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Why a teenager lost 13 kilos

Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava | Updated on August 31, 2018 Published on August 31, 2018

Imperfect image: Social anxiety is a major worry among a new generation of post-millennials, weaned on the internet and social media from a young age   -  ISTOCK.COM/PEOPLEIMAGES

Anorexia, body-shaming, social anxiety — a train of depression is hurtling forward

“Some of us suffer for not making the ‘cut’, we’re overlooked because we don’t have the right physical traits. Some of us spend most of our nights wondering why we don’t look like the rest.”

Almost a cry for help, these haunting words are by Myra*, only 13. Her mother, a rather helpless 45-year-old, says the teen has everything going for her. She is intelligent and an achiever, yet her school years are troubled. Tall and overweight Myra became a target of body shaming, which is the new bullying.

Celebrities such as actor Sridevi’s daughter Khushi Kapoor or actor Pooja Bedi’s daughter Aalia Furniturewalla have been targets too, and their experiences have been written about. But many others suffer silently, more so behind the high walls of elite schools.

Myra was taunted, called a buffalo and told no man would be attracted to her. Crumbling under the pressure, she worked hard to lose weight and regained some confidence, but she is always on the edge. At times she loses her appetite completely or becomes unusually quiet. Her mother is extremely anxious over her daughter’s fragile state of mind. Her father dismisses it as a part of growing up.

Tara, another 13-year-old, not only topped her class but also excelled in sports, playing soccer for her school team. The seniors in the squad, however, picked on her over her body weight. Her confidence plummeted when she found that many girls her age were going out on dates, but no boy had asked her out yet. Tara became convinced she was plump and that boys were only interested in thin girls.

After being bullied at a school camp, Tara turned into a recluse and frequently broke into tears without any reason. She had nightmares about being beaten up by other girls. She also started losing weight. Her parents ignored these signs initially, but soon became alarmed after the girl lost seven kilos, became anorexic and slipped into depression. Frustrated at her inability to make friends and the incessant body shaming, the teenager stopped eating completely. She soon collapsed and had to be hospitalised. By then she had lost 13 kilos.

Her mom still shudders at the memory of how frail she had become, a shadow of the vibrant girl she once was. Now she is back in school and continues to be in therapy and on medication. And she has slowly started smiling again.

Sixteen-year-old Pia says she has trust issues with her own family. Pia, who calls herself a loner, says her Instagram account was once hacked by her classmates, who used it to post crude messages. Like Tara, she has a sleeping disorder and nightmares. Diagnosed with depression three years ago, Pia often locks herself in her room for days and plots tiny acts of rebellion. So if the school says ‘no’ to colouring hair, she bleaches it. If her mom tells her to take her medication, she looks the other way. Behind her belligerence is a lost child, for whom the world has proved to be a little too much to handle.

A WHO report last year said that one in four teens in the 13-15 age group had depression in India. Social anxiety is a major worry among a new generation of post-millennials, weaned on the internet and social media from a young age. Exposing body and soul on social media is par for the course, as kids barely into their teens shop for fancy lingerie in malls, pose in them in the dressing room and upload the images on Instagram seconds later. The new Gossip Girl does not hesitate to morph bodies and faces, sometimes to their advantage and sometimes to be plain nasty.

Many of these girls worship skinny models like the Hadid sisters. At a birthday party recently, the host was heard complaining that her teenage daughter and friends hadn’t touched a morsel. A few other parents shrugged it away, saying it was good the girls were conscious about their appearance.

A decade ago the only pressure was that of board exams. Today you are an outcast if you don’t conform physically. The repeated shaming for having an ounce of baby fat has made ‘mirror mirror on the wall’ the gospel truth. In India, the concept of mental health issues arising from eating disorders is still new. Bulimia and anorexia were considered ills that affected only the West. That too, only those associated with the glamour and entertainment industries. Though awareness is still low, some schools in the metros have been conducting workshops for students and parents.

Where does this crazy environment leave us? Talk some more with your child, as that is the only mantra that works today. But even then, like Tara’s parents, sometimes it’s easy to miss the early signs; at other times, sifting the truth is tough. Pia says her mom beats her up for even making friends. Anorexia, body-shaming, binge-eating and depression — that train is relentlessly hurtling forward. It’s messy out there and, what’s worse, many parents still don’t know it.

(*Names changed to protect identity)

Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava is a freelance journalist based in Delhi

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Published on August 31, 2018
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