In the fairy tale, Snow White and the seven dwarves, the Queen’s incessant query “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” gives little girls the subconscious lesson that being beautiful will lead them to the happily ever after of a Disney princess. From Cinderella to Ariel, beautiful usually means fair, very slim with perfect features, and flawless skin. Pooja Kochar is on a journey to help women learn to love themselves, and cope with the kind of unrealistic expectations that society imposes on them.
Blogging for the 30ish
Pooja, 32, an avid blogger and passionate photographer, had been working with TCS for 10 years. She quit her job last year to focus on her blog 30ish, which she had started in 2014. As the name suggests, 30ish focusses on themes and issues that women in their late 20s and early 30s can relate with. Since she is her 30s, she knows that this is a very crucial phase for women. Women in this group have usually walked quite a bit on their chosen career path, are married/in a serious relationship, and have had or are considering having a baby. Serious decisions and milestones are, therefore, the hallmark of this age group.
Photography without photoshop
When it comes to her passion for photography, Pooja says, “Photography is very intuitive and personal. I have no formal training in photography. I sync emotionally with my clients and that’s my strongest virtue as a photographer.” She wants her photoblog called PhotoblogHER as well as 30ish to be digital brands focussed towards challenging stereotypes against women.
Blogs have a global reach, as most of the issues are universal in nature. Social influencers and bloggers usually prefer to feature women who look like models, aesthetically dressed up, shot in flattering lights and with a final photoshop touch up. Women follow these and internalise a sense of inadequacy. Her fight is to keep blogging real. She does a lot of work in the space of women empowerment. From photographing the children of sex workers in Kamathipura to shoots of new mothers, PhotoblogHER is this Mumbai girl’s attempt to talk about self-esteem and positive body image amongst the most vulnerable section of our society, teenaged girls and young mothers.
Since many of her photography clients are young mothers who follow her blog and approach her for shoots, most of her photography covers pre-natal shoots and mothers with their babies. Over the course of the shoot, many women have shared their stories and insecurities with her. Sometimes women tell her to make them slimmer or hide stretchmarks. Stretchmarks on a new mother should be like the battle scars that a warrior carries proudly on his body, feels Pooja. She had a rare client who felt that way and wanted a photo of her scarred stomach to cherish for posterity.
Start with the little ones
To tackle body shaming in the formative years, Pooja has started conducting workshops and seminars across schools in Mumbai for girls in the age group of 12–16. What she wants young girls to understand is, “Beauty is fearless. Beauty is not flawless. Beauty is when you OWN your flaws and decide to live with it; that is when you are really beautiful.”
Blogging gives Pooja the opportunity to form strong relationships. As social influencers, bloggers have a very wide reach and can use their platform to deal with various issues. Bloggers have flourished promoting an aspirational lifestyle. But the rules of this game are changing and that is the reason why her blog strikes a chord with women. Vlogging is the next step for every blogger and Pooja has her own channel on YouTube, which is an extension of her blog.
A beautiful future
Having completed MBA from Mumbai University in 2007, Pooja has also done a management development programme (MDP) from ISB in 2014. She uses the money she earns from photography as well as her savings to finance her workshops for teenagers. She is hopeful of receiving corporate sponsorships so that she can continue her work on a larger scale. Her husband and parents constitute the support system of this woman of substance and travelling is her way of unwinding as well as getting to understand the stories of people the world over.
Women flourish in groups, says Pooja, that’s how we are built as humans. We love to empathise and be there for each other. As a woman and a photographer, she wants to help other women see themselves the way she does. Being fit and dressing well is important, of course, but Pooja feels a woman’s self-esteem starts from her mind. Once she is comfortable with herself, all the physical aspects of perceived beauty will fall into place. “It is just one life, you need to live it completely. You need to be true to yourself, to the essence of your personality.”