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Why Body Shaming Is A Form Of Abuse

22/03/2016 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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A woman's torso is shown in a black bikini bottom. Words are written on her skin that say 'flabby', 'provider of life', 'fat', 'powerful', 'ugly', 'beautiful' and 'uncomfortable?'. The image illustrates a woman's striggle with body image. It is in black and white.

The term 'body shaming' may have just started trending but the phenomenon has probably been around since the beginning of time. From seemingly friendly jibes over a growing paunch to being rejected as a marriage prospect on the grounds of height of weight, it's everywhere and has been for ages. So why make such a big fuss of it now?

Are we trying to move towards a culture of politeness, where it's not nice to call a spade a spade? There's much more to it than that. Of late, there has been a growing awareness around the abusive nature of such behaviours and how they affect the human psyche.

There's nothing witty or even remotely funny about shaming someone for his or her looks. The scars are often deep...

Making people feel bad and less worthy, discriminating against them because their appearance doesn't meet the standards set by society and media, humiliating them in public over something they have no or little control over--if this does not count as abuse, what does? And why have we been ok with it for so long?

Moreover, it is not just lesser mortals like you and I who have to deal with the onslaught day in and day out--even the high and mighty are not spared. Right from Sonakshi Sinha's weight to Sonam Kapoor's chest, there is a dangerous trend that makes it acceptable for one person to insult another on grounds of physical characteristics. If you have been following debates on social media, you'd know it is common for people to stoop down to calling someone fat, short, dark or ugly when they run out of intelligent things to say.

There's nothing witty or even remotely funny about shaming someone for his or her looks. The scars are often deep and the hurt difficult to heal from. Here's what a victim of body shaming may actually go through:

• Overweight teenagers who are often bullied at school for being fat frequently battle depression, isolation and suicidal thoughts. They may take to unhealthier eating habits and fall prey to eating disorders.

• A person who has been criticised for a particular physical aspect (say height) may let that characteristic define him. He begins to feel inadequate, under-confident and worthless to an extent that he may not be able to perform to his full potential even in situations where his height is of no consequence.

• Women and men who are the receiving end of jibes develop poor body image, which leads to deep-rooted insecurity and inadvertently affects their personal relationships. They may become extremely self-conscious and gradually withdraw from social situations.

Despite what the media and beauty/fashion industry propagate, the human form cannot be homogenized into the 'perfect ideal', and that is part of its glory.

In the West, the Body Positive Movement has been marginally successful in changing the mainstream narrative and broadening the definition of beauty as perceived by society. Plus-sized models are making waves and there is wider acceptance for people of colour everywhere. Perhaps it is time for us Indians to step up too. Elle made a good start with their much talked about photo shoot with plus-size models, while fashion brand Viva N Diva broke ground with their 'Face of Courage' campaign that featured an acid attack survivor as its model.

Says fashion blogger Amena Azeez of Fashionopolis.in:

"The only way we can fight and eventually end body shaming is by normalizing all bodies. We need to stop treating one skin colour or feature or body type as the aspiration and the remaining ones as inferior to it. To normalize all bodies it is very important that we constantly talk about it and demand equal representation in the mainstream."

What makes us so cruel and heartless so as to pull down a person just because they look different from us or because they are not what we'd like them to be? Do we do it to feel better about ourselves, even if it means decimating another person's sense of self, and leaving them hurt and scarred? Despite what the media and beauty/fashion industry propagate, the human form cannot be homogenized into the 'perfect ideal', and that is part of its glory. Why can't we instead work towards an inclusive environment where people of all shapes, sizes, forms and colour can find unconditional acceptance and respect? We are after all, not factory-churned mannequins!

Have you ever been a victim of body shaming? What are your views on it? Do share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

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