Do We Malayalis Have A Culture Of Shaming?

“Mole, thadivechalo!” 

This is something I hear almost every time I meet my relatives. Why do Malayalis assume this statement to be some version of “small talk”? When other cultures shy away from commenting openly about other people’s weight, why is “Thadivechu” or “Thadikuranyo?” part of so many Malayali conversations? How do these people have a mental weighing machine that can accurately measure my body fat?

And what about “Mole Karuthepoyi”? The absolute worst is when someone looks at your newborn baby and the only thing they can say is “Kuttike colour kuravanalo”. Seriously? Does my child look black and white to you? Should I increase her saturation?

Bodyweight and skin colour. Two things that so many people around us have no qualms openly commenting about. If you go to a wedding and the bride is either fat or dark, then that is the only thing that people seem to notice about her, all her other qualities be damned. If either the groom or the bride is overweight or darker than their counterpart, then the only understandable reason for this unlikely union according to many people is “oh pennu/chekkan odukathe paisakaar aayirkum”. 

Mothers are persecuted if their toddlers are not chubby, but if your teenager is overweight, then that’s your fault too. People always tell me I’m not feeding my 4-year-old enough as she’s ‘too thin’. But my niece who is 10 gets so much flak for being bigger than other kids her age. Where is the invisible line drawn where you know that “from this point in your life it is not okay to be plump anymore”?

Our movies are littered with instances where the word “Thadichee” or “Thadiyaa” is used in jest, or plays the circus elephant music every time an overweight person appears on the screen. The “fat” person has always been a source of constant humour whether it’s the bumbling idiot who is too slow or shown constantly eating. Or the fat woman who plays the ghastly sex-deprived creature from whose clutches the male lead always manages to escape oh-so hilariously. The movie Tamasha is literally the only movie I can think of that handles this topic with such sensitivity and portrays the actress as a person more than just a body shape. 

I felt the same while watching Sudani from Nigeria. Throughout the movie, I expected that there would an uncomfortable moment where someone calls Sudu a “Karumbhan”. A word that so many people that I know uses relentlessly to refer to dark-skinned people. If only everyone in my life were as sweet and accepting as the villagers in this movie.

Remember when the villains or the bad guys in movies were always dark-skinned? I thought we were past that stereotype until they did it again in the movie “Odiyan” with ample references to Prakash Raj’s dark skin. The fact that they actually darkened the character’s skin to drive this point is just beyond my understanding.

Having said that for the longest time, I was severely insecure about my skin colour. I was always the darkest amongst my family members. Pair that with a bad case of acne, and it was enough to give me enough anguish to last all my teenage years. I did the whole routine of applying Fair and Lovely, manjal and chandhanam, lemon and honey, anything that promised to make my skin at least as light as my sisters’. Later, having learnt Photoshop, I just resorted to painstakingly lightening my skin in photographs and remove even the tiniest of pimple marks. 

When it comes to weight-shaming, I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. For a good part of my life, I’d been thin. Skinny to be exact, almost underweight. Nicknames that I’ve had are Eerkali, Thotti, Skeleton, Somali, Olli Kuchi, and more. Whenever I wore a saree, the “compliments” I usually got were “Vadiyil thunni chuttiya pole unde” or “Just put on 10 more kilos and you’ll look great.” Aunties agonized over how I was so unacceptably thin and how no boy would ever want to marry a girl with a body like mine with zero curves. Many even wanted to take up the challenge of fattening me up.

All this came to an end when I eventually ended up putting on more than 20 kgs during pregnancy. Most of which I retained post-pregnancy as well. Relatives let it slide for a while calling it “baby weight”. But the weight wasn’t going anywhere. I am now darker and fatter than my sisters. Teenage me would have totally lost it and written angry poems at this point. 

The disapproving comments started pouring in, some from those closest to me. It was so unreal going from “Mole onnum kazhikaarile, endha ingane melinj irikkune” to “Endhammo, nallonum thadi vechalo. Yoga try cheidhoode?”

With people’s complete attention on my expanding waistline, I had almost forgotten to worry about my skin colour anymore. Until one day my 4-year-old held her arm up against mine and asked me why her skin was black and mine was not. Now growing up, if anyone had told me that my skin was lighter than theirs, I would have felt really good about myself. But this time, it just broke my heart. I was not able to fathom how she was not able to see herself as anything but just the absolute perfection that I saw every time I looked at her. I sat her down and spoke at length about how people are all of different colours and how that doesn’t make them beautiful or ugly.  And told her that her skin was brown – wonderful golden brown like honey and sunshine and delicious chocolate ice cream. I meant every word, but it surprised me how I’d not said it out loud till that day. It took me this long, and a small child to help me realize such a simple truth.   

As for my weight, it’s still a work in progress. I can either accept the weight or lose it. But that’s my choice to make. And I’m still figuring it out. What I’ve realised is this – there will always be those who see us as unattractive and those who find us attractive. In the end, the only thing that matters is what you see when you look in the mirror. What do you see?

6 COMMENTS

  1. As somebody who has gone through this before(except the pregnancy and thank god for that), I never seemed to grasp this concept of how people can be so cruel to the point that it makes you wish their imminent death. Also just when is it okay for a random person to ask somebody, “molku vishesham aayo.” Maybe we should start shaming people who shame us in the first place.

    • Your comment reminded me of this thing I read on FB today. “Stop asking people to get married because other people of their age are married. Many people your age are dead. And noone asks why you’re not dead yet.”

      So there’s your perfect response!

  2. Well written article….had passed through many such shaming comments in my life too ..so which is a too relatable one. 🙂

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