The stunning stone caves of Ajanta and Ellora, ancient paintings depicting Indian goddesses and even the earliest illustrated copies of the Kama Sutra consistently showcased fuller figured Indian women in all their glory. Somewhere along the way, perhaps with increased access to international movies, television, magazines and clothing brands, Indian women stopped embracing their curves and started dieting and exercising to acquire thinner figures.
It would be unfair to cast the blame completely on westernisation and the media’s portrayal of modern Indian women as tall, thin and fair because it seems that Indian society has undergone a seismic shift in its mindset towards body image. When everyone from people you know to the advertisements staring back at you from newspapers and television, tell you that thin is beautiful, there are very few who would have the guts and will power to fight the stereotype. Indians may love ‘plus’ sized versions of Android and iPhones but they prefer their men and women in petite packaging.
Plus size models maybe having their moment of glory internationally but the market for plus size models in India is ridiculously paradoxical. Even as most Indian designers make a killing on made to measure clothing in larger sizes they continue to pick the quintessential tall and skinny models as clothes horses for fashion shows and advertising campaigns. They might sometimes include ‘real people’ on the ramp like writers, social activists, singers and artists but the models displaying their clothes remain barrelled in the same parameters. Proving that while India’s fashion industry is silently accepting of plus size women and men in their retail rollouts it doesn’t have the strength to take honest and blatant ownership of this contradiction.
Sana Saina, a Delhi based fashion designer who launched Plus Size Models two years ago echoes these same sentiments stating that the market for plus size Indian models is negligible even as the official number of plus size Indians is over 150 million. Shashank Sharma of Radiance Vision confirms the bias as gender neutral when he mentions that only 4 models out of his database of 4000 male models are plus size and 3 of the 4 started out wanting to be comedy actors since they were instantly rejected for lead roles because of their size.
What is even more baffling is that the market for plus size clothing in India stands at Rs. 200 crore and is being tapped by brands like Revolution, aLL, Mustard, X’MeX and Pluss. With the exception of the odd garment exporter who needs plus size Indian models for fittings and online retailers like Myntra and Jabong who have separate fashion segments for plus size clothing, assignments for plus size Indian models are limited. Even the pay scales are skewed in favour of smaller models as plus size models are often paid very small sums for their efforts.
Sources: Jabong.com, Thisexpatindia.com
As India’s fashion industry continues its complicated relationship with plus size models and clothing, it seems Bollywood is making strides towards changing body image perceptions. The success of larger celebrities like Vidya Balan, Huma Qureshi, Sonakshi Sinha and Arjun Kapoor is slowly paving the way for acceptance of beauty in all shapes and sizes. Vidya Balan piled on the pounds to play south Indian seductress Silk Smitha and garnered praise for portraying the role of the curvy actress with such audacity and class. Huma Qureshi has played varied roles in critically acclaimed and commercially successful features slamming those who condemn her for her size.
Younger stars Sonakshi Sinha and Arjun Kapoor have also been appreciated for being so forthcoming about their struggles with their weight as they continue to deliver electric performances in blockbuster hits. As it happens every so often in India when Bollywood embraces a trend, hopefully the accomplishments of these stars despite their size will open the doors of opportunity and employment for plus size Indian models as well.
Sources: Archives.indianexpress.com, Ibtimes.co.in, Bollywoodlife.com, Emirates247.com, Woobollywood.com