Yana, meet Advaita – she is the author of the successful chick lit book, Almost Single, and has also written the script for the film Anjaana Anjaani. Advaita, meet Yana. The Babuji zara dheere chalo girl has appeared in many item numbers, done reality television and has recently written the book How To Love Your Body And Get The Body You Love.
At Delhi’s Shangri-La Hotel, Brunch introduces the two women to each other over green tea (for Yana) and coffee (for Advaita). Both have written books, are from the same industry, and have strong opinions on body image. This means they have a lot to discuss.
I am hoping to write a script. I attended a workshop on scriptwriting in Mumbai. Once you get creative, you don’t want to stop at one thing. You want to learn newer things. I attend a lot of workshops.
Brunch: On what?
Yana: Anything on health, healing, creative and spiritual stuff. Recently, I did a five-day workshop in Portugal held by an American artist who makes new things look old, and other workshops on healing in London and Berlin.
Advaita: I can’t attend workshops. I am very lazy. I hardly attended classes in college. And I don’t think I can teach either. Also, writing is very organic and germane to what I do. It is not something that can be taught. There are skills that can be shared and learned, but beyond that a writer just has to write.
Brunch: Yana, was writing the book a lot of work?
I had to first understand how to work with myself. The research was simpler as I have been interested in and have been studying diet and nutrition since I was 15. Not that I knew what was correct, but I kept learning and unlearning. Most of what I have written is my life and experience.
I’ve read your book. It doesn’t talk down at you.
Brunch: Even thin women are never happy with their bodies.
Yana: If you have negative ideas about your body, it doesn’t matter how fat or thin you are, you will always be unhappy. Look at me, most people think I am in good shape. But I always thought I wasn’t thin enough and skipped meals. Then I’d overeat. One should be at peace with one’s body. And think, as long as I love myself, who cares?
Do I care what the stranger in the room is thinking about my body? Why should I go through crazy diets so I can appeal to the world, look more successful and like someone who has it all together? Once you reach that space and start feeling peaceful about yourself and start to love yourself, things start getting easier.
Brunch: You wanted cheekbones like Christy Turlington...
Yana: It’s about looking at somebody else and thinking on a subconscious level – that person in the magazine looks so glamorous, has fans, so he/she must have an amazing life. It is not true. Believe me, I am in the industry and I am one of them. We have the same issues as everyone else. In fact, we have more.
Advaita: You are constantly being judged on the way you look. In a glamour-driven profession, your entity is based on your looks. Once, I went to a wedding and a beautiful actress walked in with me. Two men said, “Oh my god, she is so ugly.” It was cruel. You wouldn’t do that to anyone but because this actress is known for looking beautiful, you go and point out that fact. Some people say it is a tradeoff. You put your beauty up for trade and so are bound to be judged. But that argument doesn’t hold true as even normal women are judged on their looks. It is just the way the world is – we judge men by their achievements and women on their looks.
There was always a certain body image women were supposed to conform to – looking white in a certain historical period was imperative. If you looked dark, you lacked social status and money. Women had to wear tight corsets that caused early deaths due to punctured bones. But now it is harder for women. Then, women were at least accepted with their curves. Now there is only one way to be – stick thin. That’s the message popular culture bombards you with.
Earlier, you could stay slim till you got married and then you could balloon post kids. Now, it is all about celebrity mothers getting back in shape within two weeks of having babies. Even the natural process of a mother’s body that went through gruelling childbearing and birth is glamourised. Women are not even allowed to recover.
It is like, ‘you just delivered, now get over it and look like this.’ You cannot go on diets immediately as your body needs certain nutrients while you are feeding the child.
Bulimia and anorexia are old-fashioned now. There are worse disorders doing the rounds. In urban India, 16 and 17-year-olds are going for botox. There is a race to fight the first wrinkle on the skin. Young girls are under so much pressure – because of the bar set by movie stars and models. And men are also silent sufferers of eating disorders.
This is what Yana says in her book – your whole attitude to food can be disabling. It is about how you interact with food.
For the longest time, I didn’t know I had an eating disorder. It wasn’t like bulimia or anorexia in which the symptoms are clear. It was silent – I ate little and sometimes too much. I once lived only on vegetable juice for 30 days. I have realised one needs to listen to what the body says and not the mind. All the years that I followed my mind, my body suffered.
When I was with a hotel in Bangalore, all the women working there had different diets on their chain mails. We would bump into each other in the cafeteria and someone would say, ‘what did you do?’ and then jump into that diet. It is scary how women adopt new diets without thinking them through.
