The earliest heart-breaking memory I have from my childhood is when a classmate (who I considered to be a good friend) called me ‘fat’ in front of the whole class. Why? Because I had asked for an extra chocolate on her birthday. I knew I was chubby, but using that to bring me down, that too by someone who I trusted, was devastating for the 8-year-old me.
For days, I shut myself off from everyone and stopped eating chocolates in front of people. However, when nobody was looking, I’d have two chocolates instead of one.
We all have at one point or another (especially during our school) been called off for having a peculiar feature in our body. The kid with a dark complexion becomes ‘kaala’ or ‘kaali’. The kid with spectacles becomes ‘chasmish’. The chubby kid becomes ‘motu’ or ‘bhes’ and so on and so forth. Did we like it? Of course not! Most of us have haunting memories attached to this kind of body shaming. Why then haven’t we done anything to curb it? Fear of not being accepted into social circle is the top reason. However, do we want our kids to grow up the same way, hating their bodies and not standing up for themselves? The world will survive and thrive only because of parents and good people raising their babies right. Yes, it happened to us, the people of the past generations, but should we let it get passed on? I mean its not an heirloom or something that we need to pass down from one generation to the next. It must stop somewhere, so why not with us and why not now?
Based on some personal experiences, here’s what Heena had shared as some dos and don’ts around body-shaming:
1. Shame the act and not the doer of the act
Instead of blaming the one who does the body shaming, call the act itself bad. That’s like blaming the teacher for your child not scoring well (which is a discussion for another day)
2. Don’t give it back
Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind” and that explains everything I intend to say here. My daughter was called ‘hairy’ by a classmate who is dark skinned. To get back at her, my daughter could have easily called that girl ‘kaali’ but she didn’t’. Was my daughter not hurt? Yes, she was. But I’ve taught her not to retaliate to a body shaming comment with another body shaming retort.
3. Let it escalate to the parents/guardian
Instead of body shaming in return, let the problem escalate to the parents of the child who body shamed your child. A simple reply to a body shaming comment can be, “Have your parents not taught you manners?” This will immediately offend the child who did the body shaming. They will go and tell their parents about it and then there’s a high chance of the child’s parents coming to talk to you. There are two advantages here, 1. You know immediately what must have caused a parent to come and complain to you about your child, and 2. You can talk to the adults responsible for the child, because that’s how the child probably learnt about body shaming in the first place.
This method worked for me when a classmate of my daughter called her ‘hairy’ and my daughter replied with ‘Have your parents not taught you any manners?’The very next day that child’s parent came to me and I explained what must have happened for the matter to have escalated to them. When I said, “My daughter could easily have retorted by calling your daughter ‘kaali’ “, he understood the root of the problem and immediately apologized.
That was a parenting win for me, as I knew I had managed to resolve the matter in the correct manner.
If you have more suggestions and ideas on how to curb body shaming, please feel free to share. Together, we can and must make the world a better place to live. There are so many bigger problems our children will need to learn to cope with, let’s not make such trivial matters become one of them.