Analyzing body shaming and its toxic influence on Desi women.

a woman of colour biting into a taco filling with vegetables, overeating due to stress of body shaming

Sana was a lovely girl, polite and charming. A brilliant university student with high hopes of becoming a neurologist. She was president of the science club and every teacher’s favourite. 

Similar to any girl her age, Sana loved hanging out with friends, excelling in her studies and enjoying Fridays with pizza and romcoms.

However, there was one “problem”. Over the last few months, she had repeatedly found herself on the heavier spectrum of the weight scale. In order to maintain her pristine academic record, Sana had resorted to stress eating. This had resulted in a few extra noticeable pounds. We all know weight gain is the Voldemort of Desi culture; it must not be named, for it shall come to haunt you. 

And so, began the outpouring of ceaseless comments and unsolicited advice.

“Haw, Sana, kitni moti hogayee ho!” (Oh my God, Sana – you’ve gained so much weight!)

“Abhi wazan kum karlo, warna baad mein mushkil hogi” (You must start shedding weight off now or else it’ll be a massive problem!)

And the age all, Desi aunty favourite:

“Isi tarhan chalta raha tou shaadi aisay hogi?” (Who will marry you if you keep gaining weight?)

Sana’s story is quite familiar. We have all once been her. It’s almost second nature for Desis to greet loved ones with a backhanded compliment regarding weight gain. I mean, why praise a woman for her talent, hard work or ambition. After all, “aurat ne tou rotiyan hee banani hoti hein.” (A woman’s place is in the kitchen). Ironically, the same roties making their way into a woman’s tummy and adding a few extra pounds to her beauty raise eyebrows. Speculation immediately takes place. This can’t be weight gain, zaroor koi khush khabri hai! (She must be pregnant!) Yes, aunty – I’m expecting a food baby. 

Other socially acceptable topics of discussion include skin colour/texture and general physical attributes of a fellow human being.

a woman of colour lying on a stack of hay touching her face looking serious about body shaming

What Does Body Shaming Entail?

It is widely and falsely believed that commenting on someone’s weight will influence them to hit the gym. Scientific evidence confirms this couldn’t be further from the truth. Discussing weight gain or passing personal remarks are a source of further discouragement, low self-esteem and decreased motivation. In short, it is fatphobia or body shaming. 

Body shaming involves a critical analysis of someone’s weight through harmful comments and potential harassment. Often times, the individual passing said remarks is slim and slender and has potentially never struggled with weight gain. Like most other topics, women are subjected to fat-shaming far more than men.  

a woman holding up her hand in front of her indicating STOP body shaming

These remarks have a negative impact on a person’s psychological well-being, and results in a different view of themselves. In Sana’s example, she didn’t see a bright doctor in the mirror of her future. She envisioned a large woman ending up with cats, thanks to relentless comments regarding her weight gain. 

The same stigma also exists for women who are “too skinny”. For them, such comments vary from “sookh ke kaanta hogayee ho” (you are stick thin) to “kuch khaati nahein ho kya?” (don’t you eat anything?!). These riveting conversations aren’t limited to individual households. Celebrities, such as Bollywood leading ladies, are regularly trolled online by keyboard warriors.

Ashwariya Rai Bachan was scrutinized and incessantly bullied for pregnancy weight-gain and subsequently shamed for not losing it fast enough, post-birth. Kareena Kapoor Khan was widely discussed and criticized for reaching her size zero goal, despite reiterations that she had not put her health at risk. 

A Bollywood actress posing for paparazzi whilst she experienced body shaming

Photo credit: Joanna Davidson, Pinterest

Desis tend to treat bigger people differently. Mothers want “dubli, patli bahu” (tall, thin daughters-in-law) for their sons because a “fat” woman will hinder the process of birthing grandchildren. These sons also want a Katrina Kaif lookalike for a wife. In abundance to cooking, cleaning and being fair-skinned; South Asian women are also expected to maintain the “perfect figure”.  This is even worse since they are usually taught that validation from men defines their worth. Disclaimer: it does not. 

Other peoples’ comments also negatively affect our personal pep talks. On a scale of my-tummy-is-too-big to I-hate-not-having-a-thigh-gap, it can throw us down the rabbit hole of self-pity. It is okay to have vulnerable moments. What’s not okay is to dwell on them for too long. 

If an individual’s weight is impacting their quality of life, or putting their health at risk, then it’s a personal choice to take action. Granted, South Asians in North America are at a higher risk for long-term health issues. However, body shaming is not the solution to their problems. If anything, it will further deter them from making healthier life choices.

[bctt tweet=”Other peoples’ comments also negatively affect our personal pep talks. On a scale of my-tummy-is-too-big to I-hate-not-having-a-thigh-gap, it can throw us down the rabbit hole of self-pity. #dietitian #bodyshaming #stopbodyshaming” username=”desiliciousrd”]

We must also remember that fluctuating weight is not always the direct result of excessive paratha-eating or complete starvation. Often times, it could be because of genetics or hormonal imbalances.

Body shaming is harmful with lasting psychological consequences. Some detrimental outcomes include severe depression, eating disorders and chronic diseases due to heightened stress. People come in all shapes and sizes. The human body should not be up for discussion because it has an enormous capacity for diversification. Imagine if everyone looked the same – how bleak would the world be? 

Have you experienced body shaming? What strategies did you use to deal with it? I’d love to hear your story, leave me a comment below!

Desi~liciously Yours, Shahzadi

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