Monday, May 12, 2008

Size zero and all that jazz

Am I the only one deeply uncomfortable with the current glorification of Kareena Kapoor’s starving body? Not a day goes by without our being confronted with yet another picture of Kareena in itsy-bitsy shorts and skimpy top or a swimsuit, ribs protruding on her painfully thin body, her skinny legs jutting out at decidedly odd angles, lips puckered in what is clearly meant to be a sexy pout. It is ironic that at a time when the international look is veering away from the skinny, unreal, androgynous female figure towards real women, India should have embraced the waif-thin look. But then, that’s hardly surprising – its aspirations to the status of world leader notwithstanding, India has always lagged at least a decade behind the West, particularly in matters relating to culture and fashion.

Kareena has supposedly looked to the likes of Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss for her ‘look’ in Tashan. Again, ironic, considering that Kate Moss has left her waif-thin days behind, and Victoria Beckham was recently in the news, protesting that it was her natural body structure, and not anorexia, that kept her thin, after she was accused of being a bad role model for young girls. It’s another matter that Kareena Kapoor, a strapping Punjabi girl, lacks the delicate frame and petite structure of either a Kate Moss or a Victoria Beckham to pull off the waif look – what is more distressing is that her attempts at coming down to a size zero are being lauded and held up as the greatest achievement ever. Kareena supposedly combined a yoga regimen with a special diet to bring her weight down from 60 to 49 kilos – which basically means that at this moment, her BMI (body mass index) is way lower than is supposed to be for someone of her height, and that clinically, she would be termed underweight. In a country – in a world, rather – where girls and young women are being constantly bombarded with messages from every possible medium telling them they are overweight and ugly, that dissatisfaction with their bodies and aspirations towards an unreal, socially constructed, deeply sexist body form is desirable, do we need our already flawed self-images reinforced by gushing reports of how good Kareena looks now that her clavicles and rib cage stick out a mile? For most women who do not have access to fancy diets or expensive yoga trainers, what choice do they have except starve themselves or join gyms, where they exercise till they drop and then starve themselves in between workouts so they, too, can get boyfriends who will tell them they ‘have never looked so good’?

We live in a rather peculiar country, I think. We have no dearth of teachers, academics, social workers, intellectuals, musicians, writers – and yet, when we look for role models, we invariably end up choosing people from either of two categories – cricketers, or people from the glamour industry, most notably film stars. The latter, inhabitants of Bollywood, the Hindi film fraternity, are made up almost exclusively of ex-beauty queens who don’t quite know what to do with themselves, or sons and daughters of former stars, for none of whom an actual ability to act appears to be a criterion to qualify as an actor/actress. It’s sad, then, that these people, while lapping up the adulation, should have absolutely no social responsibility, no awareness that their every action is being followed and emulated by impressionable young Indians. And what of the media? We get to read plenty of articles about eating disorders in all our leading dailies, so why is it that no one has seen fit to point out that Kareena’s actions, far from being laudable, are highly irresponsible, and detrimental not just to her health and well-being, but to countless others who will now look upon her as their ideal? Come to think of it, what of those poor young men who are, even as I type, killing themselves in gyms trying to get the washboard abs that Shah Rukh Khan immortalised in Om Shanti Om? K, himself health conscious and a regular gym goer, tells me that he and his gym buddies are rather bemused at this current craze for a six-pack – you can get them in three months, yes, but short of killing yourself with regular doses of fat-burners and steroids, it’s virtually impossible to sustain it. Tell that to the media, which is hailing Shah Rukh as the new Adonis, or the men who think getting a six-pack is probably more important than a college degree.

Having been through the fat, insecure teenage phase myself, the after-effects of which continue to haunt me, my heart goes out to all the girls – and boys – who are probably staring at themselves unhappily in the mirror, hating the way they look and, by extension, everything about themselves. Meanwhile, Kareena Kapoor continues to preen and pout from every newspaper and magazine cover – Tashan's dismal failure at the box office notwithstanding.

PS – And just a couple of weeks ago I read a report in the newspapers that said that the French government is all set to put a law in place that will make pushing anorexia, size zero, etc., as a lifestyle choice a criminal offence. This law will be primarily geared towards the fashion and glamour industry, which is seriously jeopardising the health of countless young French girls with its emphasis on being – and staying - thin. Go figure.