The Union Ministry of Health can be credited now with having one of the shortest-lived tweets in the history of twitter. Last weekend the ministry put out a tweet from its official handle with an image (which appears to have been lifted from another questionable website) that had two body types – fat and thin – filled with graphic images of food.
The text ‘Good nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life. Choose wisely, live well. #Swasthabharat #ayushmanbharat #healthforall’ accompanied the image. The tweet was pulled down after Indian twitteratti rightly slammed it, but of course screenshots are available online.
Of the things that were problematic with that particular image, the first is that both the body types were women’s – one big and wide hipped, the other small and size zero. As if there are no sizes between the extremes, as if only women are fat. Must I be thankful that the ministry didn’t go to the lengths of colour coding the women as fair and dark? Or must I assume that the ministry cares deeply about women? Or that it’s plainly sexist, in its representation?
We do know that what we put into our bodies by way of food contributes directly to our health. I mean, the balanced diet has been bombarded at us in every possible way. But it is also proven that a lot more than food contributes to body size. By pitting fat against thin, telling us that the fat body in unhealthy and unwelcome whereas the thin body is healthy and ideal, the ministry has shown scarce respect to movements that have worked hard to disassociate fat from unhealthy.
Clearly those who tracked down a webpage that provides instructions on how to get rid of ‘saddlebags’ haven’t browsed the World Wide Web enough to come across blogs like ‘health at every size’. And it is possible to be healthy at every size, eat little and still be fat, eat healthy and still gain weight. Goddamn, it’s science, and the body is not a stock exchange bereau – one cannot calculate the return on investments. It’s too early or too late to call the ministry out for body shaming; afterall the ministry is only made up of people from a body-shaming culture. Inside the frame of the fat woman’s body, alongside graphics of soda and junk food lie images of meat and eggs.
The thin women’s body is made up of only fruits and vegetables. A high sugar diet is only as bad as an only vegetable diet – neither is of the balanced nature. In a country that has a majority of meat eaters and a vegetarian or vegan diet can be maintained by only certain class groups (directly related to caste communities), it is disrespectful to equate meat with junk food, as hoodwink people into believing meat is unhealthy.
Ahem, I must point out that the ministry of health before it was tainted saffron had both advertised egg consumption and included it in the noon meal scheme. When dalit-feminist activists with other thoughtful people lashed out at the tweet’s senseless, sexist and castist nature, the embarassed union health ministry pulled it down. But not before twitter users asked where the gaumutr is in the healthy body. Indians are very obviously going to derive their health from humour, and the health ministry…well it needs a long holiday.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton