‘Operation Shred’, announced Shane Warne determinedly in his last post on Instagram alongside a shirtless image where he is looking slim and muscular. The rest of the caption read, “The goal by July is to go back to this shape”. After Warne’s untimely death, his manager revealed he had been on a 14-day liquid diet. While it’s impossible to know if it contributed to his heart attack, there is enough evidence linking crash dieting with cardiovascular disease and strokes. An elite athlete like Warne really should have known better, but as anyone who has struggled with their weight knows, it’s easy to shrug off health consequences when the prize is immediate svelteness.

In the widely popular juice cleanse Warne was on – it has been endorsed by celebrities, who want to look lissome before red carpet events – there are no solid foods, only vegetable smoothies, teas and soups, usually for not more than three days at a time. According to movie folklore, Katrina Kaif drank just buttermilk for a week before shooting for the song Kala Chashma, to create the illusion of washboard abs. Naturally, a person’s weight reduces, in the short term. Invariably, when you restart normal food, the body makes up for the calorie deprivation and the weight comes right back. Nevertheless, the juicing diet will always have takers because the results are instantaneous. Human beings are drawn to guarantees. Since weight is an overriding preoccupation in people’s heads, it blinds them to established data, that diets like these are utterly futile.

Despite everything Warne achieved in his illustrious career, he continued to believe in the binary, thin is good and fat is bad. Like millions of others, he underwent desperate measures to fix a size perceived as not “ideal”. There is an unacknowledged moral construct to weight that quietly pressures all of us; in popular imagination, the fat body represents dissipation and a weakness of will, while those existing in a state of focused deprivation are revered and envied. That is why every single dietician worth her salt proudly displays ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of her clients – when it comes to weight, the proof of the pudding is in the not eating. Note, the phenomenal rise in wellness tourism (‘wellness’ being the socially prudent code word for weight loss). Customers pay upwards of Rs 30,000 a night at resorts that have bridged health and leisure with programs for gut resets, sleep recovery and weight busting meal plans.

The Body Positivity influencers flooding Instagram and TikTok can scream themselves hoarse, that you can be healthy and beautiful at any size; secretly, no one believes them. They will get the clap emojis and likes on their posts because people, for good reason, are inclined to keep their prejudices to themselves. On social media, everyone is saying what they think should be said. The fact remains, few care to lose weight for fear of contracting Type 2 diabetes but plenty are motivated by the thought of looking good. But in this era of politically correct messaging, owning up to vanity is no longer legitimate. It should strike everyone as absurd that admitting, publicly, a desire to shed flab may constitute fat shaming. But shutting down the allegedly vain doesn’t change the truth, that excess weight makes people wretchedly unhappy. To improve lives, reconciling all these confusing extremes requires honesty, not lies and posturing.

What the Body Positivity Movement gets right is the claim that there is more to life than agonizing about a size. This message gets lost in between nonsensical hashtags like #healthyatanysize and #fatandproud. It’s true, it’s a colossal waste of mind space to spend this one precious life obsessing over what not to eat. People dreamily believe if only they had shed some kilos, their lives would transform and their problems would vanish. They might, temporarily, till the restless mind finds something else to stress over. Nothing is ever perfect for long. It might be wise to remember, the fit and the unfit meet the same end.

(The writer is director, Hutkay Films)

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