Whether it’s “too fat” or “too thin”, it seems nothing is really acceptable to Pakistani society and its Goldilocks culture of body-shaming. There is a tiny golden acceptable area of “Just right” and unless someone, especially women, manage to reach that sanctuary, you can be certain that they will be body-shamed until they hate the body they live in.
“Too fat” and “too thin” are the very obvious manifestations of this culture but it shows itself in very many subtle ways too. “Why do you eat so much and not work out?” and “Do you not get food at home”, followed by laughter from one end and an awkward half-hearted smile from the other, are other ways in which body-shaming has entrenched itself in Pakistan’s society.
It’s not even just weight which Pakistanis are obsessed with. There are also both subtle and unsubtle demands for a perfect complexion, a perfect height and perfect hair. Anything that falls short of these expectations is shamed.
The worst part is this shame isn’t just bad in and of itself. It causes severe mental and often-times leads to physical trauma. Speaking to Dawn News, Bushra Askari, a psychologist working in a rehabilitation centre explained that body-shaming leads to “a devastating effect on a person’s mind that the victim suffers from low self-esteem, lack of confidence, social anxiety, and even inability to work in real life”.
While proponents of body-shaming, although they would never call it that, defend themselves by saying they do it out of love and caring, this is hardly ever the case. It is usually done from a place of little empathy and a lot of judgement and condemnation. It often crosses boundaries that have been set and fails to lead to anything good.
Even if body-shaming somehow ends up working and the shamed is convinced to lose weight, firstly this motivation comes from a toxic place and, secondly, they may resort to exceedingly unhealthy ways of losing or gaining weight such as crash dieting and junk-food binging. Such tactics usually end up working only short-term and when one eventually regains their original body, or gains too much fat, they end up with worse mental problems and are shamed even more by everyone around them.
Naturally, that’s not to say that weight should never ever be discussed. There are times when a loved one is dangerously underweight or overweight and it’s necessary to discuss it with them. But there are boundaries to be maintained.
First of all, unless you’re very, very close to the person in question, you do not have a right to initiate a conversation with them about this. It crosses boundaries and enters into uncharted territory which they are not willing to traverse with you. Unless you have that kind of relationship with them or they initiate the conversation, don’t have it.
Secondly, if the conversation does happen, it should come from a place of love and empathy. Most people who have weight problems are well-aware they have weight problems and have likely already tried to combat it and failed. If remarks and discussions come from a place of judgement, nothing productive is likely to happen. If they come from a place of sensitivity, love and empathy, it’s significantly more likely to lead to a positive result.
More than anything, Pakistani society needs to end this idea that large or small are necessarily unhealthy. Everyone has different body types and while some are associated with greater health risks, the biggest health risk comes when someone is made to hate their body. There is no one Goldilocks golden area of “Just right”; the human body has more nuance than that.
And even if one does have a body that could lead to major health problems, the solution is never to shame them. The solution is to communicate with love and empathy and help them achieve what they recognize to be best for them.