You have to be tall, fair, and slim, with flowing jet black hair, small feet, hands and nose. Such is the body image of the ideal Bangali girl.
Of course there are other attributes that add to her perfect nature such as being social, but not too chatty, working but not a careerist, a homemaker but one who can also be the centre of a party etc.
But I am not going to get into all that today. What I wish to explore is the obsession over the female body. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not only us Bangalis who have this, although our clan is more likely to have the nerve to say things such as “Koto moto hoye geiyecho! (Look, how fat you have become)” to one’s face.
Body images have been an obsession since time immemorial. The hour-glass figure was once the epitome of beauty as shown by glamour icons such as Marylyn Monroe. The latest trend has been the size-zero fetish shown by Victoria Beckham and Kareena Kapoor.
The media lies on the forefront of such obsessions and directs audiences to strive for their construed image of perfection, thereby influencing people to constantly alter their definition of beauty, in tandem with changes in fashion.
Media comes from all directions; advertisements, movies, magazines and of course products such as Barbie dolls are major influencers from which people derive their definition of beauty. Children, as young as seven and eight play with such dolls and it is from these dolls that they are taught to believe 36-24-36 statistics are the perfect body proportion.
Thus, the obsession over the body gets etched in the mind of young girls from a very early age. While boys play ball in open fields, girls are encouraged to remain inside and play house. Hence children, from a very young age are exposed to much of the stereotyping that underlies the battle of the sexes.
This is also blatantly related to the fact that from very early on, girls are told that they ought to be fair and shy; a rule book with guidelines on how to eat, sit, talk and walk is also shoved on to them. To be marriage material, they ought to be all these things and more.
They constantly hear and are told if they do not fit into this set type, they will fail to find love. Such perimeters are not set for boys, especially in our country. Fat men, bald men, aged men are all marriage worthy and will still demand wives who fall under the specifications listed above.
It is said “one should never ask a women her weight, and a man his salary.” I wonder why no one thought it could be the other way around for I notice a lot of men around me who are as conscious about gaining a few pounds as their female counterparts.
Yet, women remain the subject of discussion, especially when it revolves around the body. It is they who are forced to fit into such man-made categories, while men simply do it out of choice. But the oxymoron lies in the fact that while a woman is deemed socially unacceptable for being chubby, she is called names if she shows off too much skin!
So, if I get it right, the only purpose of having a Goddess like body is to make men fall in love with her, to make men “pursue” her so she can get married.
What is she told to do with her “perfect” body after this mission is accomplished? Why, cover it all up in five layers of a cotton sari, of course!
While such discrepancies do exist, a lot of work is now being done to help people break free of such misconstructed body images. Lately, plus-size models have become quite the phenomenon, although there are only certain labels that have taken up this initiative.
Yet, I will remain positive in my outlook and choose to believe that change is around the corner. Thinking objectively and helping the younger generation talk freely about body image and gender inequality is a start.
The media of course has a large role to play. We should learn to only change our personal definitions of beauty for our own benefit, not at the direction of others.
Shows such as “Ugly Betty” where the lead character is portrayed as far from a glamourous seductive damsel, can help also. Although she is often an object of ridicule in the show, she always achieves her goals at the end.
More shows like this that break stereotypes can help broaden the definition of beauty, not keep it locked behind doors.