“Are you really going to eat all that frozen yogurt? I don’t think you need it”

“There’s some leftovers, let’s give it all to Mr. Dustbin here, shall we?”

“And other stories. Nobody here is a stranger to snide, nasty comments directed at overweight people. We have all been witness to what is called ‘fat-shaming’. Calling someone names, either in a private or a public forum, for their body shape or size is looked upon as a means of encouraging someone to get into shape, or worse, comic relief. Unfortunately, with the spread of social media and anonymous comments and Twitter handles, this menace has only spread, sometimes in the form of Internet memes or a 140 character-limit joke.

Other than the everyday examples of fat-shaming that can be found a dime a dozen, there are the celebrities who have come under fire - Kim Kardashian and Aishwarya Rai post their pregnancy and Akash Ambani, son of Reliance tycoon Mukesh Ambani.. It doesn’t help that Sanjeev Mohanty, MD of Benetton India, was once quoted saying “An overweight person wearing a sexy dress will not look good. That imagery will dilute the brand value.”

What is even more worrying is how commonplace fat-shaming is in our country, and how socially acceptable it seems to be to ridicule someone. Asking someone to take the next elevator trip up since you think the lift wouldn’t be able to support their weight, staring and laughing at people at gyms or in the swimming pool because you think they should be more careful about their appearance seems to be a norm rather than the exception.

Fat-shaming can have terrible consequences for people at the receiving end of public humiliation. Most people turn into chronic introverts and fear venturing out into public. Dinners with friends, going to the swimming pool in summers or taking up yoga classes for weight loss or even visiting the gym are sacrificed for the fear of being ostracized. What’s worse, studies have shown that those who have been stigmatized for being overweight are more likely to end up being obese, i.e. all those who say fat-shaming is to encourage people to get in shape do not have a valid argument. This is because overweight people usually end up internalizing weight-based stereotypes and are more likely to indulge in binge-eating.

All is not lost, though. Many people have made the transition from being uncomfortable about their weight to having made mental peace about the way their body looks. American radio producer Whitney Way Thore has famously danced her way to celebrity-hood, in spite of being overweight. Her dancing videos have gone viral on Facebook and YouTube and have brought a lot of attention to her ‘No Body Shame Campaign’. Here in India too, the winds of change can be felt. Most importantly, fashion houses have started designing clothes and retail outlets have sprung up for ‘plus’ sized people. Counters at retail fashion stores in malls have accepted the ‘normal’ Indian body-type and the average woman has no shame in picking up clothes for their size. On the fitness front, many have decided to take the challenge head-on and have carved out a new diet and fitness plan for themselves.

We can only hope this trend continues and more and more people realize how wrong it is culturally to shame a person in public based on their weight. Also, help people who you know that are overweight / obese, accept their bodies and be better poised to ignore rants and criticisms, focusing instead on living a healthier and brighter life.

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