At 30, she is a successful name in the plus-size modelling industry, an exceptional belly dancer and a personality that exudes warmth to anyone who interacts with her.
But growing up, Mumbai-based Anjana Bapat was a grumpy child. Much of the anger, when she looks back now, perhaps stemmed from being bullied by those around her.
All because she didn’t fit the size most girls her age did.
“Though I had a loving family and lots of friends, childhood wasn’t as fun as it should have been. Raised in the suburbs of Mumbai like Goregaon and Andheri, my childhood was inherently that of any fat child in India.”
If it weren’t the kids in her colony, then it would be one of her relatives. The academic pressure atop having to face her bullies each day, while being invisible in school, wasn’t helping.
“You don’t know that you are fat until you are told. My bully in school would find innovative ways of picking on me. While I escaped him by making myself invisible in school, every time we went for a class picnic, he would insult me. I still remember all of us sitting on the bus during one such trip. And he started singing ‘Larger than life’ pointing his finger at me as the entire bus burst out laughing. It continued to resound in my head long after they had stopped. I started shutting down.”
When compared to her teenage years, her childhood seemed like a cakewalk.
“During teenage, you are more aware, and these things gnaw at you, bite down your confidence and burn your morale to the ground. I still remember the day before my class 10 board exams. I had my English paper the following day when my uncle came home. I was already stressed about the exam. He looked at me with an absolute expression of disgust and told me how I didn’t look like any girls my age. And he went on for almost three hours about how I should lose weight.”
She dreaded running into him or meeting his family for the longest time. Thankfully, they are in a good place now, because she stopped reacting to any such comments from relatives.
For an impressionable Anjana, being seen holding a plate of food was traumatic, so was going to a family meeting.
“I hated how I looked in the mirror. And shopping was a nightmare.”
Every time they stepped out to buy clothes, 16-year-old Anjana never found any that fit her. She confesses that although brands have now upped their game, not finding clothes in her size continues to be a trigger.
What about the reaction from her parents?
“My parents grew up in a society where they too were insecure every time they put on weight. So for them, my being overweight was an issue and continues to be one. But till date, never once have they made me feel less or disrespected me for that. When I was young, they’d often encourage me to lose weight. But they never disrespected me.”
The journey towards self-acceptance
The years between 23 and 26 were when Anjana left her cocoon to transform into a beautiful and confident butterfly. A large part of the credit goes to her friend, Priyanka, and the women in her family.
“During college, I was convinced that nobody would be interested in me romantically. I could never accept compliments, even when people genuinely meant them. But at 23, I remember spending time with Priyanka and her family in Pune. These women were queens, who knew how to fix each other’s crowns. They were gorgeous and confident women who made sure to tell each other that. And slowly, being in their company made me realise that it was my perception of myself that was bringing me down. It wasn’t the world that was seeing me in a bad light!”
In those years, Anjana reclaimed her childhood confidence. She wasn’t going to let anyone tell her that she wasn’t beautiful.
Around this time, she started exploring brands that made plus-size clothing and reading plus-size body magazines. This was four years ago when plus-size modelling had only started in India.
She started belly dancing and working out as well.
“It is so much better when you work out because you love it. I was so desperate to lose weight that I overdid gymming, followed fad diets and damaged my tailbone. But now, I just enjoy the process.”
She also practices yoga and is now venturing into running.
When she was pursuing belly dancing, a friend told her about an audition for a play. While Anjana refused at first, they convinced her to give it a shot. Her belly dance routine earned her a role in the play that ran for more than two years.
For months, she read about a modelling audition conducted by ALL, a plus-size brand.
“I knew if I could perform on the ramp, I stood a chance. And there was no better platform to spread my message of body positivity. I wanted to tell women that they are beautiful, no matter the size or colour of their skin. You are enough and your journey towards realising that needn’t be miserable.”
In 2016, she auditioned, and among hundreds of contenders, she was selected in the top ten, one of the first batches of plus-size models to emerge from an open platform in India.
Since then, there has been no looking back.
From shoots for e-commerce sites to being a lead belly dancer for a remix version of Laila for Times Music and walking the ramp at the iconic Lakme Fashion Week, she has been slaying and how.
Although she has a huge Instagram following, her page isn’t devoid of keyboard warriors and trolls committed to pulling her down. But being a fearless diva, she either eggs them with sarcastic and hilarious comebacks or simply blocks them. Not before naming and shaming them in her Instagram stories.
“Earlier, when I wasn’t self-confident, I would get triggered. I would get back at them, which didn’t help, or I would cry helplessly. Growing older, I have realised that people who troll you do it because of insecurities that stem from their own self. When I am in the mood to be cheeky, I make hilarious comebacks. On other days, I prefer reporting and blocking them because I think there is no need for such negativity on my page.”
She adds how bullies only grow angrier when you do not give them the reaction they expect. There have been times when harassers have hinted at harming her during such altercations.
She shares, “My friends in the plus-size community are harassed by nasty comments from multiple accounts. Sometimes, it’s the same people behind the different accounts.”
Even as she bids adieu, she has a wonderful message for all the ladies out there.
“As a community, it is important for us to support each other and not see each other as competitors or rivals. They should stop feeling insecure about themselves or pull other women down. We have to learn to stop judging ourselves and others and see women in a lesser light. It is only when we uplift each other that will we become a stronger community.”
If this story inspired you, write to Anjana Bapat on Instagram here.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)