Indian families are known to discuss weight commonly upon greeting. It’s one of the first things they discuss upon arrival: weight, education, and/or money. For the purposes of this post, let’s focus on the weight. Bollywood sensation, L’Oréal spokeswoman, and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai faced big criticism for not dropping her baby weight fast enough after giving birth to a daughter 2 years ago. Indian film “fans” and bloggers claimed Rai has a “duty” to keep up her image and should “learn from people like Victoria Beckham who are back to size 0 weeks after their delivery.” “Fat shaming” is something millions of overweight people say they experience daily, but Rai answered her critics by calling motherhood “amazing” and “special” and counting her blessings. She claims the hater comments about her body don’t stick, and I hope she’s right.
Shaming women about their bodies is nothing new; in 2012, news anchor Jennifer Livingston addressed a viewer who sent her a letter saying that her size served as a bad example. The man who criticized the anchor for being overweight claimed she was no “suitable example” to young girls; however, he found himself apologizing to Jennifer and admitted to fighting obesity his entire life. “Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular,” he wrote in his email that was published by Mrs. Livingston’s husband, fellow anchor Mike Thompson, who lashed out at the viewer by calling him a bully.
I, for one, happen to think the former Miss World and news anchor Jennifer Livingston are beautiful. This horrible message of self-loathing and body hate introduces the world of fat shaming to a sleuth of impressionable young girls. Sniping at celebrities or media personalities for their physical appearance is nothing new, but a Times of India columnist managed to hit an all-time low. Contributor Nasreen Khan, a beauty writer at Times of India, took the position that the legs of 10 famous women don’t stack up to the “perfect 10” that their faces imply. “Hot babes with ugly legs,” reads the headline and highlights the fact that there is no part of a woman’s body that is exempt from sexist body shaming. The list again included Aishwarya Rai.
Discrimination against overweight and obese people does not help them to lose weight, finds new research. In a study of 2,944 UK adults over four years, those who reported experiencing weight discrimination gained more weight than those who did not. The conventional standards that govern beauty are as far reaching as they are arbitrary, and they have real consequences for women who don’t meet them, especially those who don’t have any interest in forcing their bodies to comply with these standards. There are a plethora of mass media campaigns that encourage people to improve their diet and exercise more, but people feel much more motivated and empowered to make healthy lifestyle changes when campaign messages are supportive and encourage specific health behaviors.
“I thought it was sad that we have well-intentioned people who want to do the things that are healthy, and people are making that difficult,” Jason Seacat, an associate professor of psychology at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass. While it’s inspiring to know that some shamed folks use their experiences as motivation, we can’t put the responsibility on the victim to fix the problem. In a society that revels in mocking overweight people, the obligation to change shaming behavior really lies with those who feel they have the right to point, stare, or open their mouths to say something rude. We all have body parts that make us self-conscious, but there is nothing worse than those who would fan the flames of that insecurity.