Perfect out, unconventional in: How Indian media is cultivating body positivity

Swetha Ramakrishnan

May,11 2016 09:37 30 IST

A couple of weeks ago, comedian-actor Amy Schumer took to Instagram to voice her disapproval with Glamour Magazine featuring her in their 'plus size issue'. Before you jump the gun, the reason for Schumer's angst was completely justified. She said, "Plus size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and an 8. Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus size?"

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Amy Schumer on the cover of Glamour Magazine. Image from Twitter.

Back home in India, barely a week ago, DNA posted a small snippet in their print edition about Kareena Kapoor and her item number in the film Brothers, 'Mera Naam Mary'. Here's how they describe her in the blurb, "Even though Kareena Kapoor Khan's last song got flak for her outfit, flabby stomach and dance moves, she's undeterred to grab her next item song."

It's bad enough that we have to watch most films, TV shows and pop culture references portray the "ideal" or "normal" woman to be of a particular size, type and look. We live in a world now, where the Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence body type is considered plus size, Kareena's bare midriff is called "flabby stomach" and curvy is used to describe Sophie Vergara.

It's even worse that Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had to face flak for months for her post-pregnancy body. Sometimes, I can't tell if I'm happy for how Aishwarya Rai Bachchan looks now, or even a Parineeti Chopra, who looks immensely more fit. Can we truly be happy with someone's weightloss knowing the pressures they had to cave into?

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Parineeti Chopra's 'Built That Way'. Image from Twitter.

Meanwhile, there is a very prevalent body positive conversation emerging. Mothers are posting selfies with stretch marks, Bollywood is posing for magazine covers debunking the "ideal body type" image, Modern Family star Ariel Winter walked the SAG awards red carpet with the scars of her breast reduction surgery, and actors like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson have a massive fan following for their unabashed portrayals on screen.

However, in this extremely polarised conversation revolving around body-positivity, its basic tenet seems to have gotten lost in translation: to let people be as they are; to not set any pre-determined standards of beauty, modelling, body size and/or body type. Which is why just as it's dangerous to give into the belief that weight loss is a sure shot formula to being happy with your body, even using the term "plus size", or any labels sparingly, can be detrimental.

It is exactly this fundamental that Elle magazine's recent cover shoot captures perfectly. There's a lot of stigma around muscular, "masculine" looking women who have adopted fitness and Elle's cover shoot completely rubbishes this stereotype by featuring seven women, from gym trainers to yoga instructors to MTV VJ, and actor Bani J.

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Bani J on the Elle covershoot. Photo courtesy: Taras Taraporevala for Elle magazine.

Called "These Muscular Women Are Overthrowing Ever Feminine Stereotype", the shot delves into the lives of these inspiring women only to push out extremely body-positive, neutral messages, such as, "Your body can achieve so much once you shut out the doubts and focus", "Fitness has become all about looking good and running marathons. But you need to be able to just stretch, jump and sprint to be fit" and "I have my curves, breasts and hips, and I’m still a woman — just a very strong one."

Furthering the cause of a body positive image, are dancer/actor Shveta Salve and model Carol Gracias. At the Lakme Fashion week last month, Carol Gracias walked the ramp flaunting her baby bump, and on Mother's Day, Shveta Salve joined her in walking the ramp for another event.

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Pregnant beauties Carol Gracias and Shveta Salve walk the ramp. Image from Twitter.

Salve has been all over instagram posting pictures from her vacation with her husband and friends, almost making pregnant pics a new fad. We know it has permeated through mainstream media when Shahid Kapoor and wife Mira Kapoor were happily photographed returning from Maldives, with the later flaunting her tiny baby bump too. Ellen Degeneres recently did a show on Mother's Day where all the live audience members were expecting mothers.

At a time when we're sending out mixed signals towards fitness and body image ("real men like curvy women" is not a body positive statement) and in an age when demand for spandex can exist simultaneously with the concept of raw lunches and detox diets, the direction in which our media is headed seems to give us some hope.

While on one hand we tend to celebrate any and everyone's weight-loss, whether it's a rich scion's son or an already good-looking actress, that we are capable of celebrating muscular, stereotype-defying women and pregnant supermodels can only be a good thing.