I have drool-worthy abs and a muscular body by choice, and that has put me at the receiving end of so much body shaming, it’s unbelievable. India puts too much emphasis on a certain kind of a body. For a woman, thin is supposed to be good, and if there’s any deviation — too thin, too fat, or muscular (manly, they call it!) – she hears no end about it.
For most people, body shaming begins when they are really young. I have a teenage friend, and I hear her father call her fat, fatso and similar names. He says them with love, but why? Your family is your support system, your first shield against the world, and if they begin to chip at your self-esteem and confidence like this, then who is there to support you?
But I guess no one understands what they are doing, really. Fortunately, even though I was too skinny, wore spectacles and braces, and was kind of unwieldy, no one picked on me when I was a teen. Then when I was 18, I took part in the reality show MTV Roadies. Criticism from fellow contestants, constant fights… it was super tough, but I survived. I didn’t just win the competition, but also hosted the next four seasons of Roadies, and launched my career in a big way.
But when I decided to really work out at the age of 19 and make my body as strong as possible, the mayhem began. No one, neither men, nor women, could get it. Why do you work out so much? Muscles for a woman… why? Are you really okay, or do you need help?
There were constant questions, sometimes to my face, sometimes just blatantly visible on their faces. Industry people were most offensive. I still remember a well-known casting director who asked me if I had become a man yet; had I grown a penis yet? Seriously, she did!
This was really long ago, and I have bumped into her often since, but even though I was seriously upset, I don’t show any anger. I didn’t then, and haven’t since. These people are not worth it. They just want to one-up on others, and don’t get that different people may want different bodies. It’s beyond their comprehension that their definition of beauty is not the definition of beauty. I just let them be. Blatant ignoring works best — that’s the best lesson I learnt from Roadies. Also, over the years, I have realised that when you are not really sure of what you are and want to be, people will walk all over you, all the time.
I always fight for what’s right; I don’t take anything lying down. And I wanted to be a strong person, both mentally and physically. So I didn’t let others tell me otherwise. So what if I’m a woman and I have muscles? My plan was to unlock my strength — physical and mental and I am sticking to it. I love to work out. I am passionate about it. It gives me happiness, makes me feel secure and has netted me a body like no woman I know.
The minute you pay attention to what others (critics) say, they will tear you apart. Trust me I’ve been there. Today I see so many celebs thrashed, body shamed online — and these are beautiful, seemingly perfect-looking people. It’s only in India that my body is considered weird (or different), but as soon as I step out of the country, I get comments like ‘your body is fabulous’ and ‘it must have taken a lot of effort…’ from everyone.
Today I am in a happy space, personally and professionally. My career is really diverse as I am a model, a video jockey and an actress. I am getting movie roles that are based on my physicality, which is amazing. The film I did with Honey Singh, Zorawar (2016), where I played an assassin, sort of launched me in a special way in the industry. And now I am doing a Telugu film where, again, the makers sought me out because of the way I look.
I am a brand ambassador for a fitness app, and was the only non-athlete to be part of the Nike campaign that has 12 senior athletes, runners and others who represent the country. I think this is awesome, because it shows I am making something of myself by not letting detractors get me down.
I am happy that I am able to showcase the extent of body transformation women too can do. It’s all within us. Not in other people’s minds. So listen to your own self, always.
Let body shamers be damned!
From HT Brunch, August 7, 2016
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