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Suriya's body shaming incident And how there's a good chance you have done it too

A casual comment by a popular TV personality Megyn Kelly sent the US media abuzz with a heated war of words in the second week of January. The hullabaloo was about the comments she made while interviewing blogger Maria Kang on her NBC morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, during which she pronounced fat-shaming as beneficial - "some of us want to be shamed."

Within a week after the incident, the Tamil cinema world caught on to a similar mayhem over two television anchors’ controversial remarks about actor Suriya’s height. While Megyn Kelly was compelled to backpedal her remarks about fat-shaming after a furious backlash on Twitter, the body shaming row in Kollywood is slowly cooling down after Suriya took to Twitter to request his fans to stay away from reacting to “unreasonable criticism.” Earlier, the anchors and the channel were severely criticized by outraged fans. Leaving the heated discussion behind for the social media platforms to ponder over, let’s dig deeper into the roots of body shaming in showbiz - as the most reliable ‘quip’ tool in television and cinema for ages.

It has been a long tradition in television and cinema that fat, darker or shorter characters are used to prompt jokes or exaggerate the machismo charm of the hero by comparative representation. Moreover, in our era of ubiquitous commercials, there are numerous ads, which proclaim the viewers to hate or criticize every aspect of our bodies, for one or the other reason. While one ad advises you to apply a particular face cream on your dark skin to make it fairer, a second one suggests you would look more attractive if you lose a few kilos and stay in shape, and another one warns you about your hair fall while recommending an immediate hair transplantation to keep your confidence level high.

This norm of appearance-centred conditioning transgresses size, shape, skin tone, and height - and places sexual orientation, disability, and even race in the long list of things that make you vulnerable - with recommendations of immediate repair. On a closer examination and in a broader sense, all these ideas can be reinterpreted as various forms of body shaming with predatory elements of judgment, shame and criticism arising from illogical comparison with others.

Aren’t we the cause and effect of this rude, undemocratic mindset that people should be judged primarily for their physical features, using comparison and shame as the scaling tools? After the proliferation of social media and viral video phenomena, a joke about your body could be the next hashtag. While we are protesting against a body shaming incident, we may also click the like button of another shaming video, a television commercial or a comedy scene from a movie.

Reports suggest that the controversial television show at the centre of the ongoing body shaming row is popular for its gossip content and banter about celebrities. Whether we can attribute the jokes of the anchors as body shaming, or the raging anger of the actor’s fans and film fraternity as an overreaction is a debatable issue. But, we are living in an age of body shaming as a comic tool and we are all having a good laugh about it in real life, television and movies.

Hence, the current controversy opens up an opportunity to rethink and reflect what is wrong within us, and how innocent our laughter was when a hero or comedian ridiculed a sidekick for their appearance, or how sensible our sympathy was when a dark-skinned girl was rejected at a job interview for lack of confidence. During an interview with British Harper's Bazaar, Jennifer Lawrence recounted a time in her career ladder when she was told to lose some weight to get more roles. "If anybody even tries to whisper the word 'diet', I'm like, 'You can go **** yourself',” Lawrence told the magazine.

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