“This is for the first time I have shared about being body shamed, all these years I didn’t really share it with anyone. How would anyone react over it? I tried speaking to my mother and sister but they didn’t really care. I think the best part that happened after it, I went to another city” shared one of the participants.
We at Sahas have been intensively engaging in the conversations around body image with the adolescents as part of our gender and sexuality curriculum because it’s this stage, an adolescent become more curious about their body, starts comparing it with others and in the process somehow end up judging one’s own body leading to rippling side effects on self-esteem, beliefs, confidence, not being able to have conversations with own body and many others. Hence when I got an opportunity to co-host and event based on conversations around “Body Image” with the young people I quickly accepted the invitation.
Interestingly on the event’s day, unlikely of Delhi’s weather, there were heavy rains followed by police and MCD’s extended work in the Hauz khas village leading to sealing of most of the cafes. So the venue that we had booked for more than a month got cancelled at the last minute. All the odds being against the event, I didn’t give up hope, so after lot of struggle with got “Social” and in no time, the participants were guided to the changed venue.
It’s actually a struggle to channelize the chaos and disruption caused immediately before the beginning of an event to create space for the participants to experience the actual design, however I was all geared up for the next 3 hours of conversations around body with the young people :-)
After setting up context of the event and agreements, I did mind mapping around the word ‘Body’- from various attributes like sexy, beautiful, obese to sexual desires to societal implications- going to gym, dieting, beauty parlor to unrealistic expectations set up by media to body shaming, number of words/phrases found their way to the chart paper. It was weird that we have numerous almost an endless list of words that we associate with our bodies but we hardly have conversation around the same with ourselves or with the people around us.
In the next activity, the participants were divided into 2 groups where one of the group sits in the circle with their eyes closed and a label marked on their back, while the people from the second group will slowly move from one person to the other saying whatever that comes to them first by reading the label on the back of the people sitting in the group. And after first cycle, both the groups reverse their sides and same activity repeats. This activity makes an assumption that every person has negative stereotypes of other people that they may or may not be aware of. Many stereotypes are like dirt on that window. By becoming more conscious of that dirt, we can take steps towards cleaning our ‘windows’ and seeing the world and its people a little more clearly.
“I found it easy to throw the judgments easily over to the other people. I keep saying that people judge me so quickly without even knowing me, but here the situation flipped and I can actually see myself judging people. It was very different for me”
“Initially I was struggling to understand who am I? because I got to hear whispers from positive to negative statements. I didn’t feel good, just thought who has given them rights to say all this to me.”
“I was agitated, unhappy hearing the things said to me, I didn’t want to believe any of these, I kept saying to myself that these are not true”
“I understood that I am that girl with hairy legs, underarms that’s why all these people said things to me. But not doing waxing doesn’t make me unworthy of having a partner or having fun”
“I never got body shamed but these words were harsh, I was trying to figure out that may be many times I have done same to people close to me without thinking that it might hurt them”
Interestingly, one of the participants asked, “What is the difference between suggestions and judgments?” – It was a tricky question and soon all of us found ourselves sharing our thought process about the same. I feel there is a thin line between both, probably any suggestion given without asking for it goes into the line of judgments. Also passing judgments and giving suggestions has become so normative, that we didn’t even wait for a second before popping suggestions especially for people close to us without thinking for even a moment that they might not like it and also telling them to lose weight, wearing better clothes, guiding them to make up, gyming is something that everyone knows, telling them again and again doesn’t really help.
In order to make conversations more one on one, we divided the participants in the groups of 2, one being chai and other being samosa, they were invited to share their person story of being body shamed with one another.
“I knew her before, but here when she was sharing her story, I was pained, I could feel her emotions, and she is fighter who survived this”
“Initially we didn’t know how to begin but as she started sharing, strangely I felt so connected because I don’t like long hairs, wearing makeup and I am always taunted for my color and then our conversations actually sublimed and we forgot who chai was and who samosa was?”
“I thought I had no story, I was never body shamed but speaking to her, I realized that I have been commented on my body from time to time, somehow I have stopped keeping an account over it and started focusing on how I feel about my body”
In the next activity, we invited participants to draw their body on the paper given to them and write how they felt seeing it? It was beautiful to see them draw their body with such intensity and emotions and at the end we had some really awesome drawings with us!
“I have drawn my body and practically objectified in all possible way as the doctor does- my eyesight, chest, blood pressure etc, so according to me if Doctor says I am well and healthy I no longer have regards to what people tell me, I mean media and people around who keeps advocating about how our bodies should and must be. I think there are no should’s!”
“I am glad that while we talk about body image and body shaming, there is actually someone who has courage to draw his body parts. We never talk about it, it’s a hushed topic!”
This was followed by sharing on “how would have been your life if these judgments won’t be there?”
“I would have been more experimental. I couldn’t go to my freshers party just because I didn’t have a coat. I still don’t”
“If these judgments won’t have been there, I would have been freer and wear only shorts that’s it.”
“I would have been more confident, more interactive; probably I would have had more friends”
Since we had co-created a space where we were having conversations with our body, subjecting it lot of judgments- own and others, and our entire focus was our body so the last activity involved writing letter to one’s own body. It appeared to be a very beautiful process where participants used their time, colors, and thoughts to write to their own body without talking to anyone.
It was beginning of the conversation with the body, understanding it, making a bond with it because that’s something that we have forgotten and our body has taken a back seat! And then we talk about loving our bodies and thinking it to be beautiful, I believe we need to start by talking to our body and that’s what we intended to do with this event “I love my body”
Ellen Degeneres has rightly said, “To me, beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about knowing and accepting who you are!”