The Series | 5 Stories

Fatso? Cankle? Shorty? Dealing with body shaming | Women Uninterrupted Podcast | Season 2, Episode 2

Three women relate their journey of overcoming these body image expectations

August 23, 2022 02:29 pm | Updated August 24, 2022 01:13 pm IST

Women Uninterrupted is an inter-generational podcast bringing you difficult, different and uninterrupted conversations about being a woman. 

In Season 2, Episode 2, three women relate their journey of overcoming these body image expectations — within families, within themselves, and outside. 

Host: Anna; Guests: Roxanne & Tasmin

Editing & Title Music: Maya

The Women Uninterrupted podcast was produced by The Scribbling Pad for The Hindu.

You can listen to all episodes of Women Uninterrupted here

You can also listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music


by Sneha Rita Sebastian, student

The tube light is on,

I am in front of the mirror, naked.

My eyes trace the acne on my cheeks

Small, but visible nevertheless

I never caress them.

I scan the dark spots

Sprinkled around my face

Like craters on the moon.

I look further down

At the two splotches on my left hand

And a matching scar on my right elbow.

I see the silver scar

Boldly running across my left knee

While tiny bumps ruin the surface of my legs.

I switch off the light, and I am perfect again.

Walk tall

by Anuja Singh

At 5 feet nothing, I learned early that I have to walk tall. Soon, horizontal growth ensued and my then boyfriend, now husband, called me a unit vector.

I was high on self-assurance, so I did not get perturbed by comments on my looks, though I have untouched shelves of outfits that I wish to fit into someday, and heels to look taller in that I don’t wear.

But what happens to those who are body-shamed by phrases like fat ass, hit the gym, fatso, fat-boned, fatty, cankles, thigh gaps, shorty, lamp-post, and oldie? Trauma, low self-esteem, anxiety and eating disorders are consequences.

Like all bullying, body shaming must be called out. So – if you indulge in body shaming – stop. If you are a victim, take control, practice self-love and stay positive.

Full text of the conversation

The text has been edited for clarity

Tasmin: This is the Women Uninterrupted podcast brought to you by The Hindu. This is a space where we host difficult conversations between different generations of women.

Anna: Hello, I'm your host Anna. And with me, I have Roxanne, who is a content editor. And Tasmin, a social worker, and content writer. Full disclosure: Tasmin is my daughter. Welcome, Tas.

Tasmin: Thank you for having me on your podcast, mama. Today's episode is inspired by something a friend said. This friend of mine, he told a mutual friend that she had cankles...

Anna: Yeah, and all three of us women - that's Tasmin, I, and the girl who allegedly had cankles...we had never heard the word 'cankles' before. But there's Roxanne here; she says she always knew it.

Roxanne: So to my understanding, the cankle is when you can't see that a woman has an ankle. Its flesh merges with the calf.

Anna: I still don't see why or how that would matter. We're born with ankles, cankles, and thigh gaps and whatever. But the issue is not what the word cankle means, but that we actually have a word for when a woman's ankle does not conform to some manmade standard and that's what the dictionary says: woman's ankles specifically. What do you think, Tasmin?

Tasmin: I think it's really bizarre that we have words like cankles and thigh gaps. And most often, these are words that are talking about the bodies of women.

Anna: We're talking about body shaming on this episode. So I have a question for you, Roxanne, because you've lived in two countries, did you notice any significant difference in the way others judged what you look like in both places?

Roxanne: I can tell you for sure that there was a huge difference. I mean, as a child in India, I had people coming up to me to say, you put on weight, and it really affected my mental health. I thought I was fat. I stopped eating. There were certain clothes I didn't wear and that carried on into adulthood. But when I moved to the UAE, there was this different outlook. People didn't comment as much. But when I moved back to India, again, it just started all over. People had their own idea of how I should look. I wasn't stick-thin and I wasn't overweight; I was somewhere in between. But that was never good enough for them.

Anna: And Roxanne, when you said it affected your mental you mind if I ask if you went for therapy?

Roxanne: For my body image? No, because I didn't realize what was happening to me at the time. I had very low self-esteem and I didn't realize why; I didn't know why. It's only when I went to college and met different crowds of people that I understood that this was a problem.

Anna: In met Tasmin there?

Roxanne: Yes.

Anna: Did you share these feelings with friends? Or with anyone at all?

Roxanne: Yeah, but it was all just in passing. I have a way of using self-deprecating humor to express things, but deep down it affected me. For instance, my sister is the complete opposite of me physically. She is thin or rather, fat in all the right places, I would say. And she was fair. So I had a complex from when I was a child, but I just had to deal with it.

Anna: Did it get better as you grew up and you moved around?

Roxanne: Initially, no; it got much worse before it got better. I had to develop the sense that the only person's opinion that mattered is my own. But it took me time to reach that space.

