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Indians Applaud a Journalist's Passionate Takedown of a Body-Shaming Facebook Meme

Screenshot from Facebook

Screenshot from Facebook. Meme originally shared by Abbey Oye, an Indian entertainment site.

The above cringe-worthy meme featuring Oscar-nominated American actress Gabourey Sidibe was doing the rounds on Facebook in India for quite a while. Originally uploaded by Abbey Oye, an Indian entertainment site, the image was being shared by users who tagged their handsome male friends, insinuating what a horrible thing it would be for them to have a wife or a girlfriend who resembled Sidibe.

Kolkata-based journalist, Tiyash Mukhopadhyay, who works for a leading Bengali daily, gave a fitting reply to all those who thought it was “funny” to bash the woman in the meme for her size and looks.

In her Facebook post, she wrote in Bangla:

ক'দিন ধরেই চোখে পড়ছে, এই ছবিটা ফেসবুকে বেশ ছড়িয়ে পড়েছে। লোকজন শেয়ারও করছে, তাদের ‘সুদর্শন’ বন্ধুকে ট্যাগ করে। বেশ মজার ব্যাপার বটে।

I have been noticing that this picture is going viral on Facebook. People have been sharing it, playfully tagging their good-looking friends. It’s quite funny.

আমরা জানলামই না…মেয়েটা কে, কোথায় থাকে, কী করে, কী ভাবে, কী খায়….
আমরা জানলামই না, কালকেই রাস্তার ধার থেকে কোনও আধমরা কুকুরছানাকে ও ঘরে নিয়ে এসেছে কি না..। [..] জানলাম না, অন্যায় দেখলেই ও রুখে দাঁড়ায় কি না..। জানলাম না, কাল সন্ধেয় ওর প্রেমিক ওকে ছেড়ে চলে গিয়েছে কি না..। জানার চেষ্টাও করলাম না, এই নির্লোম ঝকঝকে ফর্সা ঝিনচ্যাকের নিঁখুত বাজারে প্রতিটা মুহূর্তে ওকে লড়াই করে বাঁচতে হয় কি না..। জানলামই না, ঘুমিয়ে পড়লে ওকে আর পাঁচ জনের মতোই নিষ্পাপ লাগে কি না..। জানলাম না, মেয়েটা ভালবাসতে ভালবাসে কি না..।

But we do not really know… who this girl is, where she lives, what she does, what she thinks, what she eats…. we do not know if she picked up and brought home a dying puppy from a street corner yesterday…. […] We do not know if she protests against any injustice. We do not know if her lover left her last evening… We did not make an attempt to know whether in a world of well-groomed people with glossy exteriors full of spunk, if she has to struggle to survive. We do not know whether she looks as innocent as everyone else when she sleeps. We don’t know if she loves to love.

জাস্ট জানলাম না, প্রয়োজনই মনে করলাম না..।
শুধু জানলাম, মেয়েটি ‘মোটা’, ‘কালো’, ‘কুৎসিত'। জানলাম এ রকম মেয়ে কারও বান্ধবী বা কারও প্রেমিকা হলে তা এক ভয়ঙ্কর মজার ব্যাপার বটে..। সাইজ আর চামড়ার রং দিয়ে মুহূর্তের মধ্যে জাজ করে ফেললাম ওর সমস্তটুকুকে..।

We just do not know, neither did we feel the need for it. The only thing we know is: the girl is “fat”, “dark”, “ugly”. If someone like her becomes someone’s wife or girlfriend, it would be a terribly funny thing. We judge her everything merely on the basis of her size and colour of her skin.

তার পর শুধু শেয়ার করলাম..।
আর আমারই কোনও এক সুপুরুষ বন্ধুর এ রকম বান্ধবী ‘জুটতে’ পারে…এই আশঙ্কায় হেসেই গড়াগড়ি খেলাম..। তাদের ট্যাগ করে খুব খানিক অপ্রস্তুতে ফেললাম..।

And then we started sharing the picture. I rolled on the floor laughing, having imagined the possibility of some of my handsome friends, having her as their girlfriend. I tagged them and made them a little uncomfortable.

