Why We Need More Size Inclusivity and Body Positivity in the South Asian Fashion and Media Industry – Victoria Das (London Ki Ladki)notyourwife1214
Born and bred in the South-West of London, a city brimming with diversity. I had grown up knowing from my primary school nurse that my weight was spiralling out of control. This soon led to garnering stretch marks and body insecurities which troubled me during my school life. I used to engulf under a big coat during the hot summers without fail and hid my legs in the thickest tights wherever possible, despite it making me uncomfortably chafe.
During this period, the size inclusivity and body positivity movements were somewhat non-existent and losing weight was the nation’s obsession (and still is). The media depicted thinness equating to happiness and that ones’ self-worth is determined by their weight. Celebrity weight loss has always seen praise, whilst weight gain has regularly had negative connotations attached to by the media eye. A recent example is Adele’s recent weight losswhich has been applauded by many, but also sparked a debate around fat phobia.
Being at an impressionable age at the time, I once fell into this societal thinking around weight loss and it became a fixation, from comparing myself to the slender models/celebrities I had seen in magazines and on-screen, to dieting at a young age. Since then, it has been a love – hate relationship over the years with my weight and size fluctuations. But now I am glad to say I have started to love my body again, those large thighs, cellulite, curves, bust and broad shoulders…even if I can’t still fit into those sample size Indian blouses when out shopping!
UK research conducted by social enterprise charity Better (2019), revealed that 51% of women and 36% of men lack confidence in their own body image. Looking at the cause behind these statistics, social media was considered as a highly contributing factor. Pressure from peers, film and television were found to be key factors behind the nation’s low body confidence too. If we are to break things down even further, in a UK University research study (2009) on ethnic differences in positive body image among female British undergraduates, findings concluded that South Asian women had the lowest body appreciation. This suggested that they were at increased risk for developing negative body image and eating disorders. Although social media has been highly considered to have adverse effects on self-esteem, on the flipside it has been a platform for influencers to be a flag bearer towards the movement of breaking society’s unrealistic beauty standard.
An incredible social media moment happened when seven Asian women from the plus-size community: Michelle Elman, Bishamber Das, Kat Henry, Mina Bhogaita, Simran Sanhu, Saalene Sivaprasad and Vanessa Sison collaborated for a photoshoot together with photographer Linda Blacker. This went viral as they were calling out for more Asian plus-size representation, so they took matters into their own hands. It is promising to know there are a growing number of South Asian body positive advocates such as Jameela Jamil and Harnaam Kaur, who represent South Asians in mainstream UK fashion and media, but what about within the South Asian fashion and media industry? Size inclusivity and body positivity has not reached the forefront here both locally and internationally. To see more curvy women like myself and encourage body positivity on the scene are one of the reasons why I started my own Asian fashion and events blog, ‘London Ki Ladki’(‘Girl from London’) 6 years ago.
Fortunately, size inclusivity in fashion shows, such as Lakme Fashion Week in India has been embraced for the first time in recent years. The internet even went into a frenzy in 2019 when Sabyasaachi, one of India’s top designers, featured a plus-model for the first time in his Autumn/Winter campaign, which was received with both accolade and criticism.
It is not only South Asian fashion houses and shows that can influence the fashion and media scene, but Bollywood can play a phenomenal part for positive change. Being portrayed as overweight on-screen has been frequently utilised as an instrument for comedy and depicted as a negative trait for a character. The unfortunate reality is that actors are subject to a spectrum of judgement in the limelight: Kareena Kapoor Khan, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Zarine Khan, Fardeen Khan are just one of many who have been subjected to body shaming. But it is promising to see actors taking more of stand nowadays to speak up about body shaming. The fraternity need to address the absence of size inclusivity and body positivity by altering approaches towards the casting to character development.
This is just the beginning for the South Asian fashion and media industry surrounding size inclusivity and body positivity, especially in the UK. Hopefully, these industries will start to notice the vital importance of addressing these concerns. In current times, for those who want to such see representation, it seems we can only rely on influencers to champion this and shake thing up the industry. Your self-worth should not be dictated by your appearance, shape nor size and this is the message that needs to be instilled across the industries.
By Victoria Das (London Ki Ladki)