Anna: How about your parents? Did you...could you discuss this with them?

Roxanne: Yes. But again, I had to get there first. I told them it's not fine that you tell me not to wear this or your butt looks too big in that. If I like something, if I'm comfortable, I'm going to wear it irrespective of what you think.

Anna: Tasmin, I will say, I know I'm probably guilty of saying that to you too. I, um, grew up being told like, well, it wasn't fat shaming that was big in our gen. It was more about skin color. So I got stuff like, don't ever wear white; it makes you look dark, and I didn't deal with that too well.

Tasmin: So, I don't think skin color shaming spilled over into our generation. No one did that much to us. I guess that's privilege. But about body image: Most of my childhood, I was really skinny. And I was uncomfortable with how tiny my breasts were, when all of... all of my best friends growing up, had bigger breasts, curvier figures. And all of this gets so much worse in puberty, when suddenly you become aware of the existence of guys who could potentially like you. And then you make random connections like, guys don't like you because you've small breasts, or because you're too skinny. I had no issues about others judging me. But I had this huge internal process, where I was judging myself in relation to others who had bigger assets. And that really got to me.

Roxanne: So one comment which is kind of ingrained in me was when my grandmother told my mom, "You need to tell Roxy to stop wearing sleeveless clothes." To this day, I can't wear anything sleeveless because it still stuck in my head after so many years.

Anna: Can I tell you something about your grandmother's generation, about older generations...we did not really wear sleeveless clothes in Kerala at that time. So when she saw an exposed arm, that probably felt wrong to her. And it's not just the, like, the fat of the arm, I think. When you speak with the older generation, we are going to make excuses to tell you something's for your own good. And that comes from what we've been conditioned to think of as wrong. I'm conscious that I do that. And I must change it, I know. For instance, parents tell kids not to wear crop tops - those are trending now. And sometimes when we cannot justify it in any other way they say, ah...well, it's because your tummy is not the ideal shape.

Tasmin: You have told me that!

Anna: Yes, I've said that to you. I remember, which is why I mentioned it. I am sorry, I'm still learning to parent a bit too late. But also, I wonder how do we differentiate between parental guidance, fashion advice and body shaming?

Roxanne: The difference, I think, is that I won't wear purple lipstick because I don't like it. But someone else can't tell me that I can't wear purple lipstick, because it makes my skin look darker, so don't wear purple lipstick. It should be my choice if I want to wear purple lipstick.

Tasmin: So I find this happening, especially in relationships, where a partner tells you that you need to fix this part about your body. What do you think, Roxanne?

Roxanne: This thing about boyfriends telling girlfriends...I think if my boyfriend tells me, "You need to lose weight," I should be comfortable enough to be able to tell him that, "I don't appreciate you saying that because I think I'm healthy. Of course, if you don't find me attractive anymore, it's over. It's not going to work." For instance, a friend of mine who is very thin, and her boyfriend is a bit bulkier than her...and people kept telling her to bulk up because she looks "too small" next to him. And she had this brilliant, sarcastic reply. She just said, "Why doesn't he lose weight so that he can look smaller next to me?"

Tasmin: Yeah, I think if a random person came up to me and said, "You have dark circles," or "You've lost so much weight," I don't think it would be as bad as people telling me when they are people that I love. I think it will be more harmful for people to say it when they are people that I care for. And we have to figure out ways to tell them that that's not okay.

Roxanne: So this is a conversation I had with my mom. The first time I said it, she was pretty shocked. And I told her, "I like what I'm wearing right now. I know I look fat. But I just want to go out and be happy with the way I look. When you tell me I don't look good, the happiness that's there just disappears, because it's your opinion that matters more than anyone else's. But if I have to disregard your statement, I will do it. Because I want to feel that happiness. It's my body and not anybody else's. I would like it if you hold back when it comes to these things." And this is something that we have been trying to cultivate in our family. We are trying to get rid of these things which we used to say in what we used to think are affectionate ways.

Tasmin: Yeah, I think I can relate to that. I lost a lot of weight after typhoid and it was very hurtful when my family said, "It should stay this way." That's when a couple of my friends told me that I should focus on recovery, not on the fact that some people were saying, "Oh good, you aren't fat now."

Anna: Some people Point taken, Tas.

We are privileged, the three of us...we're privileged to have friends who support us. And we've reached a good place after years of figuring out how to deal with our perception of our body image; how to deal with others' perception, opinions. The message we need to send, I guess, is to kids who cannot vocalize the impact on their mental health when they feel their body doesn't live up to societal expectations. As Roxanne said, let's hold back and not give someone else our opinion on their body. Signing off on this episode of Women Uninterrupted, the intergenerational space for difficult conversations brought to you by The Hindu.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.