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.
Sure, obesity is a problem. But obese people seem to be treated like they are a sickness. They’re shamed. They’re marginalised. They aren’t treated equally. Not just that, they’re also denied equal opportunities in colleges and workplaces too.
“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.” Anjana said.
And this is where it gets serious. Fat people are more likely to be bullied by a staggering 65%. Maybe we should draw a line on body-shaming somewhere?
Although bullying was a major part of Anjana’s childhood, it was still a cakewalk compared to her teenage years.
Relatives and even kids in her neighbourhood always made fun of her. At her impressionable age, Anjana was traumatised to be seen by anyone holding a plate of food or attending a family get-together.
Certain incidents from her teenage years are burnt into her mind, like what happened the day before her class 10 board exams. She was stressed about the English paper the following day when her uncle came home. With an expression of disgust, he demeaned Anjana by telling her how she didn’t look her age and went on for almost three hours about how she should lose weight.
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 for her self acceptance goes to her friend, Priyanka, and the women in her family.
“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!” Anjana recalls.
It was then that she finally began regaining her confidence. During that time, plus -size modelling had just begun picking up in India. Anjana was reading plus-size magazines and exploring brands that made plus-size clothing. She took up belly dancing, began working out, started practising yoga, and is now even venturing into running. She no longer works out to lose weight; rather, she enjoys the process.
She started taking lessons in belly dancing. Around this time, a friend told her about a the call for auditions to a play. She wasn’t so keen at first, but belly dancing got her a role in the play which ran for more than two years.
In 2016, she decided to finally audition for a plus-size brand, ALL, which she had read about for months. Amongst hundreds of contenders, Anjana emerged in the top ten, one of the first batches of plus-size models to emerge from an open platform in India.
Anjana plans to use this opportunity as a platform to spread her 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.”
This story is part of The Stereotypeface Project, an initiative by The Better India that challenges 26 stereotypes, which continue to exist even today. We are showcasing these stereotypes through all the letters of the English language alphabet.
Stereotypes exist everywhere — they are passed down over generations. Instead of embracing and celebrating what makes us unique, we stand divided because of them!
We’ve unconsciously learned to stereotype, now let’s consciously #EndTheStereotype.
Visit www.stereotypes.in to know more about the campaign and support the effort!
How can you support this campaign?
1. Follow this thread on Twitter or Facebook
2. Re-Tweet / Re-share the stereotypeface that you would like to put an end to
3. Use #EndTheStereotype and tag @TheBetterIndia
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)