This week, Surkhiyan talked exclusively to Baemisaal about body shaming and how to deal with it,
Surkhiyan: Body Shaming: What is it and why do we do it?
Baemisaal: Body shaming is the act of intrusion, verbal violence and bullying against bodies we deem as unfit or inferior. There are several reasons as to why one resorts to shaming (be it any kind of shaming). It often depicts our own need to put others down to feel superior. It is something a lot of people don’t realize is a violation of one’s feelings and emotions, we can do it out of spite, arrogance or a delusional sense of concern.
Surkhiyan: What influences Body Shaming?
Baemisaal: In my thesis: “Pigs, Cows & Gluttons: Our Obsession with Body Image” I highlight certain aspects of the theory of human interaction that may lead some to shaming. One being that people attack often what they find in themselves to be wrong or tainted. We view the world through the lens we think it views us. Most people who body shame have an acute obsession with their own body image. Anything that falls out of the “perfect” category they have set for themselves, in their minds, deserves to be shamed.
Surkhiyan: What do you say when someone body shames you?
Baemisaal: You don’t say anything to body shamers (especially if them doing so is only to make themselves feel good about themselves. You can often walk away from the situation.) However, if it’s someone close to you, you can sit down with them and have an open dialogue about how it bothers you and how perhaps their image of your body shouldn’t be a reason for them to hinder you of your right to not want to be bullied or belittled. You can even ask them what they get out of shaming people? Often, people don’t know why they do it, just that it’s normalized enough for people to not realize how damaging their words and actions can be for those suffering at their hands.
Surkhiyan: What is a personal story or lesson you have learned while learning to love your body?
Baemisaal: You can’t always fight with everyone. Sometimes you can and you should. Stand your ground. You can only change how you view the situation. For me, I was given one vessel to live and make a home in. I have spent years hating it viciously wanting it to change and trying everything to do so. I was never happy. Until I decided to go against all of that and make sure I was happy, confident and content at the end of it, no matter what I look like. I also realized no matter what anyone may look like, they are still worthy of respect and kindness. Starting with myself.
Surkhiyan: How did you deal with body shaming and unsolicited comments by people?
Baemisaal: Depends on who’s making those comments. If it’s someone close to me, I sit down and talk to them. Sometimes they understand, sometimes they don’t. So I train myself to not see my worth through their eyes but my own instead. If it’s a stranger, I couldn’t care less. What helps often is also ranting about it online, because I find a thousand other people who feel the same and support me for speaking up. Always helps to be understood.
Surkhiyan: How can people respond constructively to body shaming?
Baemisaal: Again, it really depends on who’s doing the shaming. You can’t always scream at your family the way you can perhaps yell at strangers. However, a lot of the time, I’ve noticed starting a conversation about it helps people learn. People don’t always mean harm, they just don’t think about the things they say as much as other people. But if they’re willing to learn and listen, why not give them a chance to. Always speak up though, because whatever you’re feeling is valid no matter what anyone says. If you’re feeling it, it’s real. Write it down, talk to a friend. And perhaps even teach yourself the jargon and narratives of body image. It’s a global movement now, there’s information basically at your fingertips.
Surkhiyan: It feels like this mindset of the perfect body image is deep rooted in our minds…what’s the way forward to undo the damage?
Baemisaal: Of course it is. We ourselves are bodies. We are vessels who spend tons of time on looking a certain way or not looking a certain way. Our Bodies are how we are recognized and how people perceive us. But at the end of the day, a body is just a body. One’s body image is a small fragment of their understanding of themselves. Get to know yourself. Question yourself. Why do you think the way you do? Could a change possibly help you and others in the longer run? Do what you can. The way forward is dialogue and patience. Most importantly perseverance, especially a solid footing in knowing the movement, understanding what it stands for, realizing that bigger bodies are the ones who started it, and we must listen to them to move forward. There is no longer strength in division and exclusion.
Surkhiyan: You have a lot of admirers..you must have a lot of haters…how do you deal with them now…versus when you were not so secure about yourself?
