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Plus-Sized Problems! — A Perspective

Let me begin this by saying that I am a plus-sized woman of South Asian descent. This led to me facing added and constant criticism from my family regarding my body. They think my weight makes me less appealing or as my mother once said, “unattractive for marriage”. Many people associate women being fat as lazy when the reality can be far from it. As for me, I have a medical condition called PCOS, a hormonal disorder, which makes it difficult to lose weight among other symptoms. Being a plus-size woman in India means levels of scrutiny due to our patriarchal society. As a teenager, I was always made to feel that something lacked in the way that I looked, with unsolicited comments like “aww, don’t worry, you can do it!”. These were snide remarks under the garb of motivational feedback. I was never allowed to wear short skirts or dresses due to my weight. I rebelled and wore what I wanted ever since I went to college and started loving every bit of how I looked. But even today, I still feel uncomfortable wearing dresses in front of my family.

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality enabled women of colour to speak about the added discrimination they faced even in progressive movements, for example, the fight for women’s suffrage. It amplified women from marginalised sections of society who have been oppressed. When we talk about intersectionality, we talk about factors that come into play such as class, caste, gender, sexuality and even skin colour, among more.

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Today, I want to shed light on a certain section of women who are often overlooked, even in conversations around intersectionality. Women who have body types which are different to a stereotypical “perfect” figure are targeted in multiple aspects of their life. In particular, women on the heavier side face a lot of discrimination. Women who are on the thinner end of the spectrum also face discrimination, albeit lesser.

Kumar Collection; Painting: Hemen Mazumdar.

During the 18–19th century, paintings normalised and celebrated the natural female form. Talking about mainstream media much later, even Bollywood had curvy women as actresses in the 1980s. Then came the 2000s which started promoting ‘size zero’, which was basically branding women who were not within sizes 0–4 as unacceptable model material. If a store does have clothes that fit plus-size women, they are always in a separate section. I have always tried to fit into the clothes in the other sections, even if the clothes were small because of the shame surrounding my size. Now, the change of acceptable body types with the evolution in fashion calls for another blog in itself.

The trend of size-zero has fortunately been cancelled, but have body image issues in cinema been resolved? Talking through personal experience, being an actor has put me through added discrimination based on the audition feedback I have received. I have been rejected on the face multiple times because of my body type, despite meeting the character requirements. There is a clear distinction made between the screen age and the actual age of the auditionee. This is the result of media/literature constantly portraying female protagonists as belonging to a particular body type since time indefinite. A plus-size woman is only cast in a role, with her storyline surrounding her “fatness”. But I must also admit that I still have privilege over a darker-skinned woman in this scenario. So, you can imagine the layers of discrimination in the industry.

Kareena Kapoor in ‘Tashan’, was the start of the size-zero trend
IG story of an Influencer: Lela London.

While pop culture and social media have amplified the voices of women tremendously, it also contributed in defining what the acceptable body type of a woman should be. The presence of filters on photos, which makes the persons’ face slimmer have detrimental effects on the psyche of young girls and women. The logic that women can use these filters if they wish to, comes under choice feminism when in reality, there is constant pressure to not put out natural photographs of themselves. I constantly get triggered when I click pictures and wish that I was a little bit thinner to be able to wear a crop top like my favourite fashion influencer on Instagram. This stems from the fear of backlash because of the conditioning I have been subjected to since I was a child about body images.

Of course, change is coming; there is a whole movement of body positivity online. You can still find your niche on social media, as a plus-sized public figure, especially with current times being way more inclusive. You can find your community online which hypes you up. Though social media has a negative side and the hate comments can get to you, but it has personally been uplifting for me. I have become more confident about my body because of the presence of a lot of feminist pages which endorse a positive message with regards to women’s bodies and their sexuality. I am grateful for it, and strongly feel that we should continue to build safe spaces for people of all body types.

(This blog is submitted by a Guest Author, Radhika Chhabra. Radhika is a Content Creator and Theatre Actor. She is also an Engineer who graduated from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra. She was a part of the recent cohort of the Gendered Leadership Course with Femme First Foundation. Check out her blog where she often posts her views and experiences with feminism.)


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