কী প্রচন্ড রসবোধ আমাদের..! কী অল্পে খোরাক খুঁজে পাই..! কত সহজেই একটা ছবির মাধ্যমে নির্ভেজাল খুশি ছড়িয়ে দিতে পারি সোশ্যাল মিডিয়ার পাতায় পাতায়…!

What a tremendous sense of humor we have! We find fodder for laughter so easily. How easy it is for us to spread unadulterated happiness throughout the pages of social media on the basis of just one “odd” picture!

মেয়েটা হয়তো জানলই না… বা জানার পরে বাকি জীবনটা কুঁকড়ে বাঁচল… অথবা, এই অপমান সহ্য করতে না পেরে……….

Maybe the girl in the picture will never know. Or maybe, after knowing, she will lead a miserable life. Or maybe, unable to bear the insult, she will…

যাক গে, এত জেনে কাজ কী আমাদের…!

Anyway, what’s the point of knowing all this?

Mukhopadhyay's post quickly circulated on Facebook. It has garnered more than 2,600 likes and reactions and more than 380 comments, with around a thousand people having shared the post at the time of writing this article. Most have applauded Mukhopadhyay for pointing out the cruelty of the meme and the misogyny inherent in it.

Paramita Ghosh wrote:

I feel very good after having read your post. This bears prove of the fact that goodness is still left in us.

Echoing Mukhopadhyay's thoughts, Deblina Chakraborty said:

Body shaming in the garb of jokes is constantly humiliating our apparently “educated”, “progressive”, “modern society”. I lose my voice of protest as I am filled with disgust.

Ankita Chakraborty lamented the pressure put on people over their weight:

Funny, indeed! Apart from grinding your teeth or softly crying to yourself, is there any thing else one can do? Everyday one has to hear, “Stop eating so much”, “You have become fatter”, “You will burst any moment now”. Nobody thinks about the impact their remarks would have on the person who is being spoken to. I don't know who you but I salute you.

While sharing the post, Somdatta Roy commented:

অসম্ভব প্রাসঙ্গিক… এবং এক ই সাথে লজ্জার… কোথায় চলেছি আমরা? শেষ টা কোন যায়গায়????

Extremely pertinent and at the same time shameful. Where are we headed and where is it going to end?

Mukhopadhyay wasn't done with her critique. She wrote in response to a comment on her post:

আসলে ‘সুন্দর’-এর একটা কাঠামো ছোটবেলা থেকে আমাদের মধ্যে পেরেক পিটে গেঁথে গিয়েছে..। তার বাইরে যা কিছু, সেই সবটা নিয়েই আমরা ‘মজা’ করতে পারি বলে ভেবে নিই..। পরে কোনও এক দিন হয়তো জানতে পারি, আমাদের চেনা কাঠামোর বাইরের পৃথিবীটা এত বড়, সেখানে মজা করতে গিয়ে আমরা নিজেরাই মজা হয়ে যাই..। নিজের কাছেই ছোট হয়ে যাই।…

We have been made to buy into the standardization of beauty from our very childhood. Anything that falls outside our known parameter of beauty, we think is worth being made fun of. It is not the fault of an individual, but the way we have been raised to think about beauty is to blame. The fault is in the perspective that society has gifted us. Maybe someday we will learn that the world is bigger than what we know, because of which we end up looking funny ourselves as we try to make fun of others, making ourselves appear smaller.

Not all have responded to the post favourably, however.

Avi Bose seemed to think people were taking the meme too seriously:

Wonderful thinking! But if you keep thinking in this fashion then probably you should consider not walking down the streets as you could step on many ants causing their death. Try to take things lightly. There's no point thinking so much about such a small issue.

Experts say that Internet memes go viral due to a psychological process called emotional contagion through which emotions spread like a disease. Many on Facebook were sharing the image, thinking it was funny, long before Mukhopadhyay chose to reflect on it critically. But her post seems to have “cured” the contagion for a number of people, at least, who are now refusing to accept it as benign humour. The power of social media is immense — for bad and for good.

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