
My body image overshadowed my self-image. I started to starve myself whenever I gained weight and I rigorously worked out because of this same gain. My stomach was not ‘flat’ enough and for me my body was never ‘good enough’. My body was never enough because it did not look like that of others. I never saw an Instagram model who looked like me or a celebrity who had been on magazine covers.
My body didn’t even look like that of my tall friend or like my skinny friend or my curvy friend. My body looked like my body and somewhere amidst the fashion magazines and cabbage soup diet and weight goals, I forgot to even accept my body for what it did. I forgot that my body’s job was to keep me alive and breathing. It took me a very long time to accept that my body does everything for me. I learned that bodies are not just for appearance, but they are meant for living.
Body positivity taught me to accept my body and to care for it. It made me unlearn the word ‘fat’ and ‘chubby’ as insults. I learned more about body positivity movement from individuals like Nabela Noor, Roshini Kumar, Saloni Chopra and even my activist friends. I now work for a body positivity page called Shareerspeak.
Body positivity has helped me and even though I am at a better place with myself. I struggle with eating and I feel ‘fat’ when I eat more than I should. I have terrible body image days but I also have good days and on those days I am at peace with my body.
Olipriya goes by she/her and they/them pronouns. She studies in 12th class and is a demi gendered individual. She is a public speaker and a social, gender and mental health activist. She has been a part of Openhouse community and has served as a MUN tribe leader. They had been speaking on menstruation since very long and was an intern at Youth Ki Awaaz and is currently an intern at Bleed Eco. They were featured in The Quint and in The Greater India. She likes to cook and spend time writing poetry. She lives in Kolkata and is a seventeen-year-old cat-loving instant noodle lover. Olipriya’s alter ego is Esther Greenword from Sylvia Plath’s BellJar because she too ‘wants to be everything’. You can find her on Instagram.