Body Shaming in India, for better or worse

It’s a common phenomenon amongst Indians, commenting on another person’s looks, especially when it comes to their weight. Some think this type of critique is generally reserved for close family or friends, serving as either a compliment or perhaps a cause of concern.

In India, it comes at you from all angles: aunties at a parties, uncles in the lobby, co-workers and friends, and most recently, a maid in the lift of my building. Mind you, aside from my coworkers, I BARELY know these people. I’ve probably had one at max two interactions with them and yet they still find it okay to comment on my body.

My co-workers saw me after 3 weeks and one of them immediately commented on how thin I looked.

“Look at her face,” she told our other co-worker, “it’s gotten so thin. What happened?”

I haven’t intentionally been trying to lose weight, just more conscious about how and when I consume food. I told her perhaps I had; I’ve been doing physiotherapy lately but nothing aggressive.

The next day while entering the lobby of my building, an uncle stopped me to say hello. I had a knee brace on and was walking with my cane so planned to keep our conversation to a minimum. We exchanged pleasantries for a good 5 seconds before he said I had ‘gained.’

“You’ve put on weight, has it? You look heavy.”

I didn’t have an immediate comeback at hand and I bristled at his rudeness.

“No, in fact uncle, I’ve lost.”(I wasn’t sure this was even true but I was riding off my co-workers comments the day prior).

“Oh no, you are looking so chubby. Those chubby, chubby cheeks.”

He made a gesture suggesting expansion had taken place and pulled at his own cheeks. He was convinced I had become nothing short of a cow.

“I’ve always had chubby cheeks. It’s my thing.”

I looked at him sideways, curious with a half-smile. This man sees me in a brace and doesn’t bother to ask what happened to my knee but instead goes for my weight? I walked towards the elevator as he continued on about nothing I cared to hear. There was no room for niceness at that point. I was done being nice for social purposes plus I needed to sit down. I didn’t care what he thought of me. He eventually got the hint and waved goodbye.

I didn’t let the uncle’s comment get to me much that day. In spite of having muscular dystrophy, I can still walk and remain active. I knew my body and I appreciated all that it has done for me. It has let me travel to Turkey, Thailand, and Dubai in the last few years. It’s supported my decisions in going out and staying in and lets me exercise it in a mild manner. I finally reached a place with my body where I’m not criticizing it but rather expressing it as much love and gratitude that I can towards it. But here it was, other people’s unsolicited thoughts over my body flying at me

Later that evening, I had gone out to run some errands and was again, headed towards the lobby lift. A nanny/maid from one of the other floors whom I see on occasion called out to me

“Madam, you’ve decreased no? Lost weight it seems.”

The lift had come at that moment and I was totally caught off guard. I blurted out a response, something to the effect of, “Um, what? I don’t know. Maybe? Yes? Ok Bye.”

I was livid. I know most women (myself included) like hearing people say they’ve lost weight, it feels nice. In my case though, my goal isn’t about weight loss — it’s about taking care of my health. Even if I did lose weight, I’m not looking for outside validation. I didn’t ask for a compliment or to tell me whether the number on my scale has gone up or down. My weight isn’t indicative of a strict diet, upcoming event, or new relationship. Whether I’ve lost of gained, my ultimate goal is remain strong and happy, knowing I’m doing the best I can to stay functional.

The manner in which I handle these scenarios is so mood-dependent. Perhaps because these comment were coming at me back-to-back it all felt too much. I’ve been on the receiving end of much worse when I was younger and chubby from family members in India. It all boils down to your emotional state of mind. After the nanny/maid comment, I was a raging ball of anger. I immediately got inside my apartment and called a friend to rant.

Why is this so normalized? Why do Indians feel the need to comment on my body? I didn’t open myself up to this type of scrutiny. I feel obliged to reply back when I truly don’t want to because then I’m participating in it. Why do we have to arm ourselves with ready responses when this wasn’t a topic I chose to engage in? I don’t want to discuss my body weight with someone I barely know.

For better or for worse, I’m simply choosing to love my body no matter what.

Author: howstrait

Inspired by William Ernest Henley, this is The Gait. "It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." After I found out I had muscular dystrophy, I've been two lives: one that exists in India where I wear kurtas and speak Hindi more than English, and the other, an American girl who says 'thank you' and 'please' more than anyone likes. I'm learning and living for the moments when my curiosity gets the best of me. Follow me on this not-so-straight path of life. Thanks for stopping by!

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