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Women are more than their bodies

Can a movie radically change viewers’ attitude from body shaming to body positivity? Maybe not. But it can spark a discussion around it.

Indian cinema has finally mustered the courage to make movies about the characters that are ‘diametrically’ opposed to the notions of good looks it has itself perpetuated.

By Neelam Malkani

Can a movie radically change viewers’ attitude from body shaming to body positivity? Maybe not. But it can spark a discussion around it. I was at least drawn to write something about it after watching the movie XXL. Having worn XXL clothes myself almost all my life, I certainly could relate with the characters but what appealed to me more was the fact that Indian cinema has finally mustered the courage to make movies about the characters that are ‘diametrically’ opposed to the notions of good looks it has itself perpetuated.

The dramatically altered scene of Indian cinema which accepts flawed and imperfect protagonists and narrates stories from women’s points of view is a huge sigh of relief. Although perfectly chiseled and toned bodies are still depicted, “imperfect bodies” too seem to have carved a niche for themselves. The portrayal of characters with realistic built, features, and mannerisms and with physical defects and neuro-diversity in mainstream cinema is increasingly accepted.

The idea of inclusion is not new. Earlier on television, Mona Singh put on braces and oddly-framed glasses in “Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi” and played the role of a woman who was geeky and clumsy but honest and determined. She was adored by viewers and soon became very popular. But eventually, the plain-looking Jassi had to transform into a visually-pleasing woman. However, the ‘different’ characters of more recent times are more comfortable in their skin and don’t seem to need a ‘makeover’. Sandhya in “Dam Laga Ke Haisha” remains unapologetic about her size and brings bliss into her marital life without conforming to society’s standards of beauty. The two female characters in XXL go further and wear their obesity like a badge of honor. They own their bodies and have no qualms about their ‘imperfections’. Their positive portrayal as girls indulging in food is starkly different from the cake-stuffing scene of Neelam Mehra in “Dil Dhadakne Do” wherein a middle-aged wife, stuck in a toxic relationship with an insincere husband, is seen gorging at a chocolate cake in a moment of self-loathing and embarrassment.

Whether the portrayal of these confident characters has catalyzed the change in societal attitudes or whether it is merely mirroring a shift that has already taken place is open to discussion but a change is certainly palpable.  Be it a plus-sized influencer dancing boldly to the ‘Besharam’ song or the dark-skinned models endorsing beauty products, women are fearlessly accepting themselves without being bogged down by others’ perceptions.

This is not to endorse unhealthy lifestyles or mindless eating or severe obesity. In fact nobody can question the importance of fitness and healthy eating in life.  But this journey of self-acceptance is no mean feat for women. From buying fairness creams to demanding to be treated fairly, women have seen everything – bullying, misogyny, discrimination, and trolling, et al. Therefore, this spirit of liberation from expectations should be celebrated. This may not put an end to the fetish for fair skin or desire for a curvaceous figure, but it will certainly put those women at ease who think they are more than their bodies – whose strength and confidence come from their minds and hearts and not just from their appearance.

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Neelam Malkani is a Bhopal-based educator and freelance writer

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2 Comments

  1. Ma’am this is indeed very good. You should do these kind of articles more often, where you connect sports, drama, cinema to our mainstream life.

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