We chatted with Neha about her journey, modelling and her infectious confidence. Here are some excerpts from our exclusive and brutally honest talk with her…
The journey so far…
It was pure fate! Honestly, I had no expectations from the Indian glamour industry, the fact that they would ever consider ‘Plus Size Modelling’ because our society is not very size-inclusive. However, I knew plus-size modelling existed in the west and that #BodyPositivity has reached a different peak there, but India wasn’t ready.
It was then in 2016, when India had its very own fashion show featuring plus-sized models. I was part of 10 plus-size models (men and women) who walked for the very first plus-size fashion show held in the country.
There was no looking back from there. It became one of the most-talked about events and slowly, modelling projects started coming in.
Hitting the existing industry curveballs
I think the biggest challenge has been the people and the society we live in! When I told people I am a plus-size model, they did not believe me, because their mind had been conditioned to believe that models look a certain way—thin and gorgeous.
I was none of that! So, the idea of a big woman modelling and influencing was unacceptable and downright weird for the industry. Brands didn’t work with us because their size chart ended at XL or XXL.
Also, agencies didn’t associate with us because it was a risk. The whole concept was new and ‘too bold’ to be accepted some time back.
Industry challenges at present
Well, challenges still exist! Especially with the generation before us and before theirs. They are aware but are still not accepting, encouraging or even beginning to change their mindset about body positivity and plus-size modelling.
Even today, a lot of brands have a very limited size chart. Slimmer women are always preferred first for a collaboration or a modelling assignment before a plus-sized model.
A lot of brands and agencies think it’s a risk to invest in a plus-sized model or an influencer because they don’t know if they will benefit from the same. And, honestly, fat-shaming and body-shaming still exist and it’s so open!
Being a plus-size model in India
It’s hard convincing people to believe that weight is not the only identity one can have. Weight and size does not define a person. Plus size men and women are equally talented, fierce, hardworking and beautiful like any other average-sized person. All we need is an opportunity to grow!
The most annoying thing about the Indian fashion industry
I would say, lack of faith and opportunities. A lot of times, we are approached to work for free or for a barter deal. It’s like they make us feel that we should be thankful for being considered or given an opportunity to work. Even though we work hard for it, they make us feel like it’s a favour!
Dealing with social media criticism
This happens every day! Not a single day has gone by when I am not fat-shamed or sl**-shamed by a random person on social media. The virtual world does not care about human emotions. It’s so easy to judge, comment, share unnecessary opinions and bully people online. Haters know they have the power to do that and they profoundly do it.
I would be lying if I said, the negativity doesn’t affect me because it does. One can be positive and strong for the longest times but sometimes it does get to you. When I feel vulnerable, I just look back at my journey, I read positive comments people write to me and I feel empowered again!
And, when it comes to negative comments, I try to ignore most of the time. I don’t like to respond to hate with more hate. Often retaliation is taken as a rebellious and rude act. Over the years, I have realised that educating a nasty hater behind a fake identity is not going to make a difference.
I know how far I have come and no one in the world has that kind of power to mess with my peace and happiness.
Today, I just shake it off and move on!
On manifesting self-love
When I was young, I used to be shattered when I was body shamed and taunted for my weight. People thought it was funny, but it used to bring my morale down, I had zero confidence. There was a part of me that wanted to break free from all of this.
I was so exhausted of seeking validation from the world, I was so tired of being uncomfortable and stressing over my weight and worrying about disappointing others. And, then just one fine day, which was a breaking point in my life, I realised I had enough of it. I realised that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I am not going to make everyone happy, my happiness was lost somewhere and it was up to me to find it and protect it.
Back then, I used to be okay being treated badly, because I felt powerless and that was the first thing I had to work on. Soon, I created a shield of positivity and self-love that no negativity could penetrate. Years later, here I am, a woman obsessed with being comfortable in her own skin.
A piece of advice for young girls out there
I know it seems impossible to stand up for yourself but you get only one life, live it the way you always wanted. Don’t feel unworthy just because the world thinks so. Only you can define your self-worth. Don’t seek validation outside or put your happiness, hope, dreams and worth in someone else’s hand.
There is no bigger love than self-love. Use digital media as a platform to spread love and positivity and educate the generation before you and after you on the importance of self-love and that there is more to life than appearance. Just fall in love with the person in the mirror and life will not be as difficult as it seems.