At an event in honour of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, the Rajasthan Women’s Commission chairperson made a comment that went viral.
It was a lamentation against earrings and low-waist jeans wearing lean boys.
This article addresses my concerns regarding those comments that were made on the eve of women’s day of all days. The biggest irony being the person who made them was also a woman.
Let us first get to the statement that was made.
“There was a time when every girl would desire a man with a broad chest and thick chest hair. But no such men can be seen today. How can he who can’t even handle his jeans protect sisters?” she said.
And it did not stop there. When leading daily, Times of India reached out to her with regards to her statement; she defended them with equally shocking statements.
“I was talking about the 1970s-80s when men were seen as ‘he-men’ and expected to be well built with broad chests. With changing trends, today, boys are as crazy about a lean figure as girls, and that is not good.”
She also backed her argument by quoting Bollywood song ‘Yeh desh hain veer jawano ka’s lyric ‘Jahan Chowdi Chhati Veeron Ki’ (where the Bravehearts have broad chests)’.
“A braveheart was recognised by his broad chest then, but now it is not the case,” she said.
She did not fail even to suggest a solution to raise boys to be broad-chested men addressing mothers.
“I advise mothers to see their boys’ diets so they grow to be strong and can protect not just their sisters but also the country. It is the mother’s responsibility to inculcate values among the children,” she said.
Let’s reverse genders for a moment. If something along the lines of what the Women’s Commission Chairperson said were made by another male person in authority about women, the media would be kicking a ruckus and so would the general public. But it clearly isn’t the case right now, is it?
Isn’t is ironic how we, despite being poster boys and girls of body positivity, also discriminate between men and women in such situations?
We encourage our girls and women to accept themselves and their bodies the way they are. We tell women no matter how lean or healthy, how fair or dusky, how old or young they are, they need not bow down to the beauty standards of the glamour industry and we celebrate them.
But why don’t we make the same effort with our young boys and men?
Every day in your social circles, you come across a naturally slim boy or man who’d be called a cloth hanger or Hindi slangs like haddi pasli or macchis ki tilli. Such boys are often ‘jokingly’ asked if their family don’t feed them enough.
And at most times, we laugh it off. Because skinny shaming isn’t a thing right?
But it is.
Why is it so easy for us to presume that body image and self-esteem are concerns only for women and not men?
Like the comment made by the chairperson, there are hundreds of young boys and men who are expected to display their masculinity and strength by their physical appearance – good height, broad-chest, mounting muscles, toned calves, and what not.
And when many young boys and men fail to adhere to these requirements of a ‘he-man’ (as she put it), they become victims of body shaming.
So, then does the comment made by her mean that if a man’s built is naturally lean, he is undesirable, abnormal, and unwanted by the opposite sex?
Whether a man or woman, a person’s body type doesn’t define their worth, and it doesn’t define the kind of person they are.
Just like there is no right body type, there isn’t a wrong one either. All genders with all their varying body types have to be encouraged to feel comfortable in their skin and be confident to love themselves.
Also, coming to the justification given by the Chairperson to her previous statement– if we are talking about making our women self-reliant at women empowerment debates, why should they feel the need to depend on their ‘well-built’ brothers for protection?
How about we teach our girls some self-defence techniques instead of reeling free advice to mothers to buff their sons up against their wishes on a diet of 100% desi-ghee to protect their sisters and eventually the nation?
Also, men who have to join the forces to protect their nation need a burning passion to serve it. Pretty sure the selection and recruitment processes for armed forces don’t list ‘thick-haired broad-chested men’ as a compulsory requirement.
Having grown up around boys who were either too-healthy or too-skinny for the validation of others, I know how impactful such statements made by persons in authority at public events can be.
And while the damage is done, I do think this incident is an excellent place to start telling our boys and men that they too are loved just the way they are. The next time you have a conversation with a young man who gets picked on for being too lean, speak to him and tell him, he has a support system in you.
Last but certainly not the least, coming to my personal favourite part of the speech made by the WC Chairperson. She cautioned girls “to not go all out in the name of freedom and create an imbalance in society…Women, too, cannot go a long way if they leave the men behind. A balance should be there in society.”
To this I would only say, women for ages have struggled to break the glass ceiling. They will reach for the skies no matter what. And I am certain that men who are secure in themselves don’t fear an ‘imbalance.’ They don’t put women down instead they lift them up.