Brunch: People in the glamour industry do crazy things to lose weight, such as survive on lauki juice and do acupuncture.
Yana: Acupuncture is very good. I do it myself.
Advaita: Are there needles in your handbag?
Yana: Yes, and I can poke them into anyone. Acupuncture triggers your energy points for healing. I also know a technique that flattens the stomach. But it takes time. You have to insert 16 needles in your stomach. But yes, people in the industry are willing to undergo any torture. Last night on TV, they were showing a cream that aids weight loss and I was like, ‘why are you lying?’
Brunch: How did you start to love your body?
(Laughs) Who says I love it? I don’t care anymore (laughs). There is so much else in life that consumes me, so worrying about how I look versus XYZ or in a new outfit is not high on my agenda.
(Laughs) That’s what ageing does to you. Thank god for it.
Brunch: Let’s not say ageing.
Advaita: Evolving... hahahhaa.
Yana: People are not allowing me to grow older. My makeup person recently told me to get my laugh lines fixed. I was thinking, ‘give me a break, I am 32, I will grow older.’ I will have lots of lines.
Brunch: Advaita, you wrote the script for Kahaani (Vidya Balan’s next release). Vidya has been a pathbreaker. In The Dirty Picture, she carried off fat with aplomb.
Advaita: I am so proud of her. I am glad she did the movie.
Yana: We are responsible for creating a bad image. That’s why I am moving away from my glamorous image. I am a woman, I have issues and it is okay to not look perfect.
Brunch: So will you stop doing item numbers?
Yana: It is so difficult to change my image. They still want me to do the same thing. I think I will have to wait 10 years. When I am really old, they will stop giving me such roles.
What next for you two?
Advaita: I have done the story for the film Kahaani, which is releasing in March. There are a couple of other things in the pipeline. I don’t want to talk about them yet.
Yana: Things get stuck and people call and say ‘what are you doing? You haven’t done anything for three or four years!’ I am writing, travelling and doing my music. It takes time for projects to work out.
Advaita: Especially films. They take time to materialise. I am writing my next novel now.
Brunch: Where do you get your stories from?
Advaita: From here and there. I have lived in a lot of different places, done numerous jobs. I have put myself out there in situations. A lived life is a good seed for any sort of creative expression. Once you start writing, things take on a character of their own.
Yana: I am writing my second book. I will not tell you what it is about. There are famous people in my life. I don’t want to expose anyone but I still have to use what they have said because it is so brilliantly stupid. I am keen to direct but might get into documentaries. I enjoy writing and music. My music album should be out in a few months.
Advaita: I want to do an Almost Single series. Other than that, let’s see. I am not the kind who wants to see my books being made into films. Sometimes books are best left as books. Also, If someone can translate the humour of what it means to be a modern Indian woman and represent it correctly without a sleazy touch, then I am comfortable. Probably a female director.
Brunch: Why a woman?
Advaita: Hard to enunciate. I ride the metro and sometimes I cannot make it to the ladies’ compartment so I get into the general one. Once I saw another woman get on. She looked around, saw only men around her, and then saw me. Then she headed towards me. We didn’t exchange a word or a smile. It was like we were drawing strength from each other. There was an unstated connection because we were both women in this situation.
Yana: There is a certain kind of sensitivity that women have towards each other. If I had a book being made into films, I too would prefer a woman director.
advaita: Real women shouldn’t be presented in certain stereotypes. As a woman writer, I have a certain responsibility.
Yana: It is connected to sexual interaction with men. When you’re growing older, you don’t need to seek sexual energy from men as much as you did when you were in your 20s. Post 30, the one thing that changed about me was that I stopped wearing tiny, tight clothes. I am now comfortable with baggy clothes. I don’t need men to stare at me because I know and am confident with the person I am. You don’t need anyone telling you how amazing you are because of how amazing you look. I don’t care if these men don’t admire me anymore.
Advaita: Usually when you look your best you think you look the worst. And then you look back at those pictures and say, ‘I don’t look that bad. Why did I beat myself then?’
Crazy diets, extreme exercise regimens and a lot of stress. Women nowadays are willing to do anything to fit a certain body image...
Nothing works like moderation and being happy with who you are and how you look. I hate to say it, but the older you get the more comfortable you become with the way you look. I am more at peace now when I am 30-plus than when I was skinny and 16. I am more satisfied now when I weigh more
and am ageing.
From HT Brunch, January 15
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