Beyond Beauty Bytes: Protecting Body Image In The Age Of Digital Scrutiny

Author: Chitra Chitranshi, a Student of Unity Pg And Law College


In an age dominated by social media, young people in India face a growing threat: cyberbullying and body shaming. This article, “Beyond Beauty Bytes: Protecting Body Image In The Age Of Digital Scrutiny,” explores the negative impact of these practices on teenagers’ self-esteem, mental health, and social well-being. Backed by statistics and legal analysis, the article exposes the tactics used by online bullies and the devastating consequences they inflict. It highlights the case of Prachi Nigam, a teenager targeted for her facial hair, showcasing the absurdity of societal beauty standards.

The article proposes a multi-pronged approach to combat this issue. It emphasizes raising awareness, promoting positive body image messages online, and providing mental health resources for young people. It also calls for stricter policies from social media platforms and a more comprehensive legal framework to hold perpetrators accountable. By fostering open communication and advocating for self-acceptance, India can create a safer online environment where young people can thrive regardless of their appearance.

Keywords: Cyberbullying, Body shaming, Mental health, Social media, Self-esteem


Body image is a person’s perception of their physical appearance, including thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about size, height, and attractiveness. The idea of a perfect body doesn’t bloom in a vacuum, society plays a major role in building these criteria of an ideal body. Society shapes them through the media we consume, the clothes on the store shelves, and even casual remarks. Imagine a blueprint for a perfect body – tall, toned, with all specific features. Society keeps showing off this blueprint of an ideal body everywhere we look. This constant reminder makes us feel like we’re not good enough as we don’t fit in that criterion. 

A study in 2020 by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that teens who spend more time on social media report higher levels of body dissatisfaction.

To The Point

A 16-year-old girl Prachi Nigam from India achieved the top position in her class 10 board exams in April 2024. This should have been a moment of celebration, but unfortunately, it was overshadowed by something else entirely: her facial hair. Bullies and online trolls targeted her appearance, highlighting something natural as a flaw. This incident exposes the dark reality of society which often fixates on physical appearance, overshadowing the true achievements and creating unrealistic beauty standards. This highlights the issue of body shaming and the unrealistic beauty standards imposed on youngsters. Despite the negativity, Prachi responded with maturity, stating that her academic achievement mattered more than her appearance. This resonates with the importance of self-confidence and not succumbing to societal pressures.  

The Proof

A 2023 report by McAfee, a cybersecurity company exposed a dark reality for young people in India. Over 8 out of 10 children aged between 10-19 years old have been cyberbullied, with a significant portion likely targeting their physical appearance. This report highlights the emerging problem of body shaming online. Teens bombarded with messages about how they should look might feel judged and vulnerable when they encounter such messages, comments, hurtful rumors, or even exclusion from online groups on Instagram or Facebook. These actions of society might have a devastating impact on a young person’s self-esteem.

The second proof is the recent study by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), reported by The Times of India in 2022, which throws light upon a disturbing gender disparity in online body shaming. The report shows that girls are more likely to be targeted for cyberbullying focused on their appearance as compared to boys. From a very young age girls are taught to always look physically good, and ideal body types or beauty standards are set by society often through media and societal expectations.

Another survey of 2021 by the Indian School of Business (ISB) reveals a disturbing picture of how social media fuels body shaming in India. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook, meant for connection have now become a battleground for body shaming. The ISB report exposes three main weapons used by online bullies: merciless words (34%), venomous rumors (39%), and exclusion tactics (35%). The most frequent weapon is vicious comments that directly attack on a person’s appearance. These comments are relentless and incredibly damaging, leaving scars on a young person’s mind and self-esteem. Bullies might target weight, clothing choices, or facial features, creating a constant barrage of negativity. Another weapon is venomous rumors. Bullies take advantage of anonymity online to mold and spread malicious stories about someone’s looks which damages their reputation and social standing within online communities. The last weapon is the exclusion tactics that are used by online bullies which aim to make the targeted person feel worthless and isolated, potentially leading them to anxiety or depression.

These tactics highlight the calculated cruelty of online body shaming, inflicting deep emotional wounds that can have a lasting effect on young minds.

Dr. Anjali Gopalan, a child psychologist based in Mumbai, emphasizes the need for immediate action. “Body shaming online can severely impact a young person’s mental well-being,” she says. “We need to create awareness campaigns, empower young people to report cyberbullying, and foster a culture of body positivity in India”.

These statistics and expert insights showcase the alarming state of online body shaming in India. It’s a critical issue demanding a collective effort to promote online safety for young people and celebrate diverse forms of beauty.

Impact of Cyber-bullying 

The impact of online body shaming on young people in India can be devastating and far-reaching, affecting their emotional, psychological, and social well-being. 

