Me: Hey Google, what’s the perfect body shape?
Google: Coming right up. ‘Ideal female perfect body shape - Hourglass…...’
Me: See, even Google body shames people! Then again it wasn't programmed by humans and is directly influenced by media related data. So..? Is this hourglass figure really perfect? Maybe. Don’t know, don’t care, let’s have some more ice-cream.
This is the exact conversation that went on inside my head while I was researching ‘perfect body types. Endomorphs! Mesomorphs! A never ending list and the only thing I learnt from this research was that human bodies are diverse in shapes and sizes and there is no way that any single of them can be labelled to be better than the rest.
Growing up, we’ve all faced those humiliating conversations where other people commented on our physical appearance and no matter how one looked, somebody always had an opinion that we didn’t ask for it in the first place. Back when I was 13, one of my teachers physically checked if I wore a bra because I had a bigger chest than other kids my age. Fast forward to when I was 15, one of my seniors told me to wear a loose uniform because apparently it was too distracting for people around me. Imagine a teenager who is already dealing with their hormones being told that their body is sexual and abnormal in a way that needs to be hidden away.
I remember having breakdown on being violated verbally without my consent and only being asked to shut up because our bodies are only valid if they please the male gaze. Body shaming is not exclusive to fat and skinny people, including the nasty voice in our head that keeps telling us that we will never look good enough. Don’t we all have an internalised part of us which still goes back body shaming. We are collectively guilty of labelling bodies as attractive and non-attractive under different contexts.
Pop culture media’s portrayal of human bodies, specifically cisgender white petite and muscular bodies as desirable and attractive itself puts the pressure on common people like you are me because who are we kidding, we aren’t them and never will be. Desirability and self love are just brand taglines to capitalise our insecurities and monetising our fears. From campaigns to selling the ‘perfect breast-hips size’ to selling un-authorised meds to achieve the ‘perfect penises size’, the race never stops.
It is often easy to say that we need to learn how to love ourselves but when we grow up learning to hate every nook and corner of our body by being compared to unrealistic body standards portrayed by the media, self-love takes much more patience and re-learning than just preaching #self love on social media.
However, something that a few ‘body positive’ people do not realise, falls under body shaming is criticising people for the looks of their sexual organs, something that nobody has a control over. I often come across ads that promote lighting and whitening of pubic areas, selling the idea that our bodies are anything but not normal. Hormonal dark patches and melanin, two major components of having darker pubic areas than the rest of the body are just overlooked.
Humane bodies and caste identities are interlinked as well, in a way where conventional looks of upper caste people are often considered socially acceptable and identities of lower caste people are used as slurs to depict conventional ugliness. Quite similar to colonial ideas of pale skin being considered as the epitome of beauty while looking down on brown and black people as unhygienic and social outcastes. Power plays an influential role in determining what looks good and what doesn’t.
It is logically impossible for two bodies to be the exact replica of each other. Even though we have similar organs, the shape and size of them differs from person to person. Vulvas of different sizes , asymmetrical breasts and nipples, penises and testicles of varying sizes; all of these differences that are never represented by pop culture have existed since centuries, regardless of the criticism that it receives.
Body shaming men for the size of their penises also has equally drastic effects on them as it would harm any other person. Pleasure has never been a shape-size centric activity. Open communication and enthusiastic consent is just what people need to have a good sexual experience, along with protection and proper intimate hygiene.
It is a long way to finally see our bodies as mere vessels of our mind, bodies that have kept us alive through tough times and bodies that are deserving of pleasure. All of these will only be possible if we start disassociating ourselves from the colonial representation of beauty standards in the media and start looking at the bodies that have always existed around us. Bodies that are humane and asymmetrical and not white.
On a positive note, pop artists like Lizzo, a healthy, black woman, who owns her body and sexuality gives me hope to see more representation of bodies from different cultures and backgrounds. If you don’t know who Lizzo is, please play this one specific song by her, ‘Boys’. It reminds of our stories, each different from the other, all struggling to be acknowledged, just like our bodies.
I like big boys, itty bitty boys
Mississippi boys, inner city boys
I like the pretty boys with the bow tie
Get your nails did, let it blow dry
I like a big beard, I like a clean face
I don't discriminate, come and get a taste
From the playboys to the gay boys
Go and slay, boys, you my fave boys