Gulf News spoke with Rema Menon, director, Counselling Point Training & Development, about people’s, especially students’, perceptions about their own weight issues and how that impacts their lives. Excerpts:
How often do you come across issues of self-esteem in students due to image perceptions of being overweight or not being fashionably fit?
I see this fairly frequently. I have come across young people who consider themselves ‘ugly’, ‘losers’ or ‘unlovable’ (as they define themselves) because they are overweight, have acne or have some physical features that they are unhappy with. Some youngsters try to stay fit by spending hours in the gym and take high-protein diets. While this is good in moderation, it becomes a problem when the fad/fascination wears off and there is unnatural weight gain. Also, some of the protein supplements may not be suitable for all. It is always better to consult a gym trainer or a nutritionist before one goes overboard. Self-esteem is strongly related to how students view their own body shape and body weight, rather than just how much they weigh. In today’s ‘selfie-driven’ digital world, most young adults are conscious about their looks and body image. Some do not socialise or hang out with friends because of the way they perceive themselves. It is a vicious circle that leads to further feelings of social ostracisation and inadequacy.
The same technology that is helping us stay connected is also causing distances and rifts because of envy, jealousy and sometimes feelings of inferiority. Some of this can be related to appearance, lifestyle, social engagements, status etc.
Does a student being overweight have any bearing on how they would pick their career options?
So far, I have not come across a single student who has had to change his/her career aspirations because of obesity issues. However, you could say that some professions require you to be in tune with what they teach. For example, if you wish to be a dietician, the person needs to be in good form physically, for he needs to inspire others to health too. In such instances, it’s good to set an example. But beyond such specific instances, being overweight is not the issue for career choices. It is the lack of confidence an individual experiences that impacts his/her choice of profession.
What attributes should be emphasised when mentoring youth at the threshold of a career?
Emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity, grooming, communication skills, right etiquette and strong ethical standards are of paramount importance, but over and above these are resilience and a ‘can do’ mind frame that will take them to places. A IT savvy/literate, person who is constantly upgrading skills and knowledge in multiple spheres of interest will be able to able to identify opportunities when they come up. It is important to become lifelong learners who are proactive and willing to embrace change. People may be working on diverse, multiple projects at the same time that require varying skill sets. An integrated approach will prepare us for the future.
We may need to learn, unlearn, and relearn to keep pace with the ever-evolving economy and its needs.
What are the elements a young person should concentrate on to pursue a career? Skills, qualifications, passion?
Media and various career gurus have glorified the concept of “finding your passion.” In fact, I have come across so many young people who are anxious and confused because they have not yet found their ‘passion’. The truth is, finding your passion is not always a eureka moment though it is made out to be as such. We have to, on our own, figure out what we want and for some people it can take a little time to arrive at their ‘passion’. In fact, well-known American career counsellor Cal Newport says, “Passion is something that can be cultivated.” (Curiosity + Engagement) X time = Passion.
Where does image or self-perception fit into this overview?
Individuals with a low self esteem, whether due to body weight issues or other concerns to do with appearance, find it harder to cope with situations and can get into a depressive mindset. Having self-esteem helps you feel confident that you will achieve what you want. Such people do not set out on a project expecting it to fail. When you face challenges or do not succeed, your self-esteem helps you to accept the situation and move on.
What can be done to achieve a shift in society on the issue of overweight and its non-relevance to competence and skills? This bias is particularly destabilisng for youth embarking on their careers.
The UAE has enacted an anti-discrimination law that, in the words of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, “guarantees the freedom of individuals from religious intolerance and underpins the UAE’s policy of inclusiveness”. Companies both federal and private should be made aware of this need for inclusiveness in the interest of youth. People should not be discriminated against on the basis of colour of skin, race, sex, religious preference or size. We are a young country with systems still being put in place. With time, more will be done to ensure every citizen/resident is treated with fairness.
Is the importance given to image justified?
As an individual with weight issues, I always tell my students that living a healthy lifestyle, eating right and staying physically fit is important. If I were to be self-absorbed and depressed because of my own weight, what is the message I’m conveying to the people I aim to counsel? I believe that if you are comfortable in your skin, you realise that it is all in the mind and your approach to situations, it paves the way for greater achievement.
On the other hand, a defeatist attitude and feelings of being a loser because one is overweight or obese will lead to the world percieving you in that very light.
The day we realise we are capable, worthy of emulation and have skills and unique talents that can make a perceptible difference in the lives of others, we emerge stronger and that’s how the world will view us too.