She has got to be slim for her to be beautiful – that’s the accepted norm. You can’t solely blame the common man on the street for assessing a woman’s beauty – or worth for that matter – by the size of her waistline when this projection of the ideal body type has been so deeply rooted in every form of art and entertainment we so willfully devour.
Be it cinema or literature, more often than not the female protagonists conform to the stereotypical idea of beauty, what with their radiant eyes, flowing hair and perfectly slim waistlines, and the ‘fat girl’ is always the sidekick or even the vamp but never the hero. And one doesn’t realize how instantly stimulating it can be to have a curvy girl don the hero’s hat. You never truly seek out a fat hero but when you find one, it is a being hit in the face by a burst of fresh air. And that’s exactly how ‘I am big. So what?’ by Shuchi Kalra makes you feel. The book traces a young girl’s tryst with love but with a difference – this young girl is generously curvy and that only further compounds her already mounting troubles vis-à-vis any prospects of finding true love. This same curviness, however, also makes the character more real, the narrative more engaging and the book splendidly witty. You don’t realize how under-represented big girls are in the creative realm until you come across a character like Roli, who is fully rounded in every sense of the word.
No Room for Big Girls?
The Indian woman was once regarded as a symbol of voluptuousness, something which was associated with an irresistible sex appeal and not the lack of it. Look at the leading ladies of yesteryears and they all have one thing in common (other than the fact they were all more or less damsels in distress waiting to be rescued by a knight in shining armor) – well-endowed bodies with a generous amount of bulges. They were by no measure slim and yet they remain the most iconic beauties the showbiz industry has seen. From Madhubala to Meena Kumari, Asha Parekh, Hema Mailini, Sreedevi, and even Madhuri Dixit, none of them needed flatter abs, toned thighs and more to rule hearts. And then came in the late 1990s, and Bollywood’s leading ladies underwent a makeover. They were suddenly skinnier, fairer and always looking a million bucks. In a way, driving home the message that you can’t hope to get a guy throw a second glance your way, let alone find love, if you are not all of these things. Then, Kareena Kapoor took things to a whole new level with her much-hyped (albeit near anorexic) size zero avatar in Tashan. Her contemporaries followed suit. And thus, slim became beautiful.
Fat Girls Take Charge
After years of having grappled with weight issues, taken on body shaming with oodles of self-loathing and struggled with low self-esteem all because of a few extra kilos, women today are standing up against trolls and critics by making a mark for themselves irrespective of their body size. For starters, more and more women are embracing their bodies the way they are without feeling the need to huff and puff their way at a gym or picking out ill-fitted, unglamorous clothes. The growing market for plus-size clothing, complete with the latest fashion trends being made available for big girls, is a case in point.
This change in attitude is slowly but steadily being reflected in the mainstream media too. From being the side kick, the supporting actor or a mere butt of jokes, fat girls are now garnering the courage to claim what is rightfully theirs – the freedom of living life on their own terms, making a career and earning accolades for their abilities and not for how they look. Vidya Balan, who was incessantly criticized and mocked for her body weight, almost single-handedly took it upon herself to break stereotypes and make a mark for herself in an industry driven by looks, solely on the basis on her acting prowess. With her entry in the mainstream media, curvy crept back as an acceptable body form. The likes of Huma Qureshi and Sonakshi Sinha took the phenomenon of making voluptuous sensual again to another level. Today, when a Parineeti Chopra takes to Instagram to break the news of her weight loss, she is not blindly lauded for her efforts. People ask the logical question – ‘why did she feel the need to change the way she looked?’
Along Comes Dum Laga ke Haisha
This breaking of stereotypes is further cemented when a movie like Dum Laga ke Haisha is not only made but also appreciated by the audience. Bhumi Pednekar made every fat girl next door sit up and take notice that her worth is determined by which way the weighing scale tips. The character definitely finds resonance with a lot of girls who feel undermined, despite their various accomplishments, on the account of their weight. The fact that a debutant actor took on the challenge of playing an overweight girl and nailed it like a boss also speaks volumes about changing perceptions.
The Fashion Industry is Not Too Far Behind
The fashion industry has been immensely obsessed with a certain body image. From models to mannequins, size zero rules the roost. The various campaigns by plus-sized activists shaming giants like Victoria’s Secret for unrealistic sizes notwithstanding. In a first, the Indian fashion industry broke away from this convention, when leading model Carol Gracias walked the ramp at the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week flaunting her baby bump, driving home the message that a woman is beautiful as long as she can hold her chin up and dazzle with that sparkle in her eyes.
Can the World of Literature Afford to Miss Out?
Authors across the globe too are fighting the fat phobia by embracing the idea of curvy women protagonist. The world of fiction is, after all, an extension of the times we live in. Best-sellers such as ‘My Big Fat Manifesto’ by Susan Vaught, ‘Too Big to Miss’ by Sue Ann Jaffarian, ‘Princesses Don’t Get Fat’ by Aya Ling, ‘The Dark Days of Hamburger Halprin’ by Josh Berk, and ‘Vintage Veronica’ by Erica S Perl, and many more, are a reflection of just that. The realm of Indian literature seems to have a vacuum when it comes to celebrating the quintessential voluptuous Indian woman up until now. And that brings us back to Shuchi Kalra’s book ‘I am big. So what?’ that has given the Indian audience a fat female protagonist that one can love and relate to in equal measure.
Roli’s journey is dotted with the usual struggles that come as part of the package deal when you are heavier by a few kilos. From being dumped by the only man she has ever loved to finding herself in the thick of awkward social situations and the unrelenting pressure to search for a suitable groom, she goes through it all but without succumbing to the growing insanities of life. Roli is big, and almost brazen about it. Shuchi does a remarkable job of creating a character that doesn’t feel the compelling need to lose weight in order to win over a guy’s love. And that is immensely refreshing.
Finally, we have an Indian writer who knows better than judging a woman’s worth by the weighing scale. That’s exactly the kind of feminism we need to keep these winds of change blowing.
Now is the best time to be a curvy girl, and from the looks of it, it is only going to get better from here. When we have more heroes – both fictional and real – who embrace their bodies and choose to indulge in some serious self-love as opposed to succumbing to body shaming bullies and confidence issues, the stereotypical ideas of beauty and the constant societal pressure to fit in will ease up. That’s when a fat girl will be truly comfortable in her skin and not feel the need to rush to weighing scale after gorging on a cone of ice-cream. And that’s what we all need to be rooting for.
Buy "I'm Big. So What!?" by Shuchi Singh Kalra here.