Baemisaal: Hahaha indeed I do. Both, yes. Equally I’m sure. Although I used to spend weeks obsessing over the haters more than the admirers. I used to cry and work myself up for weeks on end about what I could do to be better. But I realized I wasn’t the problem. And I’ve changed how I think now though. For me, over analyzing things often helps, the method of deduction ever more so. Once I draw a mind map of why people are the way they are and why they must say something’s, I realize it has less to do with me and more to do with them. And I can’t change minds, especially those that refuse to learn. I also talk about it on my platform. About how I feel. And it helps to know I’m not alone.
Surkhiyan: Please educate our viewers…How body image comments can hinder your professional and mental progress … and why it needs to stop?
Baemisaal: The mental abuse inflicted on people who suffer the insensitivity and violence of body shaming is severe. One comment can be a trigger for someone who is already struggling with an eating disorder i.e. bulimia, anorexia, pica, binge eating, etc. and mental struggles with depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, etc. just because we can’t see someone’s struggles does not mean they don’t have them. Especially with eating and mental disorders, which are often hidden, people think they can make people feel bad because it’s not obvious that they’re suffering. A lot of people can’t truly be themselves around other people and question their worth due to body shaming. Someone having fat does not adhere to them being useless or worthless. We often equate bodies to our preconceived notions of people in general. Having fat is not a failure. It is not something to be ashamed of.
Diet culture is an extreme cause of depression, anxiety and major eating disorders.
“Diet Culture suggests that people are more or less good/moral/worthy based on their body size. The government-funded “war on obesity” is based on telling everyone that a fat person will ever meet, along with fat people themselves, that fat people should be stereotyped, shamed, stigmatized, and harassed.”
This is what google says now and I’m so glad that it does. Dieting and the obsession we have with it is more harmful than beneficial. Food is not the enemy. Fat isn’t either. Our narratives and perceptions of both are. To create an environment where people can prosper no matter what they look like on equal grounds is the goal. Our obsession with thinness and straight sized bodies is one that perpetuated only a couple decades ago. It’s fairly new. Ever damaging and needs to be mended.
Parents starve their children from early ages of childhood because the worst thing is for them to be fat, rather than realizing the long term damage their treatment will eventually bring about.
Surkhiyan: You have told us about people in general..how does one deal with deep rooted body image conversations by the family?
Baemisaal: Family is tricky. I’d be lying if I said I don’t struggle with my body image because of my own family. It always starts at home. Often, Conversations we hold in the household are inherently more effective to us than those we have outside. For me, I empowered myself and found confidence because of people I saw online. I didn’t want to feel bad about myself anymore like I used to as a teenager. I no longer wanted to sit in a room of thin or straight sized individuals and feel bad about myself. My ideology relies on the basics of body neutrality which is a novice term in the fat activism jargon history. It focuses on the dismantling of giving bodies importance based on their appearance and aesthetic. And focuses instead of the mechanics of the inside. The battles, the triumphs, the strength, the vulnerability, vigor, confidence, charm. Which are aspects of ourselves we often deem refutable due to what most beauty standards preach. We are not meant to be valued solely based on our appearances. We are more than surface level vessels.
These are things I tell myself when I feel threatened by my own triggers regarding shaming. I’ve been shamed for my body for more than 10 years. There will always be a moment where my family will find a reason to bring up my body. And after several conversations, understand enough to step back and respect boundaries.
I suppose sometimes people don’t realize what they’re saying is hurtful because no one ever told them it was and they didn’t trust their own voice that told them it was painful. So they grow up internalizing that shaming bodies is normal, whereas it truly isn’t. Discussing others bodies is something we have normalized because we have set standards and molds, when truly none of us were ever meant to look one way.
Surkhiyan: What is the way forward for Baemisaal?
Baemisaal: The way forward for Baemisaal haha. I wish I had a solid understanding of it but it’s never been a plan struck in stone. It’s always been spontaneous and from the heart. My aim is to keep the dialogue going. I’ve achieved so much from when I began never realizing how much talking truly helps. People are listening and I’m so very glad they are, because I’m always listening and learning. Baemisaal is a voice, above all. Creating art through the magic of human interactions and intimacies. Our obsession with body image isn’t going away soon, and so my research and understanding of it is forever growing too.
