Catcalling and Bodyshaming: what's up with our roots?
Before addressing the common notions of fat-shaming and catcalling, check out the following stories to get an insight into our personal experiences.
“Grade sixth and seventh - when most girls start puberty, I was given the tag of 'chubby chick'. Unlike most girls, I gained more weight and developed body image issues and was later diagnosed with PCOS.
Concerned about my condition, my parents took me to a nutritionist and at a very young age, I was subjected to the concept of dieting. I remember being told that it was just a matter of time since as soon as I lose the extra kgs things will get normalised around me and I'll look just as ‘pretty’ like the other girls. Well, neither did I lose weight nor did the scenario around me change. There are a couple of experiences in my childhood that have scarred me to date, one of them being the mockery that I was showered when I popped open my lunch box during the break and it only contained fruits. Everyone saw me as the 'Fat chick' trying to lose weight, a vain attempt to gain acceptance. I also remember attending parties where I did not feel comfortable wearing short dresses, unlike other girls who seemed comfortable in their skin. My insecurities only grew deeper day-by-day.
With age and time, and after having increased exposure to social media, I started coming across many people and pages defending all types of bodies. These platforms advocated all types of bodies and emphasised on accepting oneself to boost your self-esteem. All these articles and the support I was offered did help me gain a little confidence but all in vain. While learning to accept me the way I am I also started accepting the way people judged me for my appearance. It undermined my confidence.
During my college, the work routine and hostel life further contributed to my weight gain. Right before the lockdown, I decided that since I was moving back home, I'll start working out again and lead a healthy lifestyle. But the moment lockdown was imposed, gyms and wellness centers became one of the first things to get shut. With the luxury to be at home and with no necessity to do any physical labour my weight tipped on a higher scale. The impact was such that I developed deformity in my spine, and my PCOS symptoms started flaring up again. I started starving myself and downloaded the calorie counter apps on my phone. I also included home workouts. However, I soon realised that I needed proper supervision for working out since my backache came back.
This pandemic not only worsened my physical condition but also had adverse effects on my mental health. Lifestyle induced stress and uncertainty about the future contributed to my stress binge eating and worsened my body image issues. My struggle through all this is still ongoing and I'm trying even harder to work on myself, but there is still the fear of the second wave of the pandemic which haunts me.
- Meenal Sharma"
“Just like the other girls around, I have been catcalled so many times, in so many ways that I have no clue where to start from. The first time I remember I was at a cyber cafe and there was no one around. I was in the 9th grade and thus too young to understand or process what happened. A shop vendor nearby started singing obscene songs and I found his gaze very uncomfortable. I instantly ran out of the place and I remember him laughing and saying 'aarey darr ke kahan ja rahi ho'. At that point, I could not process the whole event and thus did not even share it with my family. But I soon realised that I might as well get used to this. From then on, I heard multiple comments like 'ohh! what a nice ass', or 'how long your hair is'. I even heard them whistling or making sounds even during the ‘daytime’. Unfortunately, neither have the times changed nor have these instances reduced. Earlier I used to feel the pressure to 'get used' to it but now I know better- that no one is going to stand up for me if I do not call out such behaviour. Now I am brave enough to call these sick people out if they try to whistle at me, or try to grope me at a fest, or dare to comment on my body! They are not entitled to do so and if they can make me feel 'uncomfortable' then I can too call these people out.
Many people must have either gone through such ordeals or would have heard about them on a daily basis.
79% of women in India have reported incidents of catcalling, whereas 50% of women have been body-shamed at least once in their life. These horrific statistics only address the issue at a surface level but the causes run deeper in the roots of Indian society.
Discriminatory practices like favouring the male child over the female or the notions like ‘men being better than women’, or ‘boys will be boys’ and other stereotypical constructs develop a psyche in men where they grow up believing that ‘they are superior to women’ thus propagating a sense of entitlement in them’. A research by William Castello, a professor at St. John’s University, highlighted that men engage in behaviours like catcalling due to low self-esteem and thus feel the need to be rude to women to feel ‘strong’ and ‘macho’ forgetting the trauma that these women may go through. These thoughts are preconceived ideologies that have been running in our socio-cultural roots for generations.
Even in modern-day and age if one takes a look at the matrimonial columns of newspapers, then they can observe how the society expects the girl to be 'homely', possess a certain 'weight and hair', should have a 'certain complexion' and should be willing to 'compromise' with her career if necessary. These stigmatic and orthodox beliefs still cloud the universe of women and support the sickening foundations of catcalling, body shaming, and discrimination based on gender.
We all have become couch potatoes during this pandemic and almost everyone is streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime in order to escape from the reality. One has to keep in mind that shows released over such platforms have an ability to make an impact on people since the majority of people turn to them for their daily dose of entertainment. One such show released by Netflix was 'Indian Matchmaking', which portrayed the age-old patriarchal mindset of Indian society which demands the women to fulfil certain criteria before they can be declared ‘suitable’ for marriage. People conveniently gossiped about the show while sipping their evening tea and completely overlooked how it not only looked down but also questioned the strong, educated and independent women of our society. It did receive some flake and trended for some time but slowly faded without receiving appropriate criticism, clearly indicating how all of us have accepted it as part and parcel of our lives.
The pandemic has affected our mental health in every way possible. Everyone tried to cope with this in their own way, some binged a lot of shows, some got involved in stress-eating and many focused on eating less. A lot of people began engaging in working-out and it unfortunately fed on our insecurities of body image. As per a survey by Butterfly Foundation, seventy-five per cent more people visited their ReachOut’s content about body image compared to the same time last year (March 16-30 June 2019). Sudden changes in our working schedule, adapting to work from home culture, online classes, and examinations, and obvious pandemic related stress eventually contributed towards us operating as corporate slaves and stress-eaters. Even in our social-media, we see our celebrities posting about their home-workout routines and diets. This has added additional pressure on the already conscious people. Joining crash-dieting courses, following diet online, downloading workout apps are a few common practices many indulged in, without realising how different body types demand different nutrition and workout routines. Our inability to achieve a ‘desired’ shape has increased our levels of anxiety, stress, and prolonged periods of sadness about the same, hence forcing us to belittle ourselves and has contributed even more adversely to the pre-existing problems in the society.
Instead of only urging the government to make more stringent laws and expecting women to be more ‘responsible’, it is now high time that we acknowledge that it is us who are part of this problem. Until we make changes at our own home and raise voices among our own people, we cannot clean the massive social clutter which surrounds all of us.
So now the decision is on us, whether we will take up the broom to clean this clutter, or will we adjust to this stinging smell? The choice is all yours and ours.
by - Itti Mahajan | Meenal Sharma graphic by -