The dysfunctional relationship of men and women with their bodies is a gradual process. It begins at a young age, sufficiently fed by society’s gruelling check boxes of set beauty standards, and is finally sold by the sloganeering of brands and magazines providing the conventional archetype of a perfect body, and thus monetising the insecurities of adolescent boys and girls.
I was 16 when my body started changing from the socially accepted/desirable (read: thin, toned) type to a not so desirable type – with thick arms, zero thigh gap, stomach rolls, face fat. Since then, the unremitting experience of subtle body shaming began.
Many of my friends, relatives and surprisingly even teachers contributed significantly in the de-escalation of my self-confidence. I used to take off my school uniform to stand in front of the mirror for hours, telling myself what could have been better about my body.
One particular incident that has never quite left me is when a teacher remarked quite nonchalantly: “Tum toh moti ho gayi ho, pehle to kitni sundar thi, patli patli si (you have become fat, you looked so pretty before when you were thin).”
To me, it was painful to think that I was not beautiful – I was learning that beauty is inversely proportional to your weight. At an age when we want to look our best, when we start exploring and acknowledging our bodies, this was making a mockery of my already frail bodily identity.
Despite the many remarks I endured, I did not allow myself to be seen as though I had been affected, at least publicly. That was until the person I was dating when I was 18 told me unflinchingly: “You should lose some weight, tum moti ho gayi ho”, right after a date. He thereon took every opportunity to body shame me.
It was then that I finally spoke up. I broke the circle of silence. I stood up for myself. I was assertive and blunt, I spoke for all those moments I couldn’t. It was an enlightening time, where I not only understood the preservation of my body’s business only for myself, but also for others.
However, yet another understanding of how beauty is considered to be inversely proportional to weight happened when I moved to Delhi for my graduation. A new city, a changed environment and careless food habits led some sudden weight loss.
While it was a concern for my family, my friends from school and my relatives saw my drastic weight loss as a ‘glow up’. The glory days of my body resurrected, I was told that I’m beautiful, that I was ‘sexy’ and ‘hot’ – something which I never heard throughout my school life from the very same people.
The fundamentals of society’s structure of beauty and body are inherently faulty. So many of us are subjected to these unrealistic ideals on a day-to-day basis, so many of us are told that our bodies are not enough or will never be enough. This is not confined to a particular gender or a particular body type, but is a universal problem which arrives from a systematic layout of what is desirable and what is not.
When our bodies have been failed so many times by society, embracing it, identifying and loving its idiosyncrasies would be worthy dissent against the establishment of the ‘perfect body club’. We should all take a chance at it.
Nuzhat Khan is an undergraduate student studying English at Jamia Millia Islamia. She is from Lucknow.
Featured image credit: Lucrezia Carnelos/Unsplash