QZ&A

An Indian actress put the beauty of pregnancy on full display when she refused to cover up her body

Quartz india
Quartz india

Dealing with stereotypes and taboos is a big part of being pregnant in India, and it’s even harder when you’re a celebrity. But young actresses in the country are now breaking the mould by living out their pregnancies in the public eye, a big step forward in an industry that views marriage and motherhood as career-killers.

In India, women are frequently told to cover their baby bumps due to a fear of the evil eye bringing bad luck in the future. However, Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor, for instance, decided to appear on magazine covers and at fashion shows while heavily pregnant, determined to ignore the scrutiny and criticism. And television actor Shveta Salve, who also runs a restaurant in Goa, did the same during her own pregnancy.

On March 01, six months after she gave birth to a baby girl, Salve’s name started trending on Google after she posted an Instagram photo of herself in a bikini—very unusual for a new mother in India, who is usually advised to stay indoors and take care of her baby.

But Salve told Quartz that her boldness during pregnancy and after did not come without some anxiety. In a telephonic interview from Goa, she spoke about her insecurities while being pregnant, the experience of sharing her pregnancy on social media, and her plans for getting back to acting.

Edited excerpts:

Why did you decide to share your pregnancy on social media?

I was active on social media since before I got pregnant, so I just continued with it. I don’t think social media is a big deal because every other person is there these days. However, the response that I got made me realise that what I was doing was making a difference. Women from all walks of life reached out to me and discussed their thoughts and stories. I engaged with them because I felt that if I could help someone feel more confident about their pregnancy and their body, why not?

Were there any bitter experiences on social media?

I have always been aware that it’s the internet, and if you have supporters online, you have trolls as well. You can’t do anything about the trolls or about the critics. All I could do was what I thought was right.

What I found absurd was how people picked up small things and made a big deal out of it. Everyone kept saying things like, Shveta Salve “flaunts” her belly or puts up a “bold” photograph. I find words like “bold” and “flaunt” extremely hilarious. I live in Goa by the beach, and I put up photos when I go for a swim, so I will obviously be wearing a swimsuit. What’s the big deal?

But people pick up my photos from social networks and add text to it, and the next thing I know there are articles about my “bold” and “flaunting” images.

Being an actor, did you have any insecurities when you first decided to have a baby?

To be honest, I didn’t plan this pregnancy. It was something that came to us and we accepted it very happily. Once I conceived, work was the last thing on my mind. Thankfully, my husband and I had the (financial) means, so we did not really have to worry about work. Even in the past, there have been times when I was in between projects and didn’t have any work immediately. But that didn’t really bother me, so I thought why get worked up about it in such a wonderful phase of life?

I enjoyed my pregnancy. I had cravings, and how. I used to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was like, I will worry about it later but right now I want to eat whatever I want. I spoke to a nutritionist in my first trimester and she gave me a dietary regime to follow, which I didn’t.

Were you concerned about stretch marks or the other body changes that come with pregnancy?

Oh yes. The day I saw two pink lines on the home pregnancy test I went and got myself a big bottle of cocoa butter and Bio Oil, and every other oil possible. I started rubbing my belly with all those creams and oils daily. I told myself that I was going to make sure that I don’t get stretch marks.

When I saw my first stretch mark I clicked a photo of it and I cried wondering why it has come, despite the fact that I was taking care of it since the first day.

But as my pregnancy proceeded, I started realising that these things are out of my control. Now, I call my stretch marks “tiger stripes.” When I look at them, they remind me that I have given birth to a human being.

In fact, I had planned a water birth, but at the last minute all that flopped and I had a C-section. So imagine, I was worried about stretch marks and now I have a massive, 15-centimetre cut mark under my belly. But it’s absolutely okay. Don’t be surprised if some day I put up a photo of the scar on social media.

Your latest photograph shows that you are getting back to your pre-pregnancy shape. Is that to tell the industry that you’re back?

Not at all. I have been on the cover of Vogue and Maxim, and I was someone who was known to be extremely physically fit. But today I know that my body looks different, and I am never going to have the body of a 20-year-old anymore.

I had a C-section and my gynecologist advised me not to work out for six months. So I have not followed any exercise regime. But yes, I have been conscious about eating healthy and I have been walking.

Actually, I looked at that photo and felt that I look pretty decent for someone who had a baby just six months back. So that photograph was just self-validation for my own ego.

Do you think your professional life has changed post-pregnancy?

I run a restaurant in Goa and for the last six months, I have been spending more time here since I am on a maternity break from my TV work. But I am discussing several TV opportunities, and you will see me on TV very soon.

I know that I am not a 20-year-old anymore, so I am not expecting the roles of college girls anymore. I cannot play a grandma either because I am not that. I am a 35-year-old mom and if I get roles to play a mother, I will be glad to take them.

Do you think it will be easy for you to find work on TV?

I don’t want to work with people who are not like-minded. I understand people who may be concerned about their projects and want actors who work 15 hours a day, but I can’t do that anymore. I will not judge such people because they are also looking out for their projects. But I have a child and there’s nothing more important than me being with my baby.

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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