“Why can’t I be a model?” asks Priya Bhargava rhetorically. With a face illuminated with grace, eyes the shape of almonds with perfectly arched eyebrows, and a sharp, towering nose, Priya has all it takes to be one. She almost instinctively knows the right angles of her face and the art of posing.
Why can’t I be a model? – Priya’s question does not come out of a vacuum. After all, isn’t the glamour industry a natural career progression for pageant winners in our country? Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra, Sushmita Sen and many others followed that path. Did I not tell you? Bhargava is a pageant winner too. She won the Miss Wheelchair 2015 pageant while representing Delhi NCR region, and is all set to represent India in the first ever Miss Wheelchair World to be held in Poland in October this year. Priya is looking for stylists, designers and makeup artists to support her for the worldwide pageant. Her story is being documented by my colleague and I. Encouraged at work, we decided to offer support to our glamorous subject through a photoshoot and she obliged happily. For the shoot, she decided to wear her favourite lehenga choli – a mix of rani pink and purple.
But this photo shoot is not about Priya’s disabillity. It is about her beauty, her identity as a woman; it is about the joy she feels as she applies that lip colour to her lips, that pink rouge on her face, those thick, bold brushes of eye shadow on her eyelids.
It is about how her face lights up as she faces the camera.
Priya Bhargava, Winner, Miss India Wheelchair 2015 I had stopped thinking that I could do makeup and look good. When the pageant (Miss India Wheelchair) happened, I started wearing makeup again. I felt good after a long time. I felt beautiful once more.
In real life, even though her disability may be the most noticeable feature of her appearance, this photo shoot consciously focuses on Priya, the woman. For once, the narrative of her life is kept as far away as can be from her disability. She doesn’t want the scars to show. She wants to be presented as a beautiful woman. The wheelchair too is a part of her identity. “It is my support – it helps me go to places and do the things I want to”.
Often, the first feeling that a disabled person evokes in you is that of sympathy. But what if the disabled person does not want you to always see them through that prism? What if they would rather have you in awe of their appearance, for once?
What’s striking about Priya’s story is that she was once an able-bodied woman. Beauty was once her unquestionable right, but now in the context of her disability, the ‘unquestionability’ of it has ceased to exist. Many have asked her what purpose it serves her anyway, to which she usually replies, “I don’t know what purpose it serves, but it helps boost my morale”.
“I had forgotten to do makeup after my illness. I used to love colours before, but after being wheelchair ridden, I used to look really simple. I had stopped caring about my looks. After somebody suggested that I enter the Miss Wheelchair India pageant, I once again became interested in my looks,”she says. A humble woman, Priya also said: “YouTube dekh ke makeup karna seekha. Personality pe kaam karna seekha” (I learnt to do makeup from YouTube and started working on my personality). Priya wants to be a part-time model. She asserts:
Women in wheelchairs can be good models too. The need is for modelling agencies to be more inclusive, so they can see our potential.
Our photographer, who shot Priya for this story, is happy with the pictures delivered by his muse. We can only hope that other photographers will see this beautiful woman as a muse too.
Text: Divyani Rattanpal
Photography: Abhishek Ranjan
Edited by: Abhishek Ranjan
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