Child, 3 years old, sitting on the bed, eating fruits. Well-meaning aunt, sitting besides, talking to the child.
Well-meaning aunt: Child! Are you fair or dark?
Well-meaning aunt: And is you mother fair or dark?
Well-meaning aunt: And is your father fair or dark?
A pregnant pause.
Child: Papa nice!
As you must have gathered, the father doesn’t meet the established parameters to be considered fair. The child is barely three, and yet, she knows two things:
1. Being dark isn’t desirable.
2. Diplomacy is required in the situation because you need to cover up the fact that Papa is dark.
We live in a world full of prejudices and pre-conceived notions. What’s worse is that we are passing down these prejudices to our highly impressionable children. Children were supposed to be honest and unapologetic, right? Wrong. Children are being taught the value of diplomacy quite early these days.
India, as a country, is obsessed with fairness. The market is flooded with advertisements of fairness creams and various other beauty products which are considered to be essential to our self-respect. And I just don’t mean women alone, though they are the major target audience.
But I won’t go into a rant about why I think fairness products are highly unfair; we all have read and heard quite a lot about that. No, I’m going to talk about my life-long problem. Weight.
Fast-forward by ten years. The child is thirteen, sitting on the table, having lunch. Well-meaning aunt, talking to the child.
Well-meaning aunt: Why, you eat like a bird!
Child: (stares incredulously ) But I’ve finished four full-sized rotis already!
Well-meaning aunt: (ignoring the child) How thin you are! You should eat more.
Child: But now I’m full.
Well-meaning aunt: (to child’s mother) Why don’t you feed her enough?
Child: (fuming inwardly) I eat enough. I’m genetically thin.
Well-meaning aunt: (ignoring again) You are a growing child. You should eat enough.
The child learns two things:
1. First impressions are always the last impressions. If the aunt feels the child is thin and doesn’t eat enough, then no amount of food ingested in front of her will register in her mind.
2. Science doesn’t hold water in front of prejudices and already-formed opinions.
I’m genetically thin. Meaning that my parents were pretty thin when they were my age too. Meaning that my food habits may not necessarily correspond to my weight. But not many people would be ready to believe me. People will insist that I’m “too thin”, and they are probably right; I am pretty skinny. But their “humorous” comments about it don’t really strike me as funny after I’ve heard them for over a hundred times. If making fun of somebody who’s fat is rude then why is it okay to make fun of someone who’s thin?
Then comes the problem of our “khaate peete” relatives who believe that I don’t eat enough. They don’t care to listen to a word of my genetic woes and keep on insisting that I should “stop dieting”. Well, I don’t diet. Believe it. And if the dear relatives are satisfied that I eat enough of my own accord, then in that case, my poor mother is at fault, because apparently, she doesn’t feed me enough. Mummy khaana nahi khilaati hai kya? is a question that I’ve heard innumerable times. Thankfully this one has stopped after I got past the age of being spoon-fed, though by a considerable amount of time. (I would still hear it when I was thirteen; I assure everyone that I definitely started eating on my own way before that time.)
I’ll take back the question that I asked: If making fun of somebody who’s fat is rude then why is it okay to make fun of someone who’s thin?
Instead, the question should be this: Why do we have to attach so much importance to it?
I think we spend way too much time thinking about stuff like weight and skin colour and what-nots. It’s one thing to want to be healthy and fit, and quite another to want to hear, “Oh you look great! Very skinny! Wow!” being said to you. Looking skinny is not equivalent to looking great and not being skinny doesn’t always mean being “healthy”. Why should I confine my body to one narrow-minded standard of beauty?
Bottom line is this: I’m not going to eat more/less to suit other people’s notions. I’m not going to buy fairness/tanning products. I’m good. And you are too.