The human body is by far the most complicated piece of machinery a person owns. Science has spent decades trying to uncover the origins of human life and how exactly the body works. Current research suggests that there are over a trillion cells in the human body, roughly seven hundred named skeletal muscles and yet society has constructed a narrative where the external body is judged by standards that are arbitrary and man-made.
It is a common narrative that society judges people based on their appearances and the pressure to fit in by looking a certain way is increasing day by day. The rise of social online communities makes sharing of these standards and accesses ability to these judgments just a few clicks away. The media constantly portrays images of the perfect body and conveniently omits the extreme and sometimes, dangerous lengths people go to achieve it. Many women and men report either feeling uncomfortable about their bodies and some report body shaming by others. Many victims of body shaming do not talk about their experiences because they feel embarrassed or blame themselves for looking a certain way. Body shaming can be an extremely traumatic and disturbing experience at any age. Below are some strategies to deal with body shaming.
- Every-body is different: While we all belong to the human race, our bodies have evolved from geographically different areas and therefore there is variation in body structure. Depending from which continent your ancestor’s descend from your body structure, skin colour, facial features and hair growth, among other things, will vary. Therefore, it is impossible to have a global standard of beauty. It is important to remember that your body is a product of genetics and therefore, you have no control over some things.
- Confront the person who is body shaming you: Sticks and stones may break my bones; But words will break my heart…It is never okay to make someone else feel bad or uncomfortable, majority of the time, people who enjoy reveling in others’ discomfort do not expect to be called out. By directly addressing how someone is making you feel you take back the experience and make it your own. Communicating your feelings can also help bring awareness to the opposite person who can, on occasion, be unaware of how their sentiments and comments have affected you.
- Judgments and comments are easy to make but hard to take: In India, there is an unfortunate custom which makes commenting on an individual’s appearance and accepted social practice. While I advocate for this behavior to be scrapped altogether, I am aware that it continues to take place rampantly and unapologetically and that change is a process. A key way of dealing with body shaming is becoming an advocate of the school of thought: my body my business. As Gandhi said “be the change you want to see,” refrain from making comments on others appearance in general and if you notice someone doing it not participate in it and try addressing your observation with the said person.
- Practice self-care/love post the event: The world can be a harsh place and after experiencing a jarring experience like body shaming, it is important to take care of oneself. Dress in an outfit that makes you feel great, take a yoga class, go dancing or simply dig into your favorite dessert and unwind. By practicing self-care/love you are reinforcing your belief that you can feel happy and do not need external validation to do so.
- Do not make their judgment your inner voice: It is easy to let someone’s insensitive comments get inside your head and become facts. The truth is one person’s opinion doesn’t make it a fact. It only has as much power as you give it importance. Even when you are feeling low it is important to differentiate what thoughts are your own/organic versus what thoughts have been triggered by the event. It is also helpful to actively and consciously follow body positive websites like iweigh and read about how other people have dealt this experience or ones that are similar.
- Process your experience with a professional: Sometimes an experience like body shaming can be extremely triggering for an individual. It may lead to feelings of low self-esteem, body dsymorphia, anxiety and depression. It is helpful to seek professional help if you find yourself ruminating over the experience, contemplating taking extreme measures to change your appearance or simply feeling low after the event.
Although it sounds clichéd to say that beauty is about the internal and not about external, it is true. Beauty is a state of mind- no matter how you look, if you do not feel beautiful or think you are beautiful everything else is redundant. As a society, we need to move towards a more accepting and more positive outlook but until we do so, it is up to us to ensure we keep ourselves mentally and physically safe.