Surkhiyan: How receptive is Pakistani audience with Body Advocacy…how far do we still have to go?
Baemisaal: Well. How receptive is the pakistani audience to anything that stands as a challenge to them? Not too great haha. Although, not entirely horrible either. The channels I have gotten through have been wonderful. I spoke about representation so much in the past, that I myself became the first of many plus size models in my own country. And whereas, my own presence anywhere always serves a deeper purpose, while challenging almost every stereotype related to someone like me, I am incredibly proud and thankful to have some of the biggest names listening to my conversations. I know my hard work hasn’t been in vain. I know it’s made an impact. Otherwise this interview might not even be happening.
Surkhiyan: The moment you are most proud of in your journey to breaking stereotypes?
Baemisaal: Aaaaah there are so many. My shoot with Khaadi. Lajwanti. Lulusar. Generation. But even more so, the messages I receive daily of people harvesting the seeds I planted in my 5 years. Mothers, teenagers, daughters and sons alike, open up to me about their own struggles and how they find a home in my existence, in my words and platform. That is by far the best feeling. People challenge their own surroundings and their own capabilities after seeing me being me. That is the BIGGEST gift to me. To be able to teach someone to love themselves is something I will always be proud of.
Surkhiyan: How do we change our conversation so we stop shaming ourselves and others?
Baemisaal: If you’ve realized somethings you may say are offensive or hurtful. Do some research. Literally google body shaming and fat activism and the community and dialogue will open itself up to you. Reading one article might even help you get started. Talk to a friend you think might understand and help you. But it’s all you at the end of the day, who can change. No one can do it for you. We often expect other people to guide us to get better, it doesn’t always work that way. If you’re confused about how you’d want to speak about fat or fat people, listen to fat people. @yrfatfriend is how I started my journey, if that helps.
Surkhiyan: Is it normal to feel like we don’t like our bodies?
Baemisaal: Of course it is. Our bodies are so much more than we think them to be. They’re literal armors that reinvent, replenish, sustain, rejuvenate and regenerate themselves all on their own. They’re constantly healing themselves.
We often forget these things because the pressure that strings along with unfair and idealistic beauty standards paired with the diet/fashion/beauty industry is that we are only valuable at face value. we are bombarded with images of what “perfection” is supposed to look like from our developmental ages of socialization. It’s not surprising so many children develop eating disorders and body dysmorphia. A condition that almost consumes some to the extent of dysfunctionality.
The goal also isn’t to love your body. Self love is difficult as is body positivity. Some people find it excruciatingly hard to love their bodies and that’s completely alright. The goal is rather to accept it, understand its functions and needs without subjecting it to further pain and discomfort.
Surkhiyan: How do we overcome negative body image thoughts?
Baemisaal: I can only speak for myself and my own journey. I am one person. Negative body image thoughts are completely natural. We can’t be expected to constantly love ourselves and every part of us. But there are ways to initiate a counter force within ourselves to battle the bad thoughts.
For me, I started by radically challenging my entire mindset. From radical self hate to radical self love. Almost to the point of delusion, which ultimately became my reality. By delusion, I mean, I’d stand in front of the mirror and if my mind told me to hate a part of me, I would yell at that thought for making me feel bad and then talk to my body like it was my best friend or someone I love and care about unconditionally. And if they deserve to be loved in their hardest moments no matter what they look like, then I do too.
I then started practicing these reverse thoughts everyday. If a bad thought popped up, I’d talk to it and go the other extreme. “You are fat and ugly.” “You are fat, beautiful and gorgeous”
Unlearning the jargon I grew up with to the vast field of new jargon related to fat activism truly helped. Fat isn’t a bad word, it’s how we use it.
I eliminated anyone (even if it was my friends from my social media (or wherever I spend a lot of my brain power) if they made me feel insecure (even if unintentionally) until I was able to see them without questioning myself. It took a couple years to master this, I won’t lie.
I only mostly follow people who look like me now and are doing things that I want to do. I follow tons of plus size, fat women from all over the world. I follow therapists and body image activists and am constantly learning and absorbing, while simultaneously open to changing my opinions and thoughts. It’s a process, but it’s so incredibly worth it.