Slender silhouettes, fair skin and a defined jawline. In India, if you tick these three boxes, you are categorised as ‘beautiful.’ These unrealistic beauty standards have been so deeply ingrained in our minds that physical appearance determines our self-worth.
Almost every girl in India has been casually ‘body shamed,’ whether she’s skinny or not. And that’s how the diet culture was born; a culture that does not endorse healthy food habits, but fuels the need for women to look a certain way. Scroll through your Instagram or Facebook feeds, and you’ll find celebrities and bloggers flaunting their perfectly toned ‘bikini bods.’
Yet, there’s an alternative movement growing louder by the day, reassuring women that they are perfect, just the way they are.
Say hello to body positivity (or #BoPo on Instagram) – a concept created to help people feel entitled to self-love and shatter stereotypes. The idea is to love your skin regardless of its size, shape, colour, age and ability. So whether you have stretch marks, wrinkles, cellulite or anything else, you own it with pride.
The Bollywood ‘Beauty Trap’
Young girls in India have always idolised Bollywood celebrities - the way they walk, talk, and look - no less than Greek goddesses, and in turn tend to hate their own bodies for not matching their idols’. But most of us do not realise that it is airbrushing – an advanced technique used in photography – that gives images of models and celebrities that aspirational sheen. With the pressure to look perfect all the time, it is almost a professional necessity for celebrities to adhere to these standards too.
However, certain celebrities have been vocal about body positivity and do not shy away from showing their real self. Actor Sonam Kapoor’s article on Buzzfeed a few years ago was a revelation – one that was widely lauded for its honesty and courage.
Another actor and model, who is a champion for body positivity - Malaika Arora, who co-founded SARVA & Diva Yoga, says, “I have always maintained that it is important for women to embrace their curves, flaws, cellulite and even stretch marks. Most importantly, they must love themselves the way they are.”
But the gender-lens is unavoidable while talking about body positivity. Mini Mathur, Actor and TV Host, feels that women have always been viewed through the prism of the male gaze, leading to an intense pressure to look a certain way. “With Instagram, where everyone is busy projecting an unreal, imaginary version of themselves, it’s become almost dangerous. This damages the self-esteem of those who can’t match up. We need to keep it real, and be more inclusive and less judgemental,” she says, adding that she makes it a point to keep her social media interactions real and relatable.
Malaika and Mini believe that celebrities must clarify to their fans that a huge army of people work behind the scenes to make them look the way they do. Further, Malaika notes that it is important to practice some form of fitness to look good and feel healthy, which is why she recommends yoga. “Exercise instils body positivity. If you feel good, you look good, and if you look good, you will be positive and confident in everything you do.”
Fashion industry’s take
Fashion and body positivity have an intrinsic relationship. Right from the time when Fashion TV was considered ‘cool,’ we have grown on an appetite of slender women confidently sashaying down the ramp in skin-fit clothes; there’s not even a faint memory of any plus-sized model rocking a bikini or swimsuit.
But things are starting to look up for the fashion industry now. In 2016, Lakme Fashion Week started ramp walks by plus-size models. In 2019, ace fashion designer Rina Dhaka shattered stereotypes by collaborating with aLL - The Plus Size Store to showcase its new couture line - aLL PRIMERO. The line ranges from formal to lunch wear, smart casuals to ready-to-wear separates.
Rina tells MAKERS India, “Plus size models are now very much a part of the runway industry. In fact, even the cataloguing industry is using plus-sized models for photoshoots. I have enjoyed working with aLL; I hope stores like that continue to engage designers seasonally.”
She refutes the fashion industry’s obsession with white-skinned models. “A model since the beginning has been accepted on grounds of her catwalk and size, but colour has never been an issue. In fact, dark-skinned models carry colours so beautifully. I actually am hesitant to use the word ‘dark skin.’ It's skin and we humans are shades of it,” says Rina.
Body positive influencers
In a world where social media plays a major role in shaping our culture, unsurprisingly, thousands of Instagram pages are dedicated to conforming to beauty standards. However, a few like BrownGirlGazin by 23-year-old Mum-girl Anushka Kelkar defies the norms. Started in 2018, this account regularly posts honest portraits of women who are battling negative body image. Anushka started this page because she had felt uncomfortable with her body, even though she has a slim body structure.
“From early on, I felt like my body was being policed, and was scared to treat it as something that was growing and changing. Even if I gained some weight, I would overthink. I took it as a personal flaw, just like several other women in India. That’s when I realised this stems from social conditioning,” she says.
Her project has over 10,000 followers today, and women of all shapes, sizes and with different stories have approached her to feature them. “The page is all about taking ownership of your bodies and fully embracing it,” says Anushka.
She is not alone. Delhi-based content creator and body positive influencer Sakshi Sindwani, who has walked the ramp during the Lakme India Fashion Week, says, “In the last few years, I have made over 400 videos on YouTube and Instagram. I wanted to break stereotypes in fashion, especially for curvy ladies. A lot of people think we can’t wear certain clothes or silhouettes, that’s why I started making fashion and styling videos.”
For Sakshi, body positivity means constantly working on your body, and being comfortable in your own skin. “Fitness is my first priority, and the core value of body positivity,” she adds.
Her fellow fashion blogger, 26-year-old Kritika Khurana, popularly known as ThatBohoGirl, talks about body positivity on social media by posting pictures which are not-so-perfect. While self-love has been a constant battle for her, over time, Kritika has realised that it all starts with accepting oneself.
“Negative self-talk is your biggest enemy. Change that with kind words, and when you start bashing or comparing yourself, stop and remember- would you talk to your friend like that? That’s your answer.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about being healthy and fit. There has been a shift in thought from ‘just losing weight’ to having a ‘fit body.’
Dr Shikha Sharma, Founder of Nutri Health Systems, says that it is no longer desirable to just reach ‘size zero.’ “Influencers in media and films are now focussed on having a fit and toned body. With this change, it is far easier to convince the weight-conscious to focus on holistic wellness, about having a vitamin and mineral rich diet plan, balancing the carb intake with protein in order to achieve fitness. Body positivity is more of a lifestyle.”
The journey has begun; it’s a work in progress!
(Edited by Athira Nair)