When we hear the word ‘model’ an image of a slim, tall, sexy girl comes up. A girl who walks down the ramp in her nearly anorexic avatar . Those who don’t eat any food and only live on liquids or some greens. But let me introduce you to some models with a huge difference. The plus size models.
They lead a very different lifestyle , eat burgers and chips and drink colas and are not anorexic but far from it! They are young, equally pretty and model for clothes that are worn by people who are plump.
5 such girls walked the ramp for Lakme Fashion week last year. It was the first time that plus size models were on the ramp at Lakme Fashion week. But the chutzpah with which these 5 girls did it was encouraging and inspiring for so many who watched them sashay down the ramp. And what gave them the confidence to do this was their one line mantra , “I see no flaws.”
In fact they have now formed a group that campaigns against body shaming of any sort and raise their collective voice against all those who troll plump individuals . They were tagged ‘behnjis’, fatties, or moti. They have had umpteen embarrassing moments in their lives but chose to look at the positive side of such nasty remarks. It is this resolve and motivation that helped them got them to get rid of all such tags and today prove their critics wrong.
To be fat and yet healthy is their mantra in life and hence all of them go through regular medical check ups, go for fitness programmes and thumb down all body shamers. As Amber explains that being fat may be due to a multitude of reasons. So one should not shame them as nobody likes to be so. But since they are what they are, they have resolved to lead a life of dignity and grace.
Meet 34 year old Amber Qureshi (an entrepreneur), 28 year old Neha Parulkar (a banker), 27 year old Anjana Bapat (a programmer) , 23 year old Tanvi Geetha Ravishankar (a stylist and blogger)and 22 year old Payal Soni (a real estate agent) .
“I was always plump and haven’t known what it was to be thin,” says the pretty faced Amber.
“Initially I tried losing weight but I guess as it was genetic –my dad was plump too. I soon gave up as I couldn’t succeed. Moreover since childhood I did have a thyroid issue which made it all the more difficult to knock off weight,” Amber adds.
She goes on to say that adolescence was the toughest phase in her life as nobody wanted to befriend a fat girl and all she could wear was salwar kameez to college.
Anjana agrees with her as she adds, “Rejection came from everywhere. Friends, school, family. In fact I was bullied and hence became a very cranky kid. Once a day before my English paper my uncle lectured me on my weight and I can never forget that day. I lived with a belief that no guy would ever be interested in me!”
Neha too confides that she dressed shabbily to hide her weight as then there were no brands available for plus size people. And when people commented on her weight she would break down. “Every negative comment would depress me and make me feel inferior and doubt my self. I was struggling hard and all people had to say to me was to reduce.”
But Tanvi has a different story to tell as she was super confident and hence very popular in college. “I never allowed my body to come in the way of the kind of person I wanted to be. Yes, I too did go through a low phase but that was after my engineering degree when I wanted to take up dancing professionally. I had by then won many prizes for dancing and was called the dancing queen of my college. But the professional dancing industry was not ready for me. All they wanted was a skinny dancer. My mentors and teachers would tell me that I had 99 out of 100 attributes a dancer should have but the one thing missing was my body!”
“When girls wore short skirts I hid my fat in long skirts,” confides Amber. “I never wanted to hang out with girls and boys my age as I had no confidence. But my family never found anything wrong with me and in fact pampered me. My parents had separated and I lived with my dad and grandmother who was my guiding light. She encouraged me to chase my dreams. I was born and raised in Abu Dhabi and have an older sister. I enjoyed dancing and occasionally went out for salsa nights but not a single boy asked me for a dance. In fact till I got married I had never dated a single guy.”
Amber is married to a man she met at work who is her biggest support. In fact it was his insistence that auditioned for Lakme fashion week (LFW). She candidly adds that he is not uncomfortable about her size but does advise her to knock of weight only for health benefits. “I am keen to act and have done a few ads and short films too. But I don’t want to do roles where they mock the body or offer me only moti roles. I have been humiliated at look tests and am not interested in being a side kick or where I provide just comic relief. I want to do roles which justify my talent.”
Braving all odds these 5 young girls went on to make their weakness their strength. As Payal rightly says, “Skinny, short, tall doesn’t define you. The only thing that defines you is your
confidence. I have come across people who are ashamed of their body. Its said that fat people are unhealthy, unfit as well as ugly. I am plus size and am healthy as well as fit. Stop comparing yourselves. Start loving yourselves and don’t be ashamed of your body. Love yourself always.”
Payal has modeled for many brands like Amydus, Luluandsky, Lastinch apart from having done a MTV show called Big F and ofcourse walked the ramp for LFW.
