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Being body-shamed by my own mother

Criticism among South Asian families is toxic

When we begin to navigate the world as young women, there comes the realisation that our bodies are now up for public scrutiny.

Society and the media are anything but kind. We are constantly bombarded by adverts for products that promise to make us more desirable, continuously reminding us that the skin we are in is just not good enough.

If you’re reading this, you might think...if nothing else, our families will always love us no matter how we are, right? Well, in a South Asian family this is probably less likely.


I know this may seem controversial to those who haven’t experienced it - I’m in no way generalizing that all South Asian families perpetuate this behaviour but I can’t deny there is a particular mindset rooted into our culture/s about how a woman must look.

So much so that complete strangers from our communities feel comfortable commenting on our appearance and offering us an unsolicited critique on how to become more beautiful.

As brown girls, we’re already dealing with the struggles of being bombarded with Eurocentric beauty standards that we can never fit into, so this just adds another layer of self-hate to deal with.

I can’t remember the first time I was body-shamed by my mother, but the message has stayed with me since: you won’t be beautiful, worthy or desirable until you lose weight. Although societal beauty standards have become ever so slightly more progressive, being ‘slim’ is still very much the ideal for women in our communities. Our bodies are subject to criticism if they fall short. There is no room for acceptance or understanding that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that they are all of equal worth.

What irritates me the most about my mum’s criticisms is that she posits them under the guise of ‘health’ and in the same breath warns me about what relatives will say when we visit or threatens me with how much more weight I will put on after childbirth (even though I’m not planning on having kids anytime soon!). In the South Asian community, everything is about looking good for the benefit of other people, rather than feeling good about yourself. 

This creates a guilt complex when it comes to food and promotes a negative body image. I can’t eat in front of my family without feeling like a gluttonous pig and I find myself turning side on in front of the mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of the faults that seem so obvious to my mother. On days when I can’t handle the constant onslaught of criticism about my appearance, I end up in a puddle of tears. The sad thing is this isn’t even unusual. In a twisted way, it’s seen as helpful. 

South Asian families don’t seem to understand the crippling mental health effects this has upon their daughters. Every time I try to explain to my mum how inadequate her words have made me feel she shrugs and uses the “we’re family” excuse to brush off her nasty behavior. Pointing out the hypocrisy behind these words doesn’t help either. When I complain that the aunties who make these judgments don’t fit this standard either my mum simply hits back with ‘aunties can be fat and ugly, young girls shouldn’t be’. 

I feel emotionally exhausted trying to communicate to my mum the problematic nature of her statements when in her mind the only solution is for me to lose weight, not for her to change her attitude. 

Why is this outdated mindset still perpetuated? As women we have so much more to offer to society than being thin and beautiful, yet our worth is still centered primarily on our appearance. As cliché as it is, outer beauty counts for nothing if inner beauty isn’t present.

Why can’t we praise our women for being kind, for being funny, for being intelligent? If we want to praise them for their beauty, why can’t we acknowledge that beauty comes in all different skin tones and sizes? Surely being a desirable marriage prospect is no longer the ultimate goal for many women - we have degrees, we have careers, we have thriving social lives. 

Brown girls are stuck in a situation where their families and communities can’t see past the narrow confines they’ve created for their daughters to all the brilliance that lies beneath. 

It should be our duty to help uplift each other where our families fall short. Breaking the cycle starts with us.

I don’t want to raise a daughter in an environment like mine where she feels under constant scrutiny by her mother and an utter failure for failing to live up to impossible standards of beauty. It’s a rocky road to self-acceptance and self-love when one cruel comment can set you back days, weeks, even months from all the hard work you’ve put into it. I certainly feel as if I’ve regressed recently so writing this feels like a powerful declaration that even though I might become upset and angry, I refuse to be bullied or shamed for simply existing as I am. 

About the author

Born and raised in Bristol, Sarah has always had a passion for writing. Drawing on her experiences as a woman of colour, she hopes to bring awareness to social issues such as intersectional feminism, racism, environmentalism and mental health. In her spare time she can be found chilling with a good book in one hand and a cuppa in another.



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