Abiased attitude against somebody, only because their physical attributes are not in agreement with societal norms, scars them mentally. Dr. Prakriti Poddar, Mental Health Expert and Director, Poddar Wellness Ltd, goes in depth of the issue. Edited Excerpts.
In a fast-paced world, the mind-set towards stigmas of physical features like the size or the colour, is still narrow and slow. Your take?
With my background in health psychology, I have always been fascinated by the concept of weight-shaming. The way others perceive the people who are “different” especially when it pertains to physical characteristics, has always caught my interest. Although “plus-size” was a term coined to incorporate women of a specific range, it immortalises the construct that there is a pre-set size that is being ‘plussed’ in the first place. In layman’s language, there is always already a mark of being slim or average as far as body type is concerned. According to the stats, there is vaguely five per cent of the world population which is in that ideal form. This means that there will always be 95 per cent that are feeling inadequate because all they see promoted for being desirable does not look like them, at all.
In order to change the scenario, we need more representatives in industries like film and media. In general, my thoughts are that people are not encouraged for the change instinctively. This is why we need more emotional education from the very initial years in schools and at home. As this is something learned and conditioned since childhood.
A lot of times, people are made to feel like a loner or given a partial treatment on purpose, because they are different from the society. How does it impact their mental health, especially if done during their childhood?
As social creatures, we crave inclusivity and community. So when people are excluded or singled out for any reason, this can certainly have a psychological effect on them. When done in childhood (common in corrosive school environments) this treatment can have a lasting impact on an individual. It is difficult to predict exactly what trajectory this will take for each individual. It is also difficult to generalise, as personal factors play a great role in how we interact with our environment.
For example, someone who is more sensitive will react differently to the same situation as compared to someone who has a practical outlook. It is not to say that either of them manage it better or worse, they just do it differently. As an effect, a lot of people adopt various habits that can be life-taking, in order to reach the standards that they felt were lacking in the past. This, of course, can be accompanied by certain unhealthy behaviour patterns which are just to meet the social expectancies.
These days, there is still much more awareness about victimisation and basic rights. Do you find any change in the society and the thought process, especially with the millennials?
I do see a shift in the younger generation, but India is a socially diverse country. In spite of the right ideas in their heads, often the young generation gets trapped in the cycle of traditions and obligations. Their minds are expanding exponentially, especially with the help of social media and globalisation, but there is still a lot more to do. But I encourage these youngsters to keep growing, evolving and absorbing knowledge as this is a crucial part of creating lasting change for the future to come.
What would you suggest them, to keep themselves motivated and keep doing what they are already doing for society?
With all the criticism that has been put on social media, I think it is a tool that can be used for great good. Follow pages that match your school of thoughts. Make efforts that can inspire others and galvanise them to take necessary action. Help them talk, about themselves. Also, remember that you have the power to change things even in the smallest of ways. They might not be largely visible on the societal front, but they matter. It can be within yourself or even how you interact with others.
Don’t shield yourself from things that are different from your knowledge. Keep reading and learning, and absorbing knowledge that doesn’t have the purpose of a grade or a degree at the end—but purely to grow and develop yourself.
What can we as individuals of the society do for the survivors in order to lift them up?
Communication is the key to everything. Try to have an honest, open, empathetic conversation. This is one of the simplest yet rarely employed methods. But will turn out to be one of the most fantastic ways to gain new perspectives and most importantly, ensure someone that you are actually interested in their views.
Don’t be afraid to stand out for showing empathy towards someone facing exclusion. Take a stand. Each opinion matters. You might not be backed up by a lot of people, but you will certainly build up the confidence of the victim. Always try to put yourself in other’s shoes, wouldn’t you want someone to stand up for you? Yes? So be the change.