In a world where ‘fit’ sells more than ‘fat’, a clutch of individuals and brands are celebrating the plus size, something they hope will inspire people and help them survive a fatphobic society’s everlasting obsession with body weight and appearance
TV actor Kiku Sharda
Last year in August, tennis sensation Serena Williams posed for unretouched photos published in Harper’s Bazaar US. In a personal essay, she wrote that she won’t hide her voice or body. “I’ve been shamed because of my body shape… In short, it’s never been easy. But then I think of the next girl who is going to come along who looks like me, and I hope, ‘Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her’,” she wrote.
Many like Williams have repeatedly voiced their opinion on being body shamed. But embracing self-love over self-criticism has helped those like Williams survive a fatphobic society’s everlasting obsession with body weight. They celebrate their plus size and take pride in their physical strength and mental positivity, inspiring many others as well.
Even after nearly two decades in the entertainment industry, where ‘fit’ sells more than ‘fat’, film and TV actor Kiku Sharda doesn’t shy away from talking about being overweight (he is 107 kg), as it has never been an issue. “Weight has never been a deterrent in finding the right role,” says the Jodhpur-born comedian. “I fit well in the comedy zone. A plump and chubby figure goes well with most onscreen characters… it adds more value to what I say,” says the 45-year-old, who has to his credit some popular films, such as Angrezi Medium (2020), Jawaani Jaaneman (2020), Happy New Year (2014), etc, and hilarious TV characters such as Gulgule (from FIR) and Palak, Bumper and Baccha Yadav, who often leave you in splits on The Kapil Sharma Show.
Sharda says he has never been uncomfortable in his skin. “It’s all in the mind. One needs to cure this problem first before addressing weight issues,” he says, remembering how almost a decade ago he lost around 30 kg. “There’s a certain amount of cuteness in being plump. I was 76 kg then, but no one liked my look. Also, on the sets of the reality TV show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, I was losing weight by dancing. The producers got worried and told me not to lose weight, as it suits my persona. So they fed me cheese pizza, potatoes and burgers every day,” he adds. “Fatness is invariable in my family. Sometimes it worries me if my stamina goes down, so I switch to a fitness schedule: gym or walk,” he says.
There’s a common belief that fatness obstructs flexibility, but Mumbai-based self-taught yoga influencer Dolly Singh feels yoga is for all irrespective of weight, age or body structure. The 37-year-old started doing yoga after endless trials of losing weight through Zumba, aerobics and running, and post her ankle sprain in 2011 during a trek in Hampi. Singh, who weighed 90 kg in 2011, weighs 70 kg today. “I was never worried about my weight, but fitness was important. That’s when I started spending time on YouTube tutorials and self-learnt at home, as the enthusiasm to learn with a yoga instructor fizzled out soon,” says Singh, adding, “My physical strength has translated into mental strength and that is body positivity to me.” Her Instagram profile ‘Yogaforallmumbai’, which has 1,102 posts and 4,976 followers, displays a collage of visually stunning postures. Singh, who says she has no qualms about weight or skin show, has set an example for those who still think that yoga is only for slimming down. “Yoga made me shed inhibitions of size, weight and colour, and taught me to celebrate my body anytime and anywhere. There’s more to a woman than her body,” says Singh, adding that it is disheartening to see yoga teachers say that a ‘big’ body can reach a certain level of yoga practice only after losing some weight.
Judging someone by their appearance is not okay, feels food writer, author and TV personality Kunal Vijaykar. The 55-year-old weighs 97 kg. His Twitter timeline talks about nothing but food. “When it comes to weight loss, I end up eating more than my words!”, “Food is one thing that has stitched my life together” are just some of his tweets. A food connoisseur, Vijaykar’s intense knowledge about cuisines and recipes comes naturally to him and is his first love. “Food makes me happier. Being fat does not depend on aptitude or attitude. I’m happy with my body type. I have never been slim. Hence, I credit a lot of my acting work to my fat genes,” he says. A genetically round face and figure never stopped him from bagging roles in films such as Ab Tak Chhappan (2004), Salaam Namaste (2005) or Ghajini (2008). “Fatness makes you look funny, so half the battle is won, besides the face and the character that go hand in hand. Also, comedy is about being yourself. If you love comedy, you shouldn’t let any kind of inhibitions come in the way. Fatness shouldn’t hamper your success or alter your approach in life,” Vijaykar adds.
At times, being heavily built can even help a sportsperson. Take, for instance, Vijay Patel, former head coach of the Gujarat Ranji Trophy, whose weight (around 100 kg) and height (5 feet 11 inches) help in the game. A young Gujarati hailing from a family with a business background, Patel was the youngest and only member in the family who liked cricket and this passion got him to play in the U-19 team for Gujarat in the 80s. “I wanted to be a cricketer. Being heavy built and big-bodied was a great advantage. One needs strength to perform in different circumstances or the stamina, tough physique, body composition and mental stability to play the game. As coach, I have to be fit. I don’t need six packs, so why should I lose weight? Being mentally and physically fit, a balance of both, is vital in the game,” says the 60-year-old, who has been a successful coach for two decades and is now a committee member of the prestigious Gujarat Cricket Association. Patel has trained the likes of Parthiv Patel, Jasprit Bumrah and Akshar Patel, and under his tutelage, Gujarat won the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 title (in 2012-13 and 2014-15), Vijay Hazare Trophy (in 2016) and the coveted Ranji Trophy (also in 2016).
