Roshini Kumar was a chubby child. She, like many children who are labelled 'healthy' in India, grew up wondering why she couldn't be thin like her friends, and often got teased by them for being what is considered 'fat'. She was hyper-conscious of how she looked, and this resulted in an entire lifestyle designed around the sole purpose of not looking fat. She wore loose sweatshirts in scorching weather, bought a lot of black and grey outfits, and even skipped school when her weight had to be checked during physical fitness tests, because it would be announced loudly for everyone to hear. In Class Nine, she was convinced that the only way to lose weight was to stop eating.
Kumar says that she was so driven by the compulsion to look perfect that she spent more time focusing on what to wear rather than playing. She blindly abided by society's rules, but was still targeted and shamed.
Then she was diagnosed with stage four cancer.
Now, when Kumar looked in the mirror, she saw the exact opposite of what she was accustomed to; she had lost both her hair and body weight. She had never seen herself look so thin, and perhaps this was the closest she had come to having a perfect body, but none of that mattered. She couldn't even sit up without help. She began to rethink all those times when she wanted to colour her hair because people would notice and judge her, and when she didn't approach the boy she liked because of the fear of being rejected based on her looks, realising how none of this mattered in retrospect.
Following the stark change in body image due to cancer, Kumar had an epiphany: One can neither attain what is considered a perfect body, nor does one need to. She decided to accept herself the way she is and lead the life she always wanted to. "Even now, I get judged all the time for the way I have decided to look, but none of that bothers me. At least 90 percent of the time, I feel content when I look at myself in the mirror now," she says.
She decided to document herself in a series titled 'Fearless'. "It wasn’t just a project to promote self-love, but also to talk about the larger issues in our society that everyone, especially women, face because of these beauty standards set for us. They promote a mentally and physically unhealthy lifestyle that no one really wants to talk about! While it hasn’t been an easy process for myself, I want to help others realise this through my work," she wrote in an article.
Fearless is meant to promote body positivity, and Kumar says that the pictures featured in it are unedited or censored, so as to provide a raw and natural portrayal of bodies in their purest form. Pictures of stretch marks are followed by ones where broad hips and thighs with cellulite are featured. Also in the list of subjects are imperfect skin, stomach fat and unshaved body parts. Freckles and flaws are not Photoshop-ed out. The idea is clear: Kumar is not afraid of showing the world these bodies as they are. What makes these photographs striking is that they are raw and not posed for, which enables the viewer to see themselves in the pictures and relate to them.
Kumar says that the process of documenting herself has given her a sense of freedom and relief. However, is it cathartic? She is honest enough to say, "I've still not reached the phase where I absolutely love my body, but now I definitely love it more than I ever used to."
Not all of the pictures are self portraits; a number of them are of volunteers who have wanted to be part of the project. Kumar says that many people, whom she did not know or expect it from, have been forthcoming, because they believed in the project, which was exactly the intention behind starting it.
The photographer has shot all the pictures in this project using a monochromatic colour scheme because she thinks black-and-white has a sense of drama that colour can never achieve. "It makes the textures come alive, which was essential in this series. I also wanted a sense of uniformity, hence making them black-and-white would help me achieve that!" she adds.
Kumar says that this process of trying to achieve societal standards can be exhausting not just because of how high and impossible they are to achieve, but also because others tend to drag one down. Being conscious about her body has taken up half her life, and she realises that others, too, may have gone through a similar experience, so she asks her viewers to rebel just like her. "Don’t add to society’s ego by actually hating your skin and your hair and your body! Love it, embrace it. Actually, look in the mirror and remember your body is a reflection of you and your battles, you’ve come a long way and so has your body," she says.
However, in the same breath, she also adds that being too overweight or underweight can adversely affect one's health. "It is something you need to take seriously, and you should know the difference," she explains.
You can check out Roshini Kumar's project Fearless here.
Updated Date: Aug 19, 2017 13:18 PM