Yaseefa, 26, who prefers to remain anonymous, has never been skinny or petite. Growing up, she has been battling obesity, high blood pressure, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). She said, "it has not been easy being a big girl through school or college; I don't remember a time when I wasn't called by names in get-togethers. Trust me; among them, fatso was the most decent one".
During this pandemic, Yaseefa experienced something she never thought she would. On her 26th birthday, her younger brother Eddie posted a photo of them cutting the cake on Facebook. Some of Eddie's classmates created a meme using the snapshot, referring Eddie was one cake slice away from becoming overweight as his sister. They posted it in his school's Facebook group.
This unfortunate incident took a toll on Eddie's mental health. "My brother finds it very difficult to have a normal conversation with us as well. All he can think of is leaving this school as soon as possible", said Yaseefa.
In early 2020, when COVID-19 started to affect the entire world, it also provoked mental health issues among people because of the lockdown. While this time is stressful for everyone, discrimination based on somebody's body's weight or shape creates extreme difficulties with long-term mental health consequences.
According to an online survey conducted by Mental Health Foundation, a charity based in the UK, 31% of teenagers in the UK are ashamed of their body image. During such a mental condition, body shaming pushes the victim towards low self-esteem, a harmful diet, or even long-term depression.
Sultana Kazi is a teacher in a school in West Ham, London. She has been confronted with this difficulty almost every week throughout the year. "Though we have conducted online anti-bullying campaigns and awareness seminars with students, we still had quite a lot of disciplinary misconduct meetings with students and their parents because of online body shaming," said Kazi.
She also mentioned that as everybody was supremely dependent on social media, people involved in body shaming are not aware of the consequences of their actions on the victims. She says, "For them, it is just a post or a comment; they are not seeing how devastating their actions are on people."
Yaseefa thought the most effective way to resolve this problem is to encourage more discussion. She said, "we need to start teaching empathy from our homes from a very early age; conducting two seminars each year by the school is not going to be enough."