We live in a time where children learn to count calories before they learn to spell the word ‘calorie’, where people are minor checkmarks in the instruction manual designed by society. One of the impending evils of the community in Kerala is its unhealthy, obsessive attitude towards weight and weight loss. It is necessary to establish the fact that this obsession is not limited to women alone, however, as a woman, my space in this story is directly linked to the women’s space in this narrative.
Also Read: Do We Malayalis Have A Culture Of Shaming?
Every woman must have come across dauntless hurls thrown at their faces such as “Moleke vanam vechallo!” or “Mole, enda ingane melinu poye?”. Some of these insults present themselves as words of caution from concerned neighbourhood aunties. Sometimes they are more creative such as “Athreme food venno mole?” Nevertheless, these concerned statements are not difficult to come by. After hearing a fair share of them myself, I decided to delve into the nuances of this obsession with weight.
Simply said, these attitudes are passed on generationally and fostered by popular media. Marriage advertisements online and offline often highlight the need for a fair-skinned, slim bride. Following this, there is the very important ‘pennu kanal’ ritual, which involves the character assassination of the woman simply based on her beauty and body. This trend is so sheltered and ingrained into the system that it is part of the norm now. Popular media is a facet of the cultural consciousness of the time. The media shows what people think and vice versa; the relationship between the two is codependent. When actors lose weight to fit a role, their achievements are celebrated and presented as a dictum to the audience. Sure, it is a personal achievement that needs recognition, but what they fail to point out is that it is a part of their profession, not a habit they indulge in for the sake of it.
Another aspect of the media-culture dichotomy that is gaining significance is the narrative of multinational companies that profit off this obsession with weight loss. The narrative of profit has always been the central frame-tale. Companies worldwide use the insecurities of their audience to earn money. I want you to imagine a scenario where one day you wake up and decide that you refuse to be ashamed of your body. You are okay with the rolls, the love handles, the acne scars, the leg hair, and everything else exactly the way they are. How many products would you stop buying, and how many companies would go bankrupt? It is as simple as that. Even when ad campaigns throw words such as #EverythingIsBeautiful or #LoveForAll, isn’t it ironic that they are still promoting an obsessive trend and nurturing it?
Kerala is notorious for its celebrity doctors who appear on television shows with their advice for concerned audiences. Recently, I have seen an increase in shows that recommend fad diets to callers. They often involve intermittent fasting, counting calories, or eradicating particular types of food from one’s diet. They are offered as simple measures for quick weight loss and are often presented as human miracles without an inkling of the consequences that follow. People, afraid of being left behind on the weight loss race and the trend of glowing up, follow them, eventually finding themselves in a bigger hole than they had started with.
It is also necessary to mention the appreciation that Eating Disorders get in the weight-obsessed circles. People are applauded for their sacrifices and their intense workouts and random food items are thrown at people’s faces with no scientific appeal. We exist in a condition where illness is appreciated if they confirm people into the little checkboxes of normality. Mourning only happens when there is loss of life; nobody mourns the ‘helpable’, just the loss of them.
The next time weight becomes a curse word and an obession, ask yourself, when was the last time you went to the gym because you wanted to take care of yourself? When was the last time you looked at the mirror and felt lovely? When was the last time you appreciated your body for letting you do all the things you have done? Ask yourself, who are you listening to, and are they worth it?