Thanks to patriarchy, if you’re a womxn, your relationship with food is likely to get worse by the time you hit puberty. While men are told to earn enough money and find high paying jobs for a beautiful wife, women are told they have to look “good” (read: thin, fair, and homely) for a good husband.
While the world seems to value thinness and find it beautiful – thin womxn are told that womxn should have curves. They’re almost used to being taunted about looking like a “pencil” or a “carrom board”. So, women are supposed to be thin but they’re also supposed to be “thick”. A representation of this “perfect” body that society asks of us is Kim Kardashian (after many different surgeries of course). An hourglass figure- have hips, but not too much, have a flat stomach but not too less. It’s as if patriarchy wants to carve out the body of a womxn to suit its needs and ideals.
A study by Shroff et al. in 2015 indicated that comments, taunts and media influence can have adverse effects on an individual’s BMI. So by the time we hit puberty, we ask ourselves, “what do they want from us?” We’re on an emotional rollercoaster – we have so many self-discoveries lying ahead- our sexuality, our careers, our social circles – and then added to it is a layer of unsolicited advice about our appearance, does it help? Absolutely not.
“You’re so pretty but… you should lose some weight/ gain some weight, exercise more/ eat less…”
What’s problematic here is that the aunties’ concern for our bodies don’t stem from our need to be fit and healthy, but from “log kya kahenge”. “How will you get married then? No one will like you if you look like this.”
In 2017, Vijayalakshi et al. studied the gender difference between men and women in disordered eating, while there was no significant difference in the maladaptive behaviours to be of “ideal weight”, women perceived themselves as overweight and not satisfied with their weight status more easily than men.
We have been fed with this ideal body image since we were little. A barbie doll has an BMI of 16.24 which would fit the weight criteria for anorexia. Bollywood told us to look like Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, no doubt they are beautiful actresses but they were turned into ideals that we had to follow. The perfect body definition kept evolving. It went from Rani Mukherjee to Kareena Kapoor’s size zero, to Katrina Kaif’s abs and slender body. Though we can’t ignore that there have been various portrayals of diverse bodies but we as consumers of media valued the thin ones more for being ‘more pretty’. We were told to be like them in order to have a bright future.
And as 15 year old children, we felt scared and intimidated, sure that if the elders said it, it must be true. It almost felt like a do or die situation in that moment. So we started diets, we exercised, we avoided junk food, stopped eating carbs, and started eating boiled sprouts instead. As kids, our relationship with food, (which is something that stays forever unlike the unwarranted opinions that come and go) is therefore, considerably ruined. Food stops being measured by how satisfied we feel but is now measured by different cups to make sure we don’t eat too much and don’t get love handles or paunches or should fat. Because otherwise, who will marry us? What will people say?
Disordered eating may be characterised by our self-worth being based highly (or exclusively) on body shape and weight, a disturbance in the way we perceive ourselves (like being thin and still calling ourselves fat), excessive exercise and diet routines and calorie counting, eating only certain foods with inflexible meal times and refusals to eat food outside.
Our preoccupation with eating and dieting might be so much that it adversely affects daily activities and may lead to maladaptive behaviour (like throwing up or using laxatives in order to remain in shape, also known as purging). Some might be in denial of the obsession with food, while others may talk about it more openly. Most of us don’t even realise how bad relationships with food can affect us.
Many eating disorders might be more visible to the eye and are diagnosed as ‘eating disorders’ when the frequency and intensity of these anxious thoughts and actions increase considerably in a span of a few months.
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