Body shaming: Eating disorder and social acceptance of body shaming in Nagaland

Everyone understands the fear or rather annoyance of attending family events and the snarky remarks of aunties you have never seen before either telling you to eat more because you look like the wind could carry you away or asking if you ate the entire family meal. You’re either too short, too tall, too thin, or too fat but never the perfect size and shape. However, we cannot blame these people for their ignorant mindset, because these comments go beyond just physical appearance, it is years of neglect and unhealthy coping mechanisms which has resulted in the normalisation of such behaviour in the society. 

Body shaming has been so normalised in Nagaland that we cannot see the harm it is doing to our youths and the society. It does not only happen to adults but also to young children. This can be observed in schools where students feel it is okay and normal to comment on their peers' physical appearance and call them degrading nicknames, in some cases even the teachers partake in this ignorant behaviour. These actions can have a detrimental impact on the self-esteem and mental well-being of these vulnerable children. Their behaviour and actions directly mirrors the broader societal ignorance and the ongoing perpetuation of body shaming. 

Body shaming is a serious issue and responsible for several mental and physical health concerns. Most people assume anorexia, an eating disorder that is characterised by abnormally low body weight and the fear of gaining weight, as the only form of eating disorder, however there are several forms of eating disorder (ED), such as binge eating disorder, restrictive eating, bulimia etc. Hence, finding out or accepting if someone is suffering from ED is not as simple as one would presume. 

The rise of social media such as Instagram, TikTok etc that perpetuates a certain ideal body image and the algorithm favouring a generalised beauty standard. Young people are bound to feel insecure and worry about their looks and body and compare themselves to unrealistic body and beauty standards, this is further accelerated with the recent rise in the gym craze, which is not a bad thing per se, however, most people dive into it without much research about nutrition and calorie intake and fall into a destructive eating disorder cycle. The reason our society does not take body shaming and eating disorders seriously is because it is an internal struggle, some might not even be aware that they are suffering with an eating disorder, and some are afraid to speak up about their struggle because of the fear of being dismissed with unsolicited advice such as “ Just eat more”, “ Just eat less”. With nowhere and no one to turn to, most people fall into the constant hole of self sabotage or restriction. A society that still does not take mental health and mental illnesses seriously is a long way from accepting other forms of disorders. The stigma associated with mental health and eating disorders can prevent individuals from seeking help. This can result in secretive behaviours and the perpetuation of the idea that eating disorders are a personal failing rather than a serious medical condition. The impact of body shaming extends beyond the immediate emotional toll. It can contribute to the development of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Moreover, the normalisation of body shaming perpetuates a cycle of harmful behaviours. Those who experience body shaming might internalise these negative messages, leading them to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms, disordered eating patterns, and extreme exercise regimes in pursuit of an unattainable 'ideal' body. The younger generations are easily influenced because of the availability of resources and the means to view them, therefore it is necessary to educate and spread awareness about such issues because body dysmorphia is an awful experience. Remember that you are not alone in this struggle, the same media that can have a negative impact can also bring about positive changes, there are several supportive communities where you can share about your experiences and learn from people that have recovered or are recovering from ED. Counselling, therapy and other treatments are important in order to avoid medical complications. 

As a society we should learn to be a lot kinder, more supportive and more accepting about such issues and create a safe environment for people to be more open about their struggles so that they can seek professional help. It is important to recognise that addressing the normalisation of eating disorders is a long-term process that involves changes at both individual and societal levels. By promoting a holistic understanding of health and well-being, we can work towards reducing the impact of societal factors that contribute to the normalisation of eating disorders and body shaming. 

Ultimately, dismantling the normalisation of body shaming requires collective effort. By acknowledging the harm it inflicts on individuals and society as a whole, and by fostering a culture of compassion, respect, and acceptance, we can create an environment where everyone feels valued and empowered irrespective of their physical appearance.

The Degree of Thought Column is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. The column explored contemporary social, cultural, political, and educational issues and challenges around us. However, the views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC-accredited, UCG-recognized Commerce and Arts college. Currently, the Degree of Thought Column is managed by the department of Mass Communication, and the editorial team are Dr Jenny Lalmuanpuii, KC Gabriela and Rinsit Sareo. For feedback or comments, please