  • Damaged Self-esteem: Relentless negativity towards their appearance can shatter a young person’s self-esteem leading to feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and inadequacy. The constant barrage of criticism can make them feel like their bodies are something to be ashamed of, restricting them from developing a positive body image.
  • Depression and Anxiety: The impact of body shaming can be severe, triggering symptoms of depression and anxiety. Feeling ostracized and ridiculed can lead to social withdrawal, isolation, and a sense of hopelessness.
  • Eating Disorders: The pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards can lead to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Young people may resort to extreme measures like starvation or purging to try to achieve the ‘ideal’ body type portrayed online or by society. 
  • Social Withdrawal: The fear of any further harassment might cause the person to withdraw from social interactions, both online and offline. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and hinder their ability to develop healthy social relationships. 
  • Self–Harm: In severe cases, the emotional pain of online body shaming can lead to self-harm as a coping mechanism. The victim might inflict physical injury upon themselves as a way to manage the emotional distress. 

A Call to Action 

The impact of online body shaming on young people underscores the need for a multi-prolonged approach to address this issue. Raising awareness about cyberbullying, promoting positive image messages online, and providing mental health resources for young people are crucial steps. Social media platforms have a responsibility to create a safer online environment by implementing strict policies against cyberbullying and providing mechanisms for reporting abuse. Parents and educators also play a major role in fostering open communication with youngsters about body image and the dangers of online harassment. By working together, we can create a space where the young generation of India can feel safe, valued, respected, and empowered, regardless of their appearance.

Legal Landscape in India

  • Indian Penal Code, 1860:
    • Section 292: This section deals with the publication or circulation of obscene material. While not directly applicable to body shaming, malicious comments about someone’s body could potentially be interpreted as obscene content in extreme cases.
    • Section 500: This section deals with defamation. If online body shaming involves spreading rumors or making false statements that damage someone’s reputation, it could be considered defamation.
    • Section 507: This section deals with criminal intimidation. If online body shaming involves threats of violence or harm, it could be considered criminal intimidation
  • Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan (1997): This landmark Supreme Court case established guidelines for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. While not directly related to body shaming, it established the court’s willingness to address harassment and its impact.

Challenges and Need For Comprehensive Approach

The legal provisions offer some recourse for victims of online body shaming. However, challenges remain:  

  • Some sections, like defamation, can be open to broad interpretation, potentially chilling free speech.
  • Laws often focus on cyberbullying in general, not specifically addressing body shaming.
  • Effective enforcement mechanisms are crucial for holding perpetrators accountable.

While existing laws can offer some legal tools, a more comprehensive approach is needed. This could include:

  • Enacting specific legislation against online body shaming, outlining clear definitions and penalties.
  • Strengthening enforcement mechanisms to ensure timely and effective action against online harassment.
  • Increasing public awareness about body shaming, its legal implications, and available support resources. 

By working towards a more robust legal framework and promoting social change, India can create a safer online environment for all.


Body shaming in India’s digital sphere inflicts lasting wounds on young people, irrespective of gender. While legal avenues exist, a more comprehensive approach is necessary. This includes empowering young people, fostering open communication about body image, and holding social media platforms accountable. By working together, government, society, and individuals can cultivate a safer digital space that celebrates diverse beauty standards. Let’s break the cycle of body shaming and empower young people to embrace their authentic selves, paving the way for a more inclusive and body-positive India.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What is body shaming?

Body shaming is the act of criticizing someone’s physical appearance negatively. This can be done in person, online, or through other forms of communication.

  1. How does body shaming affect young people in India?

Body shaming can have a significant negative impact on young people’s mental health, leading to issues like:

  • Shattered self-esteem
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Social withdrawal
  • Self-harm
  1. Why is body shaming so prevalent in India?

There are several factors that contribute to the prevalence of body shaming in India, including:

  • Societal beauty standards that emphasize fairness, thinness, and specific body types.
  • The influence of social media, which often portrays unrealistic beauty standards.
  • Lack of awareness about the negative effects of body shaming.
  1. What can be done to stop body shaming in India?

There are many things that can be done to stop body shaming in India, including:

  • Promoting body positivity: Encouraging people to accept and appreciate their bodies, regardless of size or shape.
  • Open communication: Creating safe spaces for young people to talk about body image and the dangers of online harassment.
  • Education: Teaching young people about media literacy and critical thinking skills to challenge unrealistic beauty standards.
  • Stricter social media policies: Platforms should have clear policies against body shaming and enforce them effectively.
  • Comprehensive legal framework: Creating specific laws against online body shaming and improving enforcement mechanisms.
  1. Where can I find help if I am being body-shamed?

If you are being body-shamed, don’t feel embarrassed, there are various resources available to help you out, few of them are:

  • Talk to a trusted friend or family member.
  • Seek support from a mental health professional.
  • Report online abuse to the social media platform.
  • Consider helplines:
    • Childline India (1098)


Beyond Beauty Bytes: Protecting Body Image In The Age Of Digital Scrutiny

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