A heart-breaking story about what body-shaming does to kids’ confidence – And how to get over it

body shaming articles - ZenParent

Growing up as an average kid isn’t easy. Ask me. For as long as I can remember, I was the focus of every aunty who remotely knew me. Be it studies, sports (which I barely played), health and, most importantly, eating habits. With eating habits also came the uncalled for statements about the way I looked, especially matters concerning my body.

Now this bit hurt.

I was only a child who was being told that I could be better “only if I” did this or that to improve the way I looked. I remember clearly when a relative who was visiting us once remarked that I must stop eating all that butter that was apparently “showing” on my body. Mind you, I was 10 years old when that happened. At an age when I should have been watching Cartoon Network, I was asked to watch what I was eating. I became extremely fussy about food and picky about the clothes I bought. I would be nervous when I had to attend a gathering since I knew (because I was told) that I wasn’t the best looking kid.

effects of body shaming kids - ZenParent

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My self-confidence took a beating when one day a rather evil relative had the audacity to tell me that if I didn’t work hard on improving the way I looked, no boy would marry me. BAM! That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. You see, teenage is that vulnerable time when you think your whole world will come crashing down if no one married you. Every teenage girl wants to ultimately get married, however, once you do, you realise that it wasn’t so bad when you were single after all. So there I was all of 15 and trying so hard to fit into the ideal girl’s image of what every aunty thought was right. This was by far the most difficult time of my childhood where I often brooded about how I looked. I tried hard; I did everything in my capacity from starving to not attending family functions.

Now, when I look back and recollect those tough times I wonder if it was all worth it. Yes today I am probably the most confident person in the room and I have smarty pant sarcastic responses to every demeaning question or statement an aunty might throw at me. Yet sometimes I wonder because these questions bother me from time to time;

body shaming kids story - ZenParent

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Who defines what a perfect body is?

And what is a perfect body?

But most importantly, is this idea of perfection affecting your child?

You would have often read instances of celebrity body shaming that happens every now and then from Serena Williams to Sam Smith.  Recently our favourite Bollywood family was in the spotlight when Amitabh Bachan’s granddaughter was body shamed for being too skinny at her school in England. Her mother Shwetha Nanda wrote this lovely piece for DNA which touched me because as a mother sometimes you are helpless, you cannot protect your child at every stage of his/her life but what you can do is prepare them for the cruel world. Teach them that the world is always going to have an opinion which they are going to freely express but they shouldn’t be limited by these opinions ever. There is more to themselves than what the world thinks of them in terms of their body.

Acceptance is essential, however, accepting themselves for who they are and how they look is imperative. If you are not going to tell your child that there is more to a person than just his/her appearance chances are that they are going to associate a six pack and a Barbie silhouette as their life goal. With the constant buzz about the society’s paradigm about an ideal body in every newspaper and magazine you may find it challenging to explain to your child who is exposed to media what an ideal person should look like or be like. Therefore instil other values in them like kindness, honesty, love, humility and patience than focusing on a certain size. Real people can be extremely skinny and short or can have stretch marks and cellulite, they age every year and their skin shrinks causing wrinkles. They aren’t defined by the curves of their bodies or chiselled cheekbones and biceps, yet they are real because they are tangible and not photo-shopped. Teach your children to define themselves through their thoughts, words and deeds rather than how they look and dress.

Like every other phase this too shall pass, one day they will grow up and look at themselves and be thankful to you for making them see beyond a world that is unrealistic and prejudiced. Until then keep trying and if you can don’t let too many aunties near your child. Good luck.

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