Body positivity is slowly making it to the mainstream in India.
For instance, Lakme Fashion Week, the country’s biggest fashion event, has had plus-size models walking down the runway since 2016. But the baggy and somewhat frumpy clothing often on show reveal the perennial problem: options are limited for women above a certain size, and the rules of what not to wear are often firmly enforced.
So, when plus-size advertising professional Anindita Roy began posting photos of herself on Instagram last December, her primary goal was to prove that curvy women can wear anything: sleeveless tops, all-white outfits, and, yes, even horizontal stripes. The 33-year-old then went a step ahead, posing in lingerie, to show that looking sexy and confident isn’t just for those sized zero.
Roy’s photos are a refreshing change from the usual stream of skinny Caucasian women on Instagram. But she wasn’t always body confident growing up in India, where plus-size people are routinely treated like a problem to be solved.
In a conversation with Quartz, Roy described her long, slow journey towards feeling comfortable with her own body, and why increasing acceptance of plus-size fashion doesn’t always mean acceptance of plus-size people.
How did you start out as a plus-size model?
Back in Calcutta (Kolkata), where I was working in advertising, I had a boutique where I used to design clothes for my friends. Then I shifted to Bombay (Mumbai). One day, one of my friends said, “Anindita, people blog about fashion, why don’t you?” I thought I had some nice pictures, so let me start posting. I started writing and posting pictures, and then I suddenly saw people liking my pictures and following me.
I started with giving fashion tips, and my tips were against the fashion rules. [The rule is] fat arms, don’t wear sleeveless. No, fat arms, wear sleeveless. Fat body, you cannot wear horizontal stripes. No, you can wear it, and you can look fabulous. So I started doing that, and then I thought, now fashion is done, I’m talking about body positivity, let’s take this forward. There are a lot of girls who are looking at you and getting inspired by what you are doing. If they are still not able to see themselves in a dress, let me show them that I can be in lingerie and be comfortable. If I have the guts to wear lingerie and show it to the world, they can take a step forward to wear a dress and come out.
What kind of response do you get, especially when you post photos of yourself in lingerie?
Whenever I post lingerie pictures, there’s a girl who follows me and she writes comments like, “In the name of body positivity, you just want to stand naked in front of the camera!” If that is what you think, I can’t change your thoughts.
I do get a lot of positive comments, but there are people who still think that it’s a bad thing, that the set standard of society’s beauty rules are the only ones that should be accepted, and the others shouldn’t be.
For boys, you become a sex object, so they will keep sending you cheap messages. But for girls, if they think this is out of their limitations, they will comment. But there are a lot of girls who write to me every day, saying you’re doing a fabulous job and that we get inspired by you.
Despite the talk of body positivity in India, we still mostly see skinny people in magazines and movies. Has India’s attitude to plus-sized women really changed?
People in India mostly have a set standard of beauty. They think you’ve got to have 36-24-36 figure to be perfect. They don’t have any value for someone who is XL.
When I was 12 and I began putting on weight, the bullying and body-shaming started. I used to be very conscious of myself, and used to only wear Indian clothes. I used to hide myself.
When I used to come for shoots in Mumbai, I used to see how people are so open about dressing up. That is when I started picking up western clothes. I used to not wear sleeveless dresses, so then I started wearing sleeveless kurtas. It was a slow journey, slowly I trained myself to take that next step.
People are accepting. If you see, people never did a fashion show for plus-size before, and now Lakme Fashion Week has a segment for plus-size. This year the clothes were pathetic; it was all about hiding your body. But the thing is that at least they are having it. It is about plus size girls going there and enjoying themselves, and walking the ramp. I mean, who would think that a plus-size woman would walk the ramp!
But while plus-size fashion has been accepted, are plus-size girls accepted? I’m single and I’m 33, my mother looked for guys for me but I get rejected because I’m fat. Even if you’re too thin, people don’t laugh at you. You’ll still get marriage proposals. But if you’re fat you don’t get marriage proposals.
So body positivity still has a long way to go, but I think things are changing.
How do you rate what’s available in plus-size fashion in India?
It is only H&M and a few others like aLL and some online brands that have plus-size collections. I once got a gift voucher for Zara and I went to their store, and I didn’t get anything in my size. I was shocked that an international brand like Zara doesn’t cater to plus-size people when there are so many plus-size women around. At Forever 21, their last size [in India] is large.
Indian brands are doing interesting things, but the problem is they’re not making plus-size clothes glamorous. They do boring clothes for plus-size people. If you see aLL, they have such bad prints and bad designs. I want to wear sexy clothes, I want to feel sexy. Why shouldn’t I? But there’s a long journey ahead. My goal is to start my own label` to make plus-size clothes sexy.
How do your friends and family react to the way you use Instagram?
My friends love what I do. They encourage me a lot, they love my work. My mother knows about my blog, but you know mothers, they don’t understand technology. She knows there is something called Instagram and there is something called plus-size modelling. I have told her that I take photos in lingerie. My mother doesn’t say no to it because she knows what I am doing is right. My mother is also plus-size. I can’t expect her to understand the whole thing, but my mother was a very big support when I was growing up and people teased me.
What will take India’s body positivity movement forward now?
There are so many girls with perfect bodies who crib, “My stomach is sticking out”…”my arms are fat.” I think everyone in this world needs to start accepting the way they are. We are not accepting ourselves, we’re setting standards. But there are no rules, there are no standards. There cannot be any. I believe in god, that an almighty has created you, and this is how he’s created you. You cannot be unhappy about it.