Ever wondered how to stop feeling bad after an encounter with a body-shamer? Namrata Giri shares her views on the harmful trend of body-shaming, and suggests we confront it directly. 

Body-shaming is an issue I hold close to my heart and am vocal about. Apologetically vocal.

We all encounter body-shamers, in our day-to-day lives. There’s the nosy aunt advising you to lose some weight to become a good marriage material; the husband passing a nasty jibe about some part of your anatomy; the over friendly colleague teasing you about your big bust, and the gym-friend who can’t resist passing a nasty comment about your big butt.

At times, well-meaning friends and people in our social circles also pass insensitive comments and jibes about our bodies, without realizing this qualifies as body shaming.

Abusive in its intention

Collins dictionary defines body-shaming as ‘abuse of a person due to perceived physical flaws’. Indeed, body-shaming qualifies as abusive behaviour, based on perceptions of imperfection.

This definition rings true, because it’s not just those with imperfect bodies who are body shamed. In fact, even those with the shapeliest bodies possible- including models and actresses- are victims of severe forms of body-bashing. For young girls today, the question of “how do I look”,  takes precedence over academics and career-building.

Bickering wife yelling at a shamed husband
Bodyshaming qualifies as abusive behaviour.

Media triggers the practice

We are exposed to tremendous body-shaming by the media, movies, and advertisers. Ads promote fairness creams, movies depict fat people as comic characters and magazines show grossly unrealistic air-brushed pictures of models. All these are triggers for body-shaming.

Add to this the increasing intrusion of social and digital media into our private lives. Our lives are more public, making us more susceptible to judgement, by anyone who cares to judge. Trolling has become fashionable, and trollers are gaining popularity and applause for actions that should be condemned.

May have disastrous consequences

Body-shaming can lead to a vicious cycle of judgment and criticism, causing deep psychological scarring and lowering of self-esteem. In some extreme cases, it may even lead to suicide.

Clearly, we must understand and address the issue, if we aspire to create a society that doesn’t judge men and women on the basis of their bodies. Instead, the focus should be on healthy bodies, and celebrations based on wellbeing, rather than appearance.

Why do people body shame?

People body-shame largely due to their sociocultural and religious upbringing. Most of us have been raised in an atmosphere that supports the criticism of women’s bodies. As children, we hear parents and elders shame a female character on TV, for wearing certain kind of clothes. So, this ends up getting ingrained into our psyches.

Instead of exercising the option of changing the channel, we engage in moral policing. In our naivety, we as a culture are responsible for initiating, encouraging and establishing body shaming as a normal conversation. We now dread to think of the proportion it has taken.

Namrata’s tips to tackle body shamers

Being able to deal with body-shaming in a positive way requires you to face that it’s not about you, it’s about the person who shames you.  It’s about his or her inadequacies, prejudices, biases, and values.

So, you can make the choice to listen without hearing. Just refuse to allow the words to hurt or devastate you in any way. Here are some direct actions you can take, to break the cycle of victim and abuser:

#1 Engage directly without being rude

As a culture, we are taught to be tolerant (for almost all the wrong things) and forgiving. Most times we act as if body-shaming is trivial, maybe because we have no clue how to deal with body-shamers.

But this is an inadequate response, since it’s imperative to confront body-shamers, right there on the spot. Unfortunately, I have realized this after years of being confronted with body-shaming.

If the body-shamer is someone you care about and trust, try to engage with him or her. Have an open and honest discussion about how hurtful his/her behaviour is to you.

The motive isn’t to humiliate anyone in return, but to educate people on how their hurtful their words are. Personally speaking, I have done this and it has worked in most cases. In general, the abuser ends up apologizing, at least!

#2 Don’t be apologetic about your anger

Do express your anger when body shaming is extremely hurtful, derogatory or humiliating. You don’t need to be apologetic about your feelings. And by anger, I am not suggesting rage or verbal or physical abuse.

Instead, I am saying that you shouldn’t hold back from letting your abuser know that you’re angry, and remove yourself from the vicinity. Don’t give the person a chance to explain, since body- shaming is unjustifiable. Unless he/she apologises, don’t re-engage either.

#3 Take a firm stand against body-bullying

People know I am active in my stand against body-shaming. I take a stand, not just for myself, but also for others being body-shamed. Over years, I have grown over the fear of being judged or evaluated.

You can do the same. Let your zero-tolerance for body-shaming be openly known. Once everyone knows you won’t stand any negative body-related comments, they will watch their words, around you.

#4 Educate and spread awareness

Body-shaming is an issue we brush under the carpet, for two reasons.  Firstly, it is mostly subtle, and secondly, because we have no clue how to deal with it.

Body-shamers aren’t aware that their behaviour is abusive, so it’s up to us to help them confront this. You can help raise awareness, by educating others to notice, and stand up against this.

#5 Accept and embrace your own body, and its flaws

Also, make an effort to spread more positive messages about different kinds of bodies. And next time someone says “You are too big”,  instead of saying “No, I am not,” go ahead and say “I have more of myself to love”. Embrace your body.

After all, you are much more than your body. Take pride in your stretch marks and curves. They are the testimony of your life, childbirth and more. Work on yourself to move towards a healthier and fitter you, not just to look good but to live a healthy life that is disease-free, pain-free, medicine-free.

Your body must support you to empower others, to take a step closer to a healthy life. As for body shamers, some will always be around, no matter what. So don’t let them get in the way.

Namrata Giri is a 37 year old mother, fitness enthusiast, economist and writer, who contributes to fitness magazine FitnessGuru regularly. Check out her blog