The world of fashion can be cruel and non-inclusive. For all the creativity that goes into designer wear, labels mostly cater to a certain body type. Remember Nigel from The Devil Wears Prada being dismissive of Andy for being a size six?
We are forever obsessing about the bodies of celebrities who set the standards of beauty, too. A few years back, everyone went crazy about Aishwarya Rai’s waistline after the birth of her child. It took a while for actor Vidya Balan, who doesn't fit Bollywood norms when it comes to a "trendy" body, to silence the world and stop people from talking about it incessantly. Recently, south Indian actor Saranya Mohan's photo went viral for all the wrong reasons.
It feels like there is only one good body shape and we expect people to fit into that mould. Any bigger, you are fat-shamed. Any thinner, you are skinny-shamed.
Women who do not fit into the "perfect" body type not only have difficulty finding clothes but also suffer from psychological damage that takes years to undo.
Dr. Falguni Vasavada-Oza, a professor & fashion blogger, says, “I have always been a confident girl thanks to my upbringing and education. Confident yes, but when it came to my body, I had my own reservations as I was always a fat child. I would shy away from experimenting with my clothes and activities. I would dress in conventional clothes that would cover me and never dared to experiment!"
Image courtesy: Falguni
It is not just big people who are regularly shamed. Lanky and skinny people, particularly girls, don’t have it easy too. Sushrutha*, a Singapore based SAHM says, “I have always been thin and tall. Underweight for my height. Growing up, I never felt positive about my body, always felt conscious about the bones sticking out and believed that my bones would snap just like drumsticks if I hit something or fell down.”
Society can be cruel and the advice on what you can do to "improve" your body never seems to end. Bengaluru based Hema Parampalli says she has been called a bag of bones, unidimensional, a Somalian model among other things. She recollects, “Someone once suggested that I cut my long healthy hair so that I get some nourishment to my body instead. Absurdest stuff I have ever heard.”
From being called a flagpole and mosquito to being the butt of multiple jokes, Sushrutha says some of these comments can be very disturbing. She was also treated differently because she was tall and thin.
Says Sushrutha, “My friends would never let me walk beside them. It's either two steps ahead or behind for I am taller than them. And when I wear sarees, people always criticize how there are no curves at all in my body to carry the saree. I always stayed quiet for such comments. I felt they were only telling the truth and I do look a bamboo pole. I was always conscious about my height and had a hunch in my posture. I would avoid wearing high heels. I felt comfortable among people who are taller than me. As a teenager, I never believed I was attractive.”
It is not easy to feel positive about oneself when it looks like the fashion industry only subscribes to certain sizes. Falguni says, “It is not easy finding fashionably cut, well-tailored clothes. Bigger people either get clumsy designs or exorbitantly priced clothes! It is a huge need gap right now! I usually have to design my own clothes from scratch and get it stitched.”
While the thinner counterparts may have it easy when it comes to buying readymade clothes, they have their share of woes. Sushrutha says, “It is difficult for me to find a good pair of jeans that has good height for me and which is of my hip size. I am still using the one that I bought 7 years ago. Same problem with finding bras too.”
Even when they do find clothes that are well tailored, women become extremely self-conscious and end up feeling they are not pretty enough.
Image courtesy: Menaka
Coimbatore based entrepreneur Menaka deals with fashion and women every day. She is amazed how most girls today lack self-confidence and are constantly looking for approval. Menaka says, “It takes me by surprise when women say " will this suit my skin colour ", or " will this style make me look fat". People fail to understand that there is something beyond wearing the right clothes, which makes you unique and beautiful... it is the confidence in yourself.”
Apart from making sure the clothes fit well, sometimes designers like Menaka have to reassure clients that they will look good. “I find that my customers need reassurance most of the time. They may be happy with the end product, but most times, they are in doubt...whether the dress suits them as much as they imagined.”
The first step towards body positivity is accepting your body-type for what it is. While it might be possible to shed or add a few kilos, it might be hard to undergo a total body transformation and change your bone structure.
Body positivity starts with self-love. Falguni says, “When I started working and traveling around the globe, I started seeing the world from my own learned eye. I started reading and understood what it meant to be body positive and how body shaming is a social evil. It was in my late twenties that I started accepting myself and that’s when I began my journey into investing in a strong personality and moving past judgmental societal norms.”
For Sushrutha, the realisation came in her thirties. “I care less about my body image and what people think about me. All I care about is staying healthy and active. I have accepted that it's better to stay healthy the way I am than to worry about BMIs and weight issues. “
From being a body shy teenager, Falguni went on to start her own fashion blog in her forties where she shares her styling tips. She adds, “I started feeling confident about myself and people around me started appreciating my fashion and dressing sense. In my forties, I experimented with my dressing and now as a fully confident person, I wear anything and everything that I feel I can carry with élan. This is how I started my own fashion page where, as a professor, I get a platform to take my voice to thousands of people who are spread across the globe.”
She goes on to add, “I have not only been able to live my life on my own terms but also have been using social media to spread the message of self-love and body positive living! I am now enabled to help hundreds of young girls and women across the world who feel depressed because of body shaming and societal norms like stereotyping and gender biases.”
Image courtesy: Hema
For Hema, the transformation started after marriage. Knowing her husband did not see the flaws that society saw in her made her bold. She started experimenting with clothes and realised that her athletic frame helps her carry many western outfits very well. She says, “Last couple of years, I have actually ramped up my wardrobe. I don't care who has to say what about how I look.”
While the fashion industry is waking up to plus size models and clothing, the end result is still light years away from reality. Instead of catering to real women, women are asked to dress according to their size/shape.
As a society, we should be more inclusive of other body types apart from the ones favored by the media. Sushrutha says, “I feel people should accept the fact that there are different types of bodies. Some are built heavy, some are skinny. People should focus on active lifestyle and healthy eating habits. It's scary when I see kids as young as 5 years who are said to have diabetes or are obese. Kids should be taught that health is more important than having a perfect body type.”
Falguni adds, “In our own professions, let us not be biased but treat everyone equal. Let’s not judge people and instead use our powers to help build a society based on equality rather than discrimination.”