Culture

The one big difference between body-shaming and discussing weight issues

Here's how to draw the line

In the recent movie Fanney Khan, debutante actor Pihu Sand's character Lata, struggles to get the world to look beyond her weight and appreciate her musical talent. The jibes and insults she faces are all too familiar. It's one of the few times Bollywood has not used fat people as comic relief and taken a stand against body-shaming.

It's 2018 and we like to call ourselves woke individuals. So now when we notice a friend or family member pile on some extra kilos, we don't know how to bring it up. Is it okay to point it out? Because the last thing we want is to be accused of fat-shaming. There's one key difference between body-shaming and having an honest conversation about someone's appearance. "It's the same thing that separates humour and satire  the difference lies in how you say it, not what you say," says Dr Kedar Tilwe, consultant psychiatrist and sexologist, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai.

According to Dr Tilwe, the basic definition of fat-shaming is when you use terms that are derogatory or socially stigmatising words. You may not mean it, but your words could lead to eating disorders, loss of self-esteem, anxiety and depressive tendencies. 

So, how does one discuss obesity or excess weight without touching a raw nerve? "Avoid making an obvious statement like, 'You're putting on weight', and just leaving it at that. Follow it up with a helpful suggestion like, 'Let's go for a walk together'," recommends Dr Tilwe. The person may or may not take up your advice but your comment shifts from mere criticism to demonstrating genuine care, empathy and a willingness to support.  

Pihu Sand

Today, as a society, we're a lot more conscious about the far-reaching and damaging effect body-shaming can have on a person's psyche. And this includes not just fat-shaming but thin-shaming as well, where a slim person is mocked for their slender frame. While this is progress and a welcome change from people being nicknamed by their physical attributes, are we becoming hyper-sensitive? "The nature of body-shaming is malleable — it changes from person to person. Most times, people make fun of those who are not even medically obese. There will always be banter between grown-ups and friends have the right to pull your leg —you need to let it go. But if it goes overboard, you can put your foot down and let them know your point of view," he says.

The important thing to realise here is that your weight doesn't define you. The world can be cruel and body confidence is something that can be worked on and boosted. When it comes to overweight children, parents need to make them feel accepted. "Avoid comparisons  not just with siblings or cousins but also with the child's previous body frame," says Dr Tilwe. When dealing with children too, follow up your comment on their weight with a helpful suggestion. 

Often, when a thin person puts on a bit of weight, but not enough to cross over to the other side, their concerns are brushed aside. As long as you're within the appropriate BMI, you'll most likely be asked to stop being concerned. "If your friends are not taking you seriously, get them to empathise. Usually, people make a statement and wait for a response. Instead, say you've put on weight and explain why it's bothering you even if you haven't become fat," he says.

At the end of the day, it's up to us to be aware of the weight our words carry and know when to draw the line. No matter which side of the spectrum you fall on. Let's also bear in mind that some folks may actually be okay with their body size, even when they don't fit into conventional beauty standards.