In the Indian community it often feels as though your worth is derived from your weight. Six months before I’m due to see my family in India again I’m already dreading the opening greetings which will undoubtedly revolve around how much weight I’ve gained or lost since the last time I’ve seen them. Either way it’s not a pleasant experience. This dread was reinforced a few days ago when I was went home for the weekend, visited a family friend’s house and was greeted by the exclamations of how much weight my sister and I had lost since the last time we’d seen these people. Outrageously one of the ladies at the house started to talk about how her 11-year-old daughter was “healthy” for her age (aka overweight) — and trust me she looked perfectly fine. It was a shocking reminder of a cultural conditioning that I’ve dealt with my whole life.
To preface this article, I want to say that this commentary is derived from my experiences in the Indian culture. Growing up in the Indian community you often learn to brace yourself for the inevitable comments that accompany all family gatherings and become the centerpiece of family gossip. Suddenly the girl who earned her MBA and started a new job finds her accomplishments overridden by the ten pounds she gained.
To be sure, this commentary on weight is not just relegated to women, but when taken in context of a society in which women and girls are already subjugated to imagery of an “ideal” body type that seems impossible to attain, and where “according to the National Eating Disorders Association, 42 percent of first- to third-grade girls want to lose weight, and 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat” this innocent commentary starts to attain a much more disturbing effect. It’s heartbreaking to think about what must going through that 11 year old’s mind after hearing her mom comment so blatantly about her weight, especially in front people she doesn’t even know well.
This cultural obsession with losing weight and being skinny continuously reinforces the idea that a woman’s beauty and worth is linked to how much she weighs. This toxic reinforcement doesn’t acknowledge the fact that being healthy is actually a combination of healthy eating and exercise. From small towns to high-society circles, such commentary is always prevalent and rarely called out. Often it is an unquestioned part of colloquial talk that really needs to be highlighted as having disastrous consequences.
I’ve always wondered why there is this obsession with weight in Indian culture — but that investigation may take sometime and may require delving into the psyche of the culture itself. For now, I have to promise myself to challenge the status quo and call out “innocent banter” by bringing to light the knowledge that such comments can have lasting effects.
The next time I see an 11 year old girl being told that she’s a little heavy for her age I’m going to stand up for her and tell her that her weight is not her worth. Being healthy is a lot more than a number on a scale.