The pressure to lose weight can cause severe anxiety and other problems. For Chitwan Malhotra, it led to weight gain and poor body image ever since she was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 16. “I feel health is above appearance, but we are often judged by our appearance rather than our capabilities,” says the 34-year-old who weighs 90 kg. Delhi-based Malhotra consistently applied weight science, which is much more complex and nuanced than the fat/bad narrative she always heard. “I shut out the negativity and disparaging comments, and started believing in myself. I realised I was fit. I didn’t have any disease, was able to take care of myself and felt beautiful inside out. These subtle changes helped me. Loving your body is not only good for your emotional well-being, but allows you to navigate the world differently. I feel priority should be given to the rising obesity crisis, which has major consequences for public health,” says Malhotra, who is the executive director of UNSDG (Health Partnership) and mentors young students in India and abroad on how to live with confidence and adopt an active healthy lifestyle.
“In 2017, a research conducted by Unicef showed that low body image is a critical issue, especially among girls globally, directly impacting their confidence. When girls aren’t happy with the way they look, eight in 10 opt out of fundamental life activities and seven in 10 put their health at risk. About 20% stop attending school and 30% stop participating in class. Through the UNSDG Health Partnership, I am working with leading psychologists and body image experts to change these troubling statistics,” says Malhotra. “Being body positive can support mental and physical health by boosting confidence and helping children develop a healthy image of themselves,” she adds.
Lack of confidence among youngsters affects body image, believes Sharda. “Why do people lose confidence and compare fitness with looks? My characters evoke laughter through male mannerisms and feminine dressing. Intelligence, humour and wit are some of the essential personality traits that can throw some weight around… more important than how you look. In my portrayal of the character Bumper, I represent a certain section of society and this representation does not take away the confidence of that girl. She blabbers on stage with confidence and still maintains self-esteem. Life must go on and body image shouldn’t hamper your goal,” he says.
Singh, too, isn’t worried about anybody’s disapproval. She, in fact, walked the ramp at the 2017 Amazon India Fashion Week for Milind Soman’s clothing brand Deivee. “Such fashion initiatives are real enablers in setting new standards,” says Singh, who loves her fish curry and rice besides a healthy vegetarian diet. “Those who do yoga look the same, but I look different. If I am able to drive a positive culture online, it would feel like a great encouragement,” she says.
Bulge is beautiful
For long, curvy celebrities with back fat, bulging bellies and thick arms have conformed to unrealistic beauty standards. But the trend seems to be changing now. Pop sensation Rihanna, for one, has always promoted body positivity through her inclusive lingerie line Savage x Fenty. Singer Taylor Swift admitted to suffering from negative body image issues before she became self-accepting.
Closer home, we have actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas who has made heads turn every time she walks the red carpet and has shown a bold attitude when it comes to owning her body. At the 2019 Grammy Awards, she raised quite a few eyebrows for wearing a white tasselled gown with a plunging V-neckline going all the way to the navel.
For plus-sized people, putting together outfits is a challenge. Malhotra says she can’t pop into a department store to buy off the rack like others. “I have to hunt down pieces online, spend extra money on shipping and carefully study measurements to find things that my colleagues can buy with ease,” she says. For Vijaykar, the unavailability of right-fitting clothes meant that he could never own a smart pair of readymade jeans.
The good news is that now it’s easier to ditch those smock-frocks, ageing florals and ill-fitting trousers, as a bevy of brands offer extensive plus-size collections or have started to roll out designer collaborations and private labels to revamp the plus-size wardrobe. Global fashion plus-size clothing brands such as Asos Curve, Forever21, Boohoo, Mango, Elvi, Simply Be and Chi Chi London offer versatile and trendy pieces such as mini dresses, sequined skirts, sheer organza tops, vinyl trousers, sweatpants, cycling shorts, knit jumpers, etc. Junarose by Vera Moda has sizes up to XXL or UK 28 for curvy women. High street brand Violeta by Mango has classic shapes and silhouettes in punchy prints, as well as tees and day dresses. H&M UK, too, has a good selection of plus-size womenswear for upto size 24.
Closer home, aLL, the plus-size store by Future Lifestyle Fashions, has an extensive XXL catalogue. FabAlley’s Curve collection, too, offers dresses, tops and skirts in lace, scuba, sequin, etc. The sizes range from XL to 4XL. While Alto Moda by Pantaloons has tops, dresses, trousers and ethnic wear in sizes ranging from S to 4XL, PlusS has formal and casual tops, tunics, kurtas, and leggings, with the focus on comfort and style in sizes from S to 6XL.
Trendy silhouettes make women feel confident, says Siddharth Bindra, managing director, BIBA, an Indian ethnic womenswear brand. “Straight cuts are preferred in extended sizes… and we avoid styles that require too much volume, boxy silhouettes and anarkalis. From casual to workwear to festive, there are a range of styles available in sizes up to 46… layered looks, straight kurtas with lehengas or shararas, suit sets with pants, long dresses and regular kurtas in plus sizes, churidars, palazzo pants and skirts in sizes up to XXL,” he says.
Similarly, smart fashion brand Numero Uno offers denims in plus sizes that come in comfortable stretch fabric. “Earlier, most brands didn’t offer plus-size fashion, so people were restricted to limited styles. With growing demand, brands are incorporating and catering to plus-size customers, providing numerous options and styles,” says Manjula Gandhi, chief product officer, Numero Uno.
Vegan beauty brand Plum, too, has launched its BodyLovin’ range of products in clean, vegan formulations and recyclable packaging. “My team and I have thoroughly enjoyed creating the #JudgementFree world of BodyLovin’ from concept to reality and have had fun spreading body positivity everyday. BodyLovin’ is about body positivity (the fun and sassy kind), telling people body shaming isn’t done…. and to top it all, getting people to have fun with never-before sensory experiences, offbeat fragrances and some brainy puns too! In a world where you’re either too fat, skinny, short, tall, dark or fair, how cool would it be to find a community that takes pride in being judgement-free and is obsessed with getting you to love every inch of your fabulous body?” says founder Shankar Prasad.