Sitting quietly in the classroom of my new school, I had never felt more out of place in my whole life. A guy turned to me and said, ‘aye moti‘ (hey fatso), which implied I needed to get out of his way. I was really offended by it and I remember that night at home I spent hours thinking of the perfect comeback for him. The next day, as I entered the classroom with my arsenal of comebacks, the guy introduced me to his friends and I was a part of his circle. Apparently, we were friends now. At the time, my desperate 13-year-old self couldn’t help but be elated as a new concept was introduced to me—bullying someone is the best way to make friends.
I continued to be fat-shamed for the next few months. I cried myself to sleep almost every night. I tried nearly every YouTube hack, quick fix, and ways to lose weight within a week or even a day, sometimes right before the day height and weight day were checked by school authorities. It was when I was 14 that I wanted to make a change in myself when I realised nothing around me seemed to change. After losing around 20 kgs, it should seem everything was fixed but it wasn’t. I still didn’t look at myself and loved the way I looked.
When I realised that I was perceived as prettier when I lost weight, I started associating fat with ugly and the fear of gaining all that weight back haunted me. I either ate too much or too little. The journey of actually loving the body I was in started with the acceptance of the fact that my self-esteem should not be dictated by how I look, confidence should not come by how fat or how skinny you are. In India, body shaming is not discussed and the impact a ‘joke’ can have on somebody’s life is completely disregarded.
Impact of body shaming
A study from the University of Louisville shows that skipping meals can actually slow down your metabolism and make you gain more weight than usual when you start eating the normal amount. This could possibly lead to believing that you need to starve yourself for the rest of your life to maintain that weight. It also causes constant headaches and gives the tendency of feeling tired and sluggish all the time. Another study from Piedmont shows that it can interrupt your ability to think straight and as teenagers, we’re constantly mentally challenged in our academic environments.
I circulated a questionnaire among my peers to get a more diversified view on the issue. Nearly 75 per cent of the respondents were from the age group of 15 to 19. When asked, “Have you ever been body shamed in school?”, 50 per cent of the respondents answered with a ‘yes’ and 19.2 per cent of the respondents answered with ‘may be’. This meant roughly 70 per cent of people have in some shape or form faced body shaming in school, an environment created to fight such stereotypes and issues rather than foster them. Even after such a majority of students facing this issue there are no clubs or help desks in most schools to address the seriousness of it.
The next question was, “Do you feel yourself associating your beauty with how fat or skinny you are?”, 45.9 per cent of the respondents said that they do sometimes associate beauty with how fat or skinny they are, while 32.4 per cent said that they always associate beauty with the physical appearance of their body. It is indeed common to believe that your beauty depends on your physical attributes, especially your size. Read this quote from Self magazine: “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” This reinforces the idea that I cannot be both. As if women like Lizzo, Aidy Bryant, Queen Latifah, and Beth Ditto hadn’t shown us the power of fat beauty.
You will be surprised when you find out that there are millions of teenagers battling the issue of body shaming whether it comes from a toxic household or the wrong friend group. When nothing around you seems to change, it is easy to believe something is wrong with you. But if you don’t love yourself the way you are right now, it will be impossible to love yourself even after you reach what you think is an ideal weight. I also want to clarify that there is no ideal weight. It is an endless cycle.
So when do you get to be happy? The answer is simple— right now. Acceptance of yourself is one of the biggest battles out there and the simple mantra to winning it is to realise that there is only one of you in this world. You were put here to be you so, don’t let anyone’s opinions about your body make you change yourself without your choice.
The author is a student at Sir Padampat Singhania Education Centre, Kanpur. Views are personal.