‘Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all?’
I was a chubby kid, probably the chubbiest among all my cousins. When I grew up and went to school, I was overweight. I probably weighed the most in my class. As a result, I was always left out of groups. I would never get picked for any games and frankly, I never felt like joining them either. I was always so conscious about how I looked – is my uniform too tight? Is my thigh looking thunderous? Am I looking unattractive in class photos? What if I never lose weight and fit in like the others?
Probably more than the health concerns that came with being overweight, I was plagued with concerns of societal acceptance. Trust me, the fear of social isolation and social rejection can be very scary for a child! I thought with age, things would change. I would be thinner, and the society would be more accepting of me. But as I grew, I was still the chubbiest, and the battle within continued…
One of my closest friends is a wonderful dancer. However, she is slightly on the heavier side of weight too. It is surprising and disheartening to see so many people judge her ability to dance based on her body size! “She is so fat; how can she be a dancer?” “Dancers have thin and beautiful bodies, I bet she can’t do half the moves that others can!” My friend, sadly, has struggled with body image and low self-esteem issues for as long as I can remember.
This is just the story of two girls who have been targeted by society again and again, just to be told that they are not ‘ideal’ and that they don’t ‘fit’ in. There are many other girls out there who have had to face this wrath of society. As women, we are often judged by how thin and fair we are! Traditionally, society has almost always expected women to be smaller and thinner than men. This has sort of been the norm since ages – a thinner body frame with wider hips has been associated with higher fertility rate in women. Evolutionarily, potential female partners were chosen based on how fertile they were ‘believed’ to be. One of the measures to ‘judge’ this fertility was based on how their body frames were designed.
Sadly, these traditional ideals of thinness have been passed down through generations. They are evident even today – advertisements usually depict women of a particular body shape, often associating thinness with beauty and eroticism; fashion models and actresses are expected to have a particular body size composition ratio (we’ve often heard of 36-24-36) and ONLY then are they casted in a show or a movie; Instagram, YouTube and TikTok influencers promote an ‘ideal’ type with a certain bust-waist-hip size; popular song lyrics comment on women’s body sizes and what they should do to remain ‘thin’…and the list goes on. When it comes to fairness, the list isn’t any shorter – we often come across matrimonial ads demanding ‘thin, fair girls’; and various beauty products preying on female clients by selling them the ideal dream of ‘fairness and beauty’.
It is sad to see how the media and society have associated terms such as thinness and fairness with ‘beautiful’, ‘desirable’, ‘attractive’, ‘erotic’ and ‘pleasurable’. It is even sadder to see how we women have internalized these unrealistic ideals, frequently using them as parameters to measure our ‘standard of beauty’. They have told us, for so long, that this is what ‘beautiful’ looks like. And we, being the fallible naïve creatures that we are, have fallen into their trap.
We have made ourselves so vulnerable while trying to meet these ‘body ideals’ that almost always, we end up battling with one of these issues –significant body image issues, eating disorders, struggles with low self-esteem, intolerable levels of social isolation, peer bullying (present both offline and online), body-shaming, depression, anxiety…and so on. Along with these, we also experience physical health issues such as heightened stress reactions in our body, poor immune systems, reduced quality of sleep and appetite, imbalanced hormones, tension headaches…etc. We struggle and struggle to meet these societal standards until one day when we succumb to them, either mentally or physically.
Upon realizing the detrimental effects of body shaming, many individuals have attempted to revamp the media industry and the larger society with the idea of promoting body positivism and body inclusivity. Today, the Barbie doll is designed to include a darker skin tone as well. Some models on the ramp have bigger body sizes and darker skin tones than what is usually ‘desirable’ for the field. Ideas of over-exercising and under-eating have been replaced with the concept of ‘Healthy At Every Size’, thus revamping how we understand and engage in fitness. Despite being slow, change is taking place, and we’ll reach there one day!
There is a very popular quote which goes – “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder!” Have we ever paused and pondered about which kind of beauty is being referred to over here? Is it the physical, transient beauty or the inner, soulful, permanent kind of beauty? And have we ever questioned, who is beholding us? Why are THEY measuring and judging the standards of OUR beauty? What makes us golden and special – some numbers on a weighing scale or the number of times we have been able to spread a smile across someone’s face?
I struggle with my weight today, and sometimes it becomes difficult to differentiate if I’m trying to shed the extra kilos for my health and well-being, or if I’m doing it to look like a certain body type. Being aware of how society impacts our body image is important, but it is equally important to realize that our internalized notions will not vanish overnight. Every time we find ourselves falling into this trap of body ideals, we must nudge and pull ourselves out of it. We must tell the mirror on the wall – “You know what? I’m the prettiest of them all!” Let us look after our health for all the right reasons. Let us also look out for each other. Together, let’s rise up and be brave! This article was written by Ms. Trivedi, a therapist on our platform. She is a passionate mental health advocate who believes that mental health services should be accessible and available to all. She believes that people are strong and powerful with immense capacity to become the best versions of themselves. Click here to book your first therapy session with Ms. Trivedi on Kaizen Wellbeing and begin your therapy journey with us.
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