A fat Cinderella?
Say hello to a 29-year-old who’s spent most of her life hating her body and hiding herself from the world. That’s me. Lately, I haven’t cursed myself for being overweight, but I still continue to hide myself. Flashbacks from my days in school made me realise what had happened to make me behave this way.
I thought I was making a mountain out of a mole hill when a psychologist I’m acquainted with looked at me and said, “Sudesna, body shaming is a serious issue.” She (Salony Priya, a psychologist who has been working with children and adolescents for years and heads Umeed counselling centre in Kolkata, India) confirmed that I was a victim. She listed the effects of body shaming: distorted self image, very low self-esteem, increasingly prone to negative peer pressure and depression. I had them all.
At school, impressing the opposite sex meant the universe to us. At the time, I remember my male classmates making mean jokes about how the table would break if I sat on it or how the floor would crack if I jumped up to express my happiness. I remember my female classmates sitting on the same tables and jumping about as much as they’d want to, but of course, I was “fat.”
According to Priya, a woman ends up feeling inadequate since society places more importance on her appearance rather than her personality. Eating disorders are another common effect. I stopped having lunch at school to avoid letting them see me eat. “Fat people shouldn’t eat,” I was taught this by a classmate when I helped myself to a second slice of cake at a school party.
When it was time for the annual play, I wouldn’t dare utter the words “main role.” How dare I suggest something so preposterous – Cinderella couldn’t be fat! And it wasn’t just in my head; a few classmates were quick to point out how I’d make a great fairy godmother with my plump figure and “motherly” appearance.
The body shaming became less frequent when I reached my final years of school, but the effects remained. I always felt insecure about my body when I went out on a date with someone. College in the US was a good break. I found myself being called pretty for the first time in my life. Nobody spoke about my appearance in a negative way. I was in a country where people didn’t make everything from a pimple to infertility their business, the way it was at home in India.
But then I returned and had to confront my neighbour’s everyday who expressed interest in my weight gain. “Ate too many burgers and pizza in college, eh?” I stopped trying to give an answer. Instead, I hid. I stopped interacting with human beings unless I had to. I started wearing baggy clothes and stopped caring about things like make up and earrings.
Thankfully, that phase has ended with new confidence gained from good friends, but even now, I dread bumping into a classmate from school for fear that the first thing he or she will say is that I’m fatter than before – which one or two have already done.
I don’t hate my body anymore. I eat and exercise. I try to be fit and healthy and not compare my body to anybody else’s. I have never criticised another person about his or her weight and do not intend to because I know the trauma that can result from my statements. Priya believes that counselling from the elementary school level may help. “Having defined rules and consequences for bullying including body shaming, can be effective in dealing with such problems,” she says. I wish that schools would take her advice. Children who grow up thinking that body shaming is a normal part of life, can grow into mean adults too.
Author: Sudesna Ghosh
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Date30.08.2013 | 14:40