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Vidya Balan is one of the most talented actors today, and yet she was subject to the casting couch in her early career, along with body shaming – here she shares how to deal with it.
More than a decade ago at the wedding of a distant relative, one of the other wedding guests caught my attention. She was quiet, dignified and graceful. At lunch, she sat a few feet away from me at the opposite table. I, being me, had not recognized her for the celebrity that she was (or would soon become, considering that Parineeta had just hit the theatres at the time).
It was only later when my mom told me that it was Vidya Balan, that realization dawned. What I remember most about her is how stunningly beautiful she was!
Which is why I wonder what is wrong with the people who criticize her looks. In a recent interview, Vidya Balan opened up about the many negative experiences that she had as an up and coming actress, including a ‘casting couch’ incident and numerous incidents of being body shamed.
Recalling the casting couch incident, she says, “One day I remember I was in Chennai and this director came to meet me. I said let’s sit in the coffee shop and he kept insisting that he wants to talk to me and that we should go to the room. I left the door of my room open and he left within five minutes.”
The body shaming left a deeper scar on her.
She says, “There was a Tamil film I was doing and I was thrown out of the film…I remember my parents had come with me because they were so worried about me…I had really begun to fade. We went to the producers office. The producer showed us the clippings from the film and he said, ‘Just look at her, does she look like a heroine. He said ‘I was not in favour of taking her at all, it was the director who insisted.’ She further spoke about how this incident made her feel, saying, “I felt ugly…I felt like shit for months and I don’t think I looked at myself in the mirror… I didn’t like what I saw because I thought I was ugly…For the longest time, I did not forgive that man, but today, thanks to that I realized that I have to love and accept myself the way I am.”
The truth is that all of us face body shaming. Fat women for being too fat, thin women for being too thin, tall women for being too tall, short women for being too short, and so on and so forth. Irrespective of how a woman looks, she is judged and valued on her appearance. Which is why like Vidya says, the only way forward is to accept one’s body and to love it as it is. From the way she conducts herself, we have the following lessons to learn on how to combat body shaming.
Vidya doesn’t shy away from calling out people who body shame her. She always has a witty reply for journalists who ask her awkward questions about her body.
When we let such comments slide, we encourage and normalize such body negative talk. Which is why, if we feel mentally and emotionally capable of doing so, we should always call out those around us who engage in such talk. It is not always possible to confront the person in public, in which case we can always let them know in private that their speech is hurtful.
If and when people don’t listen, for example, online trolls, the best way is to block them and reduce their negative influence on one’s mental health.
At the same time, it is possible that the power equations are such that confronting the person can be counterproductive. At such times staying silent is an act of self-preservation and it is okay to do so.
On many occasions Vidya has spoken openly and honestly about being body shamed, and has lent her voice to initiatives against the same. By doing so she has not only created awareness, but also offered support to others. She doesn’t hide herself away from the public eye.
As I mentioned before, everyone deals with being shamed for some characteristic of their physical appearance. Often we deal with this by ‘hiding’ the parts of the body that we are not comfortable with, or by not talking about how being body shamed makes us feel.
When we talk about our own experiences, we offer a sense of solidarity to others around us who may also be living with similar experiences. There is a simple power to wearing what one wants, or doing activities that interest us, irrespective of what others think. When we refuse to hide, we reclaim our space and our bodies from the haters.
Instead of forcibly changing her body to fit into popular roles available for female actors, Vidya has leveraged her acting skills to create success for herself.
Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder –it is subjective. What is not subjective is our talents and skills. The best way to love oneself is to focus on the things that make us feel good about ourselves. This self-love often translates into admiration and respect from others too.
The haters will always be there. Sometimes we may be able to help them realize why they are wrong, and sometimes we won’t. We cannot always control body shaming, but we can control how we respond to it. There are many tried and tested suggestions out there for how to feel positive about one’s body. All we need to do is pick what works for us, and march ahead with confidence.
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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