What’s on My Mind – A series on mental health for and by adolescents
Episode 3- Body Shaming
Publishing children’s thoughts and feelings on anything and everything they care about, means it was not surprising to see entries from youngsters pouring in on their body image. Of course we all care about our bodies and how we look. Adolescents also do so, but they care A LOT about it and about how others see them. Though many of us assume body shaming =fat shaming, our young writers at Bookosmia widened our worldview by adding overweight/underweight/ dark/ wheatish/short/lanky or having acne/pimple/ frizzy/ curly hair and many others as reasons to be targeted for body shaming.
In the second episode of ‘What’s on My Mind’ our podcast host, 13-year-old Bookosmian, Krisha from Noida set the tone better than any adult could have, opening the episode with the catchy song, “Pretty’s on the inside, see it in your own eyes…” bringing in a topic personal to her, having been a victim of body shaming herself and reading out a few pieces by young writers at Bookosmia with the audience and expert guest Karishma Mehra, psychologist, family therapist and counsellor and founder of Happiness Quotient.
Karishma speaks of how beauty is what lies within, even though it sounds cliched. It is about who you ARE and not what you have or you don’t. What people remember is how you emotionally relate to people and how you make them feel beautiful after meeting them. Body shaming is an underlying problem that is like a termite within us, harming us and the fact that we are openly talking about it is the first and big step in the right direction.
Size zero/ perfect 10/ hourglass figure- Why have these become more aspirational than intelligence and kindness?
One key contributor is ‘big brands’ that hire a lot of psychologists who assess what is aspirational for young minds. They impression young minds and create havoc in them. Pandemic led us to be online often and now even small children are exposed to advertisements.
Social media has also made a pivotal role to who we are. Insta, Tik Tok etc have created a world which impacts our society gravely making us believe this is how it has to be and that there is no alternate world.
We need to be able to see role models and icons who are kind and intelligent rather than great looking, if we want to have our young generation aspire for these qualities.
Unrealistic beauty standards affect all of us. Bollywood, K-pop, sports personalities- it affects all of us and the expectations from celebrities are even more damaging. Sania Mirza, India’s no.1 tennis player and a big philanthropist was trolled for putting on weight during pregnancy.
An interesting statistic discussed was that 41% of people surveyed in the US considered losing weight as the top new year resolution. Health risks of desperately reaching out to unauthorized weight consultants need to be further explored. In the face of massive exposure to social media, our young children need to be guided by parents and caregivers. Negative comments from parents further dampen the spirit of these kids. Krisha shared a beautiful quote-
How to not let body shaming impact you?
Sometimes people pass a comment in passing or as a joke. But when we internalize it, it is called the
body shaming and may manifest in anxiety around buying clothes, feeling conscious when meeting people, looking down in a party. It is not easy to cope with but we must try to overcome the anxiety and stress caused by it.
Seek help from parents, caregivers and professional. Open up about your concerns and reach out to those capable to help you.
Second, use this point to start your own inner journey and highlight the part you are good at it. Respond to body shamers not by fighting with them or letting it get you down but by focusing on your achievements and things you are good at. Let that become your story.
Finally, try to feel good about your body by taking caring of it. By feeling fit instead of trying to lose weight to fit into some clothes.
How can parents encourage their children to exercise? Not because they will look better but because it is healthier.
As parents we cannot preach and cajole kids by saying they are or will become fat if they don’t exercise. These statements coming from a parent further damage the child’s self-image.
Talk to them about not just the physical but mental benefits of exercise. Tell them that if you want to pick yourself mentally, physical health is the most important contributor. A 10 min walk in the park will make you feel good and improve your concentration even in studies.
Secondly, don’t dictate to your child. Inspire by motivating each other, being health aware yourself. Otherwise it is likely that the child will turn around and question your own physical health and your credibility in talking about it.
Finally, this is also an opportunity to turn social media to your advantage. Encourage your child to reach out to friends, read about the fitness journey of inspiring athletes, join running support groups, download sports athlete apps to find that perfect inspiration to focus on fitness, rather than obsess over losing weight. The moment you feel you can do it; half the battle is won.
For body weight and obesity, don’t talk about only the health hazard. It is important to change the narrative- not scaring them but how they can feel good about working towards their health. Labelling is one of the easiest way people start body shaming unconsciously. It can mar the self-image of the child who is trying to work themselves towards a place where they feel good about themselves.
Here is to confident voices and broader smiles for our younger generation!
This article is a creative output of Nidhi Mishra, Archana Mohan and Mugdha Kalra, co-founders of Not That Different movement to understand mental health and embrace neurodiversity. We encourage you to listen to the podcast on audible.com , hubhopper to make the most of this meaningful conversation yourself.