LifeTC46 Unplugged: The Weight Of Words & Their Impact On My Mental...

TC46 Unplugged: The Weight Of Words & Their Impact On My Mental Health & Body Image

Bollywood actor and body positivity champion Sameera Reddy strongly promotes staying fit and healthy while loving our bodies. Recently, she took to Instagram on Monday to post a screenshot of a follower’s comment on one of her posts. The person had targeted the actor by asking her, “Just a question, if you were so confident of your body, why are you working out so much to lose weight?”.

Replying to the comment, the 42-year-old actor opened up about how the definition of the body varies for everyone. Sameera stressed the importance of allowing acceptance and goals to go hand in hand. She wrote, “Everyone has their own definition of the body; and we can’t judge it. Acceptance and goals go hand in hand. Whatever the goal may be. The #bodypositivity movement focuses on the uniqueness of every shape & size. To uplift, to empower and to inspire. Whatever your choices may be. #barewithsam #imperfectlyperfect #mondaymusings #comment4comment.”

This kicked off in me, a thought cycle about body shaming, physical and mental health.

Today, in our society, physical appearance often overrides health considerations. “Yaar, tu thoda weight lose karke dekh, ladkon ki line lag jayegi”, “Moti rahogi toh akeli reh jaogi”, and anything else you can think of—I have heard it. Felt it. Experienced it. Dealt with it. Shaming and judging people for their appearance was unfortunately the norm when I was growing up. It was quite easy to call someone “kaali”, “moti”, and whatnot. There were certain standards men and women had to live up to and it didn’t just stop at adulthood. Kids would bully each other relentlessly, often teachers taking a part in making these “out of the box” students feel even more left out.

Let me give you an example. You meet a group of all female young adults. They are all in college, pursuing their dreams, experimenting with their looks and dating for the first time. In this group, you will inevitably find labels attached to each one. The tall, skinny one who dresses trendy is the “pretty” one, the one who wears glasses and is above average intelligence is the “nerd” and then there’s the DUFF. The Designated Ugly Fat Friend. From being taunted and harassed for her looks to being treated like a “dude”, this girl is often the butt of most jokes or thought of as an asexual punching bag.

Puberty hit me like a bag of bricks at 13—I went from a lanky, hyperactive child to an overweight, shy teen. The changes in my body along with the negative male gaze and judgmental public gaze put an end to my happy, chirpy personality. I turned into a quiet, reclusive girl who had a small group of friends and books to comfort her. 

I hid behind oversized clothes meant for women in their 20s and shopping was always a disaster. I distinctly remember being called my friend’s mom by a guy I had a crush on. Just because, at the time, I was ‘dressing for my body type’ as I was told to by the magazines and media I was growing up on.

This and then many more such incidents shattered my self-confidence. I limited my social life to a close-knit group of friends, refused to look at a boy again and dived into a world of stories. My fashion sense was limited to baggy tunics and jeans, salwar suits and the emotional baggage of being targeted for my weight. Every time I tried pushing my limits, be it a bodycon top or the very first dress I wore, it garnered negative attention. And back into the wardrobe went these “bold” clothes along with my body image. 

Looking at myself in the mirror was just a quick check for food in the teeth or out of place kajal. Never could I look into my eyes in reflection and smile, nor offer myself a compliment or appreciate something about the physical form of the person looking back at me in the mirror. 

My body was unwanted, undesirable in society’s eyes and I started hating it too. The depression and social anxiety made my college years unbearable. Everything I did was about becoming part of the background, to stray as far away from attention as possible.

And the world wasn’t changing much. Being diagnosed with PCOS in my early 20s led to an even bigger problem. It was the very first time that I missed my period for 3 months. We went to a gynaecologist who had some blood tests and sonography done. This renowned doctor, who successfully delivered my cousin’s baby, essentially saving their lives, was just cold. She had no hesitation telling me that I might never have kids, may need medical intervention to get pregnant and that I immediately needed to start losing weight. Weight has been the biggest stigma, not for me but for the world. It seems that being overweight gives the world an all-access pass to comment on your body and treat you like a community project that needs fixing. 

The transformation came slowly at 25, when I finally saw the world for what it was. A huge and varied collection of people. The same social media we curse today was a boon for me. I met amazing people via the internet, some were YouTubers who taught me self-acceptance, some were models who taught me how to love my body and some were friends who pushed me towards getting help for my mental health. 

YouTuber Lilly Singh showed me that just like I have insecurities about my looks, so do thousands out in the world, and that all of us need support. Model Ashley Graham imparted her wisdom that there is no one standard definition of beauty or one perfect size. And Deepika Padukone taught me that seeking help for your mental health issues should be a norm and there’s nothing to be ashamed about it. Yes, perhaps this is a lot of pressure to put on public figures to set the right examples, but for me, it was the same models, celebrities and people I saw in magazines in my teens that led to my body dysmorphia in the first place.

It has taken me 5 more years of loving my body to address my mental health. Today, as I battle anxiety, I understand and know that my body is no longer the cause of any of it. 

Humans come in all different shapes, sizes, shades and personalities. 2021 no longer conforms to the regressive standards of beauty set by society. The new generation doesn’t accept any kind of shaming—it’s the first concrete step towards true acceptance and inclusivity.

I am glad I didn’t fall prey to an eating disorder or worse. There are several women out there who are struggling to love their bodies and have already taken drastic emotional and mental hits. These can take a lifetime to heal. And as I stand in front of my mirror today, I smile back at the young, naive teenager who knew not of the cruelty the world held but only understood that it can be a beautiful place.

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