The Aftermath of Body Shaming

Battling your inner demon in a conservative society

Monochrome image of a young woman sitting on the floor in a corner with her face buried in her hands - image is meant to portray a state of depression
Image courtesy Ahovsoyan, Wikimedia.

Date: 05 January 2018

It was the year 2007 and I was a mere fourteen years old when the boy I liked rejected me.

“You’re too fat and ugly for my liking. Girls are supposed to be thin and pretty with long hair”, he said. To add fuel to the fire, all my ‘thin and pretty’ friends had boyfriends, but not a single boy in my school looked my way.

Thus, began my decade long journey of self-destruction, low self-esteem, and a cargo plane load of emotional and psychological issues.

I can’t believe that it’s taken me a decade to realize the gravity of the situation, and how just how messed up all these years of body-shaming has left me – anxiety, depression, anorexia, you name it. 

“What would ma say? Nani (grandma) would flip her sh*t! How would daddy show his face in society if his daughter is abnormal?”.

Yes, that’s right – the taboo was so bad, that if you faced any of these issues, you’re almost immediately labeled as ‘mentally ill and abnormal’ or ‘psychotic’, and out casted as the bad egg of the family – nay, society!

– an excerpt from my diary

Heart breaking, isn’t it?

Coming from a typical conservative Indian background where issues such as mental health and body positivity have not really been discussed, I unfortunately did not have the freedom to speak out loud about the struggles I was facing. It took me eleven painful years to finally speak to my family about it, and although my father is still in denial about it, my mum took it quite well.

This only compelled me to think of a way to help the many young women out there who are in the same position as me. To provide them with some form of guidance, a direction to navigate their negative thoughts and self-doubt, bring them out of the black-hole that is a psychiatrists’s couch before it’s too late.

How does it even begin?

A study published in the journal “Eating and Weight Disorders” determines one of the key factors to weight related comments made by parents. The HuffPost argues that glamorously photo-shopped model in magazines are to blame. While The Sun claims that body shaming begins in high school.

While the above all stand true, the situation has actually become a lot more serious today. BBC debates that social media platforms are increasingly responsible for putting a young girl through this traumatic experience.

“Body shaming doesn’t have a starting age as such. It starts when a girl or woman’s skin colour is compared with her cousins or when she sees the bigger kid in cartoons be portrayed as lazy, slow or as bullies and the ideally pretty or thinner one be the superhero or be stronger, smarter and more popular”, explains Regina D’cruz, a counsellor for teenagers, specializing in self-esteem and anxiety in youth.

“In fact, social media adds fuel to the fire, as women tend to constantly compare themselves to other women on their feeds, unaware and nescient to the amount of Photoshop that has gone into that post.”

Darling, you’re not the only one!

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In 2016, global skincare giant Dove commissioned a beauty and confidence study as part of their ongoing Dove Self-Esteem Project, interviewing women from across 13 different countries. The shocking results of this study as shared by and Huffington Post suggest that body shaming has become one of the primary causes of low self-esteem in women leading to self destructive habits. This in turn not only affects the way women perceive themselves, but also the way they behave in a public environment.

Infographic showing Statistics as revealed in a beauty and confidence study commissioned by Dove Beauty - 10,500 interviewees between the ages of 10 to 60, Interviewees were selected from over 13 nations, In Australia…, 11th out of 13 countries in rank, 20% of women are body positive, 89% cancel commitments based on their appearances on a particular day, 5 of 10 women stick to their own opinion on how they look that day, 5 of 10 women stick to their own opinion on how they look that day


So, how bad could it get?

The effects of body-shaming, D’Cruz explains, are manifold, and these play a major role in important areas like work and relationships.

“One of the most obvious effects is how a woman views her body, which in turn affects her self-esteem and confidence, leading to excessive worrying, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, depression, self-harm and physical health problems.”

In a work environment, a woman might feel extra conscious about her outfit, when she has a presentation, anxiousness surrounding interviews or job promotions. These factors eventually lead to her avoiding challenges which could potentially stunt her career growth.

When it comes to relationships, D’Cruz elaborates, a woman might avoid meeting new people due to a fear of judgement. The self-doubt that has harboured within will make it hard for her to believe that someone is interested in her. Instead she may believe that the person is settling and might leave when a more attractive option comes around. This only creates a wall between the partners, as she subconsciously avoids getting intimate, or becomes insecure during moments of intimacy.

I don’t want to go through that! What do I do?

D’Cruz enlists five habits young people ought to adopt to stay body positive, happy and healthy:Positive self-talk Changing what you tell yourself on a daily basis. This can take the form of a go-to mantra like “My body is beautiful” or “I am sexy in my own way”. These can be repeated in front of a mirror, either out loud or in your mind. Also, one can write down affirmations (eg: You’re beautiful, You are worthy of love, There is no “perfect” body, only photo-shopped ones) on sticky notes and put them around their room or on their mirror. Surrounding yourself with body positive content online A lot of websites and pages are dedicated to body positive content. Watching videos on YouTube, following body positivity Instagram influencers, reading articles which do not body shame. Being more aware when comparing yourself to others Awareness is the first step towards change. This comes with practice. Once we catch ourselves in the act, we can work on substituting the negative with positive. For example, replacing “I’ll never be as thin as her” to “I am beautiful”. We must realize that everyone is insecure about something. If someone seems like they have the perfect body to us, she might hate how skinny she is or how her breasts are too. Adopting healthy eating habits Simple habits such as drinking more water, getting the required amount of macro and micro nutrients and eating regularly. This helps elevate your mood and makes you look healthier. A doctor can also be consulted to check if there are any underlying health issues. Joining a hobby class (like dancing or yoga) which encourages body positivity Dancing helps increase one’s confidence. The kind of postures, movements and facial expressions which you engage in, helps to boost how you perceives your attractiveness, beauty, strength, etc. When a person feels confident in the body they have, it spills over into other areas of their lives.

Freaking out and want to speak to someone?

Try reaching out to one of these amazing centres which provide support throughout the country:

The Butterfly Foundation: 1800 33 4673

Youth Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Headspace: 13 11 14

About Palak Mehta 4 Articles
Hi, I'm Palak. A public relations professional who's taking a break from work life to pursue my masters in digital communications and culture at the University of Sydney.

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