Is social media making us fitter or fatter?

11-10-2017

I see many more healthy people thanks to Facebook. I also see a lot more food. It’s a problem. I’m getting mixed messages from social media.

As it is, being Bengali, I am ambivalent about fitness. Hearty meals play a big role in our lives. It’s not that we don’t understand the importance of fitness, because we’re also hypochondriacs. I have several close relatives whose medical expertise is shocking. None of them are doctors. They just want to study the human condition. In my circles, discussions about ailments are free and frank, with symptoms lavishly detailed. I have a college friend who is now a pillar of society who used to describe the consistency, colour and texture of his stool to all of us every morning, without fail. (‘Today it was a rich, golden brown, very firm.’) Luckily for all of us, this was in the days before phone cameras and social media.

When Arvind Kejriwal tweeted about loose motions, the nation was vastly amused. I couldn’t see why. Where I came from, this was a fairly common topic at get-togethers, with people often munching on fish fries while comparing notes on the effectiveness of antacids. It was all in good spirit. The amateurs held no grudge against the professionals. If any doctors happened to be present, and made the mistake of revealing that they were doctors, they were roped into such discussions. In Calcutta, free medical consultation at public gatherings is an established social norm.

Since I left Calcutta, I have made other types of friends. Some of them run half marathons. One of them climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Sometimes they snorkel. As a result, my social media influences are now more evenly spread between food and fitness, apart from politics, which naturally takes up a lot of space. In fact, it takes up most of the space. I would put politics in the food category, because when I see politicians, I think of food. Most of them are gruesomely overweight. Some of them are heartless, and appear in shorts. They’re like the before pictures in slimming ads. High-priced tailors cannot hide their love handles.

They are men of substance, and if they sit on you, you’re in trouble. They’re the main things we see on social media.

If you step back and think about it, you will realise that at this very moment, thousands of Indians across the country are tweeting angrily in support of some extremely fat people. So it looks like fitness is losing, because the message that we’re getting from social media is clear. Stick to your chair, enjoy the gravy and don’t try to run. It encourages the public to chase you.

In Shovon Chowdhury’s most recent novel, Murder With Bengali Characteristics, General Wen, the Governor of Bengal, is grossly overweight, because food is all he has left.

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