I’m sure your first impression of this article was “wait, what?!” because just like most people, you probably thought I had it easy being the light-skinned, pretty girl who seemed to be super happy with herself. A part of that sentence is correct - I am happy with myself but not because I feel like I have the easy way out.
This might be a sensitive topic to some of you so please do continue reading at your own discretion.
I grew up constantly being body shamed for the way I looked. I was always the chubby kid, the one who was called fat, the one who wasn’t allowed to be on the swings because it might break, who was constantly compared to others my age and received comments about my body image as a child. And mind you, half these comments weren’t from my peers, it was from the older folks. Only if people magically had a filter before words left their mouth. Anyway, my size didn’t have much to do with my eating habits. We practiced healthy eating 95% of the time at home and I’ve been a dancer since the age of 4. I mean, there’s only so much a kid can do, jeez! Lol
Fast forward to years later, I continued to hear comments about my weight to a point where I became extremely conscious about how I looked and started taking healthy eating a bit more seriously. I thought I needed the perfect body to be accepted by people (men) around me. However, in my early 20s, I went through a pretty low phase in my life, dropping over 20 pounds in a few months, which completely transformed the way I looked. Even though the sudden weight loss was frightening, the part of me that suffered from low self-esteem all my life was finally relieved. I could finally feel comfortable in my body and fit in! But, what I did not anticipate was receiving the complete opposite. I was body shamed once again for looking “too skinny” and “sick.” Everywhere I went, I received more of a “what happened to you?” rather than any compliment I really wanted to hear. People questioned my parents to ask if everything was okay. It was nothing short of humiliating.
Now switching topics to the other aspect - my skin tone. Shadeism (shoutouts to Nayani Thiyagarajah!) is “defined as the discrimination against an individual on the basis of their skin tone.” And naturally, we tend to focus on discrimination against individuals of a darker skin-tone and the issues they face due to historical evidence of injustice and partiality that exists. With all respect to their struggle, I hope to emphasize that being of one particular skin tone does not give people the right to belittle those of any other skin tones. Due to the visible acceptance of lighter skinned tones, we’ve unconsciously (or consciously) created a hatred towards those who have light-skinned tones so we face name-calling and discrimination too. I’ve been affected by this many times. I remember being told that light skinned girls are not beautiful by someone who had a daughter who was of a darker skin tone than me. I’m pretty sure the intention of that comment is very evident but I never really understood why it seemed like an easier solution to belittle someone to make someone else feel better rather than encourage the idea of equality amongst the two.
My looks have been used against me to speak about my success as well. Every time I achieve a milestone, I am bound to hear a response like “She gets the support because of her looks.” I am not in denial of my looks. I am extremely grateful for my genes and I am confident with my looks. But I work just as hard to achieve everything that I have. To downgrade an individual’s hard work by comparing it to their looks is intolerable.
So there you have it. The other side of the story that’s usually not spoken of. Being body shamed or name-called as a child can leave permanent scars on individuals. And for those of us who have experienced it as a child, it can have long term effects in the way we view ourselves. But it's up to us to embrace our physical features and take care of our health through nutrition, fitness etc to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of any comments made towards us, we need to learn to not take it personally and realize that it's coming from a place of lack that exists in those who make those comments rather than in us. I know its so much easier said than done but its possible to practice with time. Our self-worth is our responsibility and confidence is something we can build from within. As Eleanor Roosevelt says ““No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We can choose to be around people who accept and appreciate us for the way we are and do the same for those who look different from us. There is more to us than our physical features and I truly hope this write-up will give another perspective on this issue.
On the other hand, we need to be more conscious of the comments we make about others’ physical features. Every time you’re about to criticize or judge someone, pause for a few seconds and think about where that thought is coming from. We never lose by being kind and accepting of each other. Before you judge someone based on their looks or think they have it easier, please do take a moment to realize that we don’t get to choose the way we are born. But what we have control over is how we perceive and treat ourselves and others. Before we find flaws in others, we need to make sure the lens we view them through is not smeared with our judgement.
“If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies how different our ideals of beauty would be.”