Chubby babies are great. But dare you grow up to be that!
She has just turned seven months old. That’s lesser time outside than she spent inside. Husband and I step out for the mandatory vaccination ritual. As I enter the cubicle, the fellow assistant carries her away for the body weight and height check. The doctor is gearing up to perform his medical precision, with a syringe that has the vaccine oozing out its mouth, signaling the accuracy of the procedure. The needle pinches my little one and she cries out loud, making her displeasure known. The mother in me cringes at her pained plight but secretly thanks God that it is her and not me, for needle pricks are one of the most terrifying forms of treatment ever.
The doctor assigns the date for the next vaccination drill and turns to me to check if I have any query. I am reminded of a short chat with a neighbor the previous afternoon. Assuming that my baby must have been bored looking at the same face since morning, I stood with her on my shoulder in our balcony which is structurally aligned to the next flat, so much so that we often end up borrowing cheeni ki katori (sugar bowl) over the chajja (parapet wall). Our quiet me (us) time staring silently into the peace is interrupted by a salaam from a neighbor. The septuagenarian lady pours her love for the baby and asks me, “kitna mahine k hai baccha” (how old is the baby?). My response to her gets me an instant worried feedback “dubla hai” (she is thin).
My kid is about 1.5 years old now and I have lost count of the number of times I have been subjected to such unsolicited comments. It usually starts with a casual compliment about her eyes; then gradually escalates to the body weight. Be it a close friend who questions me about my diet and advises me to double my calorie intake or the extended family that make jokes on how both husband and I, have put on weight and neglected the baby. There is always this conversation. There are also some upfront comments from friends asking, as if, as a matter of right, “why is the baby so weak?” Ugh!
Child rearing is a very personal journey. I am yet to come across any parent who sleeps without worrying for their little one. Each child is different and parenting is a challenging task with new hurdles in each phase. For a first time mother, the delirium of breastfeed over a formula feed or vice versa is a vicious circle. Yet, in our society passing innocuous comments is deep rooted. People who make such fleeting comments believe in passing on their hearsay parenting wisdom without being asked for.
Body shaming is real. It starts at infancy. A child who in his/her childhood is considered socially acceptable with his/her pudgy hands and drooping cheeks aka cute, becomes heavy in the eyes of the same society, when he/she is 10. The parents are asked to increase his/her physical activities. Suggestions of enrollment into athletic classes and keeping a check on the food intake start to pour from all corners. If this child happens to be a girl then her posterior frame becomes a public property for local aunties to comment on. Is it not sad that as a society we have set standards for the body – which also conveniently keep changing for every stage of life!
It is not a surprise that young kids especially girls grow up and develop image issues. It starts as early as primary school days and goes on forever. This is the sad reality of our society where most people in the name of concern and friendly banter often cross the line.
Thankfully, my doctor is sane. He puts out the medical science in simpler words. Every child has a body type that is mostly determined by the genes that he/she carries. Some kids eat more but never put on enough weight while some others grow up just fine despite limited and fussy intake. The red flags during the early years of a child are iron, hemoglobin or calcium deficiency. Compulsory calcium supplements for bone development and a check on overall nutrition is therefore important. As long as the birth weight of a baby doubles in the first six months, and triples in the first year, there is nothing more that should worry a parent. Major milestones of development; crawling, sitting, walking and running need medical intervention only if delayed beyond the average timeline; the reasons and cure then, known best to the doctor.
Doctors will repeat this over and over again. You may choose to hear this if it’s your own baby. Perhaps ignore when calling out the little one of your neighbor’s. Because – Why not! (Society evil grin)
A simple piece of advice that I’d like to give to my daughter is to grow up mentally strong and fiercely independent. She should strive for a healthy and active lifestyle. The body shaming comments – which, let’s be real she will face in one form or another – should not cause any dent to her personality. She should treat any individual more for their personal beliefs and ideas and not for their mere physical appearances. Not to mention – all body types are normal and fine. Body shaming is wrong at all levels, let us not make it sound okay, even it is for a baby.