Recently I read an article in Nepali Daily Newspaper My Republica entitled “Body Shaming”. I totally could relate with the article. It happens everyday: Body shaming. The writer is Shubha Kayastha. The author is a feminist, student of gender studies and rights activist. She is senior to me in college. Here is the full article.
What do you expect from your family, friends, relatives and neighbors when they see you after a long interval? Perhaps they would ask about your whereabouts, your health and future plans. Well, I had a bit different experience when I came home after being away for a couple of years for work. Rather than asking how I was doing, many of my near and dear ones circled the conversation around my current looks. They were concerned how my gahugoro (wheatish) complexion had changed to a darker shade of brown, debated whether I had put on weight, or had paunches.
There is another recent incident in a photo studio in Bhaktapur district where I had gone to develop my picture for machine-readable passport application. After my picture was taken, the guy editing the picture (basically who was just supposed to erase my ear stud) started brightening my face (or doing something technical) to make my skin look fairer (to be clear, South Asian version of fairer). I was annoyed and asked him gently, “Don’t make me any fairer than I am!” But he turned a deaf ear to me as he was so focused on his passion of making people ‘beautiful’. In my third and loud request, he changed back my skin color to the ‘original’. I noticed some lines of surprise and irritation in his face as he must have wondered who this silly woman was!
It didn’t take me by a great surprise to see to all these actions and reactions from people. The concept of a certain type of beauty is ingrained in our society. It is affecting the day-to-day life mostly of girls and women. Boys generally don’t go through this as their assets are supposed to be brain and muscles. But the minute a girl is born she is categorized as beautiful, ugly, hissi pareki (a looker) amongst others.
I remember my mother telling me that I was born with a darker skin (compared to what I have now) so she would hide my forehead with the back of her saree while taking me to hospital and elsewhere to avoid unnecessary comments about my skin color from others. That’s how my nickname at home became Kali (black girl).
Discrimination on the basis of your skin color/tone, body weight, size and figure, is not right. Since your childhood days, you would be told to eat less or more depending on your size, as you need to look slim to appear pretty if you are a girl. Before you step in your adolescence, you are exposed to various advertisements of whitening creams for your face and body because according to them, white skin means you will get a charming boyfriend/husband. Factors like skin color and body size are seen as major components for the success in bagging a husband, especially if it is an arranged marriage. It brings you confidence to face the world and the career you desire and you become a role model for your society.
The digital world tells you that if you are fat, you are unhealthy. It is a matter of shame, so maintain diets or take medication to reduce your weight. They also make you believe that your skin should not have any acne, stretch marks and having body hair is a taboo. Beauty magazines project women with photo-shopped 36-24-36 body size and in clothing stores we see clothes on perfectly carved mannequins with big boobs and butt with no stomach. Most of the songs we listen to, poems we read and movies we watch, constantly project what it is to be a pretty woman through the words such as mriganayani (deer-like eyes), chhineko kammar (curved waist). Women adhering to these beauty norms dominate the screen.
Sometimes body shaming comes in a different package. To say, “She would be more beautiful if she put on a few kilograms” or saying, “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful” is equally harmful. Beauty is not conditional, one can be fat and beautiful; it is not an either/or option. As the Internal Acceptance Movement has it, “Real women come in all shapes and sizes”.
There are aspects of our eating habits linked to our health and everyone wants to maintain good physical and mental health. But that does not mean you have to ‘look fit’ within the criteria defined by others. Staying healthy doesn’t mean that it should come with the bargain of self-disgust with one’s own body for being huge, dark or having stretch marks after childbirth. No one has right to make us feel bad about our own body and skin.
Globally there are many campaigns and programs by women rights activists and feminists against colorism and body shaming of women. In social media, Facebook groups like ‘Not Fair, Still Lovely’ and ‘Dark is beautiful’; twitter handles like @DarkMatterRage and @blackfems have been bringing issues of colorism and body shaming to open discussion for the world to reflect on the stereotype of beauty. Not to go very far, Bollywood actresses like Nandita Das and Sushmita Sen have been speaking openly against colorism in the South Asian mainstream media.
However, there are hardly any discussions around this topic in our country. We are yet to critically look into our cultural norms and social values for instances of discrimination based on beauty norms. At least we can be careful of what is going around us and what we are saying to others and what we have been hearing from others. Commenting on someone’s skin color and body should not be brought in our day-to-day conversations.
We should not forget that we have rights to tell others off for passing unnecessary judgments about our body. We are so much more than just a piece of meat.