News channels want female reporters and anchors to look old enough to be taken seriously but also young enough to be appealing.

Put on weight change the way you look How I was body shamed as a TV reporterPTI
Blog Body Shaming Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - 16:32

By Kajal K Iyer

Sometime ago, Sonam Kapoor wrote a brilliant post about body shaming on Buzzfeed titled I Didn’t Wake Up Like This.

Several women related to it and that day, for the first time, I wrote about the body shaming that I had experienced in my early years in news television on my Facebook page. 

Some people suggested that I should perhaps write it on a platform where more people could read it.

It is not easy to share this and I am aware some people may scoff at this, dismiss it or tell me I should have known looking good is a prerogative in the TV industry.

Just like Sonam Kapoor, a decade ago, I was starting out, albeit, as a rookie reporter. And body weight issues of the reverse kind had always been my problem when I was younger- I was deemed too thin.

I had never thought that this would be a problem while working as a TV journalist because when you are fresh out of college, you think that it’s about your work and intelligence, not about how you look or which college you went to.

Interestingly I did not have a look test when I was hired and at times I wondered if the editors were therefore reluctant to put me on air.

Several channels that came to our campus however had a look test and they were rarely tested by female bosses, the look test was the prerogative of the male bosses. 

I was in for a shock when I was told, never officially, that I would be taken more seriously by viewers, if I filled out a bit more and also if I changed several other things about myself. These included changing my tone, dressing style and sometimes how I tied my hair; basically things that are you, things that can't be just wished away. 

Wear a padded bra was something everyone, from a random person at a wedding to some senior to who I was venting about being discriminated during assignments, would tell me.

The editors who let these things reach me unofficially, were speaking from experience, they were well-meaning even. After all, the news channel audience in our country has traditionally been SEC A male 20–40, that is young, affluent men.

There are others I know who have been asked to lose weight, taken off air for not maintaining that all-encompassing term “on-air hygiene”. “On-air hygiene” dictates whether your hair can be wavy or straight, how young or old should you look, the ideal weight, in some cases even the ideal shade of brown you should be.

A common refrain in Indian news channels is that we should emulate the standards set by CNN and BBC when it comes to on air presentation. But if you pointed out that CNN had Candy Crowley, or that they employed people of all races and colours, you would not get any response.

News channels want female reporters and anchors to look old enough to be taken seriously but also young enough to be appealing, so irrespective of your actual age, you are expected to look between 25–32.

I did try to “work” on the things I was unofficially told; to ensure I am taken seriously. In the process, I gained weight that I didn’t really need, by eating things that weren’t really healthy. My wardrobe only had dark coloured clothes that had no patterns on them because “solid” colours look great on TV. My hair lost its quality with frequent blow drying/ironing.

What I realised eventually is, that we are being made slaves to the camera, a device which can be adjusted to make us look better. But instead, we are adjusting our bodies to look good for the camera.

The entire fashion industry, thrives on this- bodies being fashioned for clothes, instead of clothes being fashioned for bodies.

Thanks to some changes in my professional life, I am no longer a slave to these expectations. My current editors do not expect such impossible standards.

Also, growing older makes you care less about people who will judge no matter what you do. So now at times I wear white and ask the cameraman to adjust the frame. I wear a few patterns that may not appear jittery on camera.

I am not advocating looking unprofessional or like someone dragged you out of your bed to work. But at the same time, we need to remember at all times as a culture, that the camera was made for us, we weren’t made for it.

I am wheatish, so I still found some acceptance. But next time you switch on your television, try to spot a woman with a duskier complexion. They are few and far in between and have perhaps endured much more scrutiny than I have. 

Yes, it is a visual medium, but as a culture let's adjust our lenses a bit to include every size, shape and shade.

(Kajal K Iyer is a journalist with a focus on courts and politics. A feminist and culture buff, she is interested in why people do what they do. She blogs at www.kajalkiyer.wordpress.com .)

This piece first appeared on Medium and has been reproduced here with permission. 

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