The image of a pregnant Carol Gracias waltzing down the ramp without any fanfare, just going about her business, is still fresh in our memories. The feminist and body-positive squad had yet another field day at the annual gathering of impossible beauty standards, as the line-up of another brand- Reliance Retails’ AJIO– was exclusively divas like Helen, Sunny Leone, Lakshminarayan Tripathi, that defied the ideal age, size, shape, gender, profession, and level of ambition, to walk down the ramp like they belong under the spotlight all their lives. Today, the Lakme Fashion week has redeemed itself almost entirely, as their four-day Winter/Festive coming up on August 24 will include India’s first ever plus-size fashion show. The auditions were held at Mumbai’s St. Regis on July 29, sponsored and hosted by aLL — The Plus Size Store.
The show will be styled by designer Shilpa Chavan of the label Little Shilpa. These auditions, although tardy considering the selections of the other models for their remaining shows happened in early July, saw over 160 plus-size applicants from across the country. “We ran a low-key campaign on social media inviting applicants for this particular session, and yet, over 160 people decided, ‘Yes, I will own this; and I am walking the ramp this year.’ We were blown away by the turnout,” says Shilpa, who is charged with making this one-of-a-kind show memorable for the new plus-size divas waiting to take on the world of glamour.
“What an amazing platform to showcase that being plus size is cool! A mere dress size cannot define who you are but the right attitude and confidence in yourself does. And, I am so happy and proud to be a part of this movement of sorts and lead the way for other women like me to help them embrace their body type and feel beautiful about it,” says 33-year-old Mumbai girl Amber Qureshi, a debutante on the ramp who moonlights as a mass communications professional that — spoiler alert — might have a startup brewing.
She was one of the six girls and four boys— Payal Soni, Anjana Bapat, Tanvi Ravishankar, Neha Parulkar, Vernika Jain, Amber Qureshi, Anil Pamnani, Kais Sundrani, Arpit Handa, and Rajiv Bhasin — who went on to ace the auditions and get the parts, as was evident the moment she emerged from the sidelines. Her Balayage-highlighted hair flying, her black and white outfit beautifully bringing out the coal in and around her eyes fixated on the judges as she thundered down the ramp with a flamboyant and almost professional kind of surety; it was as if she was fuelled by her angst over the body shamers she has had to face at every corner.
“I have been a heavy girl all my life so yes I have been body ridiculed and shamed all my life. This had damaging effects mentally. I lost my confidence and had low self-esteem always. I know of many more people like me who have been treated the same way,” she recalls.
She remembers like yesterday that one time when she went to a salsa event with her ‘average-sized’ girlfriends, all of whom got asked to dance except for her. “With this win, I redeemed my lost self-worth and will now be able to start life afresh without having the fear of being judged. I know now and believe that I am beautiful and intelligent and my dress size cannot define me anymore. I love my curves and love what I see in the mirror when I see myself. Now that’s a victory — a personal goal achieved,” she says.
Shilpa Chavan adds, “This format of a fashion show makes all the sense to make this event strike a chord with the masses. After all, the models portrayed in all the previous editions only represented 7–8 percent of the population in terms of body-shape, size and complexion. This event will finally speak to the remaining population that loves fashion and style just as much, but never found expression on a mainstream platform.”
The jury comprised an eclectic mix of fashion experts and stalwarts of the Indian fashion industry, including Divya Khosla Kumar, Bollywood actress and director; Shilpa Chavan, designer and founder of Little Shilpa; Lubna Adams, celebrated fashion choreographer; Jaspreet Chandok, Vice President and Head —Fashion, IMG Reliance; and Manish Aziz, Business Head, aLL— The Plus Size store.
The panel chose the 10 winners after three competitive rounds of auditions, adhering strictly to quality benchmarks and technicalities, which meant that 10-odd models who weren’t really overweight were asked to forfeit immediately. No model with a waist below 34 inches was eligible to participate.
Even as these above stated vital statistics fit the majority of its populace, India is still struggling to accept its golden and often chocolatey skin hues and ample body frames, endowed upon its men and women by the nature gods we revere to so conscientiously. Our matrimonial profiles still hold “physical requirement” (which, more often than not, reads fair and skinny) over “educational qualification;” our fashion magazines still try to make Deepika Padukone look Kashmiri, and our aunts and uncles still try to validate our body image by the number of “rishtas” it has the ability to fishhook. Actresses still have to resort to campaigns to state the obvious, that “dark is beautiful.” Citizens still have to grotesquely smear their faces in grease and black paint to drive a point home. Mothers are still attacked with questions about the trivialities of getting back in shape, rather than being cajoled to share their first few moments with their little ones unabashedly.
No wonder Amber optimistically feels that this isn’t a mere fashion show, but has the potential to be a movement — one that has been long overdue in India considering it has been gaining traction in various countries around the world for years. “Seeing the number of people who have shown confidence to hit the runway comfortable in their own skin is just reinforcement that the Indian fashion industry is poised for the plus-size movement,” said Manish Aziz, Business Head at aLL.
“It has already become a talking point across the country and people are applauding this superb initiative. I see the focus gradually shifting from skinny to curvy/real models,” adds Amber.
“Designer clothing should come in all sizes, why just for a certain body type? Remember, happy girls are the prettiest!” Divya Khosla Kumar said at the close of the event.
Amber concludes, “No one is ever going to be the prettiest or the best looking, including yourself. Just take this pressure off of people judging you and start living! Especially youngsters who starve themselves to death to fit into our society of set beauty standards. Everyone should be treated equally irrespective of what dress size they wear,” she exclaims.
However, don’t get too carried away just yet. Upon being asked how the girls and boys are going to be styled, Shilpa still teased that they would steer clear of large prints and motifs, horizontal stripes etc, and “basically, everything that are faux pas for chubby models universally,” which implies that, at the end of the day, they are still endeavouring to make the models look thin. Ultimately, they are still chasing a fictitious, and not to mention unnecessary ideal.
Baby steps, India, I think to myself. At least we have set the ball rolling.