My body, my love

A voice against body shaming

She is a chubby girl of 17 who blushes at every question asked. Sitting with a bunch of adults lazing on a Sunday afternoon, she smiles and says sheepishly, “I want to make a change through my Instagram page.”

Hold your horses, boys! If you think Amelie S Decruse is a confused teenager who is at awe of the pretentious virtual world, then you are absolutely wrong. The Class XI student is on a mission to change the convention and make people aware of body shaming.

Amelie started her Instagram page, @normallynormalise, last October to overcome a bout of depression. The initiative began with the problem of body shaming, especially in the age of social media where concoction of facts and figures is not unusual and the perverseness of the overtly glamourous world is dizzying.

Body shaming is a way of deriding someone’s physical appearance. It is a form of bullying that can scar someone psychologically for life. Amelie says she has been a victim of body shaming all her life. “Be it in school or among relatives, I was forced to think that I am not good enough,” she says.

The teenager says her rotund body was always a subject of joke and “even teachers would make comments like, ‘please tell us what you eat’”.

“Sometimes relatives would say things like, ‘how big will you get? Hope you don’t explode’. As a child I was constantly reminded of my looks. I always thought I was a really big kid. I was only 10 and had a fragile mind. I was shattered. I did not like my body at all. All I wanted was a normal childhood,” she remembers. Her cheeks redden as she shares the trauma of being bullied.

Amelie would constantly be conscious about anything she did. She would stop suddenly while running thinking which part of her body was shaking. But she suffered alone as there was no one to speak to. “Going through puberty and searching for validation was a difficult time.”

After her Class X board examinations, the pandemic started and subsequently the months-long lockdown. This gave the teenager the much-needed time to introspect. It also gave her time to explore social media platforms. It was during this time that her self-esteem reached its nadir and she desperately sought validation.

“It was a terrible phase. And then I saw my nieces and nephews being influenced by social media and how conscious they were becoming of their looks. I put my foot down and thought to myself, ‘why should I wait for someone for validation when I can help myself?’ I decided to start the page then. Also, I wanted to create something for the youth of Shillong,” says Amelie, a student of St Edmund’s College.

The idea behind Normally Normalise is to make people aware of the vices of society and make individuals confident about their identity. 

Talking about the role of social media in making or breaking an adolescent’s self-confidence, Amelie says the chances are 50-50. “Most of the people follow mainstream celebrities and they are greatly influenced by their looks. They think if they don’t have a perfect body, then they are not beautiful. But again, the new generation is aware of the other side of the story where there are celebrities who accept themselves the way they are. So, it can go either way,” she says.

Normally Normalise currently has seven members, who work as volunteers and spread awareness on body shaming through art, writings and talk shows. Recently, the group organised an open mic with the help of a mental health expert where they let people talk about body image. “We also interviewed random people in the city to know what they feel about body image.”

Amelie says body shaming is the first of the several issues which she wants to take up. She also wants to work with the LGBTQ community and make people aware of the problems faced by the members of the “very small community”.

“There is a need for awareness as people are afraid to come out of the closet. I really want to work closely with the community and take part in the next pride march in the city,” she says.

For now, Amelie is focusing on her examinations and “hence, the number of posts is also less”.

The teenager describes herself as a “dumb kid”.

“But why?”

“Because I was made to believe that and it is there in my head. Also, I am still not very confident about my body and looks but I also know that only I can help myself rise above the parochialism of a few around me,” she says softly but with conviction.

~ NM