For all of them the turning point in their lives was being selected to walk the ramp last year and then going on to forming their own group to create a campaign called I see no flaws. The group does photo shoots every 3 months where there is an issue they focus on every month. The first was called Body Love where they had a 5 day on- line campaign talking of the issue. In fact going forward they plan on involving boys as well who are plus size.
But Neha says her turning point came the day she realized that life is too short to spend another day at war with yourself. “It was that day that I became my own role model! I just decided to be fearless! That was a turning point… when I just stopped caring what the world had to throw at me. I was busy loving and respecting myself.”
And for Anjana her turning point came when she met other girls her size. “A few years back when I met a couple of fellow plus size friends, friends who were confident, talented, fierce, wore what they wanted, said what they wanted, had as many relationship troubles as the next
person, no more owing to weight. And these girls, they gave me the same confidence, observing them, conversing with them, just being in accepting company that saw me as a beautiful person inside out, added volumes to my confidence.”
Not surprisingly none of them were conscious when walking the ramp for the first time.
“I have been performing on stage since the age of 5 , even till date , few mins before the show begins I am a nervous wreck..haha…but once on stage and the lights go on, I perform like nobody is watching,” says Tanvi Geetha.
And Anjana too agrees , “I absolutely love the stage and the limelight, it feels like home to me.”
Though Anjana is happy being on stage there have been some nasty moments in her life. “Society objectifies me as having a very beautiful FACE. Only if I lose some weight. As for nasty remarks, the conventional ones are all there. The swimming pool will empty, you’ll explode one day, guys will see you for the wrong reasons, for marriage they only want a thin girl. I’m a dancer. I’ve heard, “Will we have the stage intact?” so many times. The most recent interesting remark attempted at shaming us as a group, was a hater on Instagram, asking if we’re still counted as human beings.”
And it is such comments that made them come together as a group and launch this campaign that all of them are so passionate about. The on line campaign has been very well received and their hard work has paid off. Tanvi says, “Society needs to change its perception about our bodies and its capabilities and health. Health , fitness and talent is not something that one can judge by looking at your body !”
The happiest moment in her life was when they walked the ramp for LFW. “The music , the lights , the stage and the entire crowd hooting for me as soon as I did the wave on the head ramp was just the feeling that I had longed for since the time I had left performing. That moment is something I will cherish for life !” Tanvi says with a broad smile.
Neha describes her happiest moment as a plus size model “When a 13 year old chubby cute girl came up to me and told me that I inspire her to fight haters and that I am her idol. That time I was floored. I was like… my work here is done! I became the role model I wanted to have when I was struggling. Every single day I get messages on social media as to how I inspire them and motivate them and how much they seek inspiration from me. It is a wonderful feeling.
I would like to share one more such moment. It was during the The Grazia Magazine shoot which I did. I was privileged and honoured to be featured in one of India’s most renowned and popular magazines as a Plus Size Model. Grazia India introduced me in their swimsuit feature…wearing a one piece… can you imagine? A fat girl who has layers of fat on her body, stretch marks all over and cellulite showing all the time was in a one piece swimsuit in one of the biggest magazines, representing the people of plus! If that is not breaking stereotype then
what is! It was a dream come true.. a person like me.. who is fat shamed and body shamed all her life is getting an opportunity like this is only something I used to make up in my mind in my make belief world. That shoot just took my confidence to another level. Because I went for the shoot, got my outfit on, I was myself, I had my faith, and I just nailed it. I just lived not only my dream, but a dream every fat kid has once in their lifetime. Sky is the limit! It’s true! Very soon after I realised that when you embrace your flaws, no one can use them against you ever! My body is what has got me this far. How can I not love it or appreciate it?”
Talking very passionately about their campaign which binds all of them together Amber says, “Let me tell you how this idea of #IseeNoFlaws #BodyPositivity came to light. All 5 of us, would discuss how do we inspire people to have more faith in themselves and to be comfortable in their skin as there were so many like us who were struggling with body image issues and fat shaming. We did our research to see how people abroad become role models and the methods they use to inspire others. Then it occurred to us that instead of motivating people individually why not come together as a group and do something which no one in
our country has attempted before?
We all have our own strengths and we all are of different body types (yes, there are different body types even in Plus Size!) This way we could reach out to a much larger audience and convey a strong and a powerful message more clearly. That’s how the idea of a group photoshoot with different themes/ image issues came to us.”
Payal sums it all up very aptly, “The only person that can stop you from achieving your goals is yourself. If you believe, then everyone else will too. Be proud of who you are.”
Amber is all set to launch her very own brand of plus size clothes called _Plum Tree_ is now gearing up to be part of the country’s first fashion show for only plus size clothes that is soon coming up in Poona. And her parting shot is, “I think plus size people are very brave because of what they go through. And as they are a neglected lot as far as fashion goes I am designing some lovely fun clothes for them.”