By Shikha Kumar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Model Liza Golden-Bhojwani has garnered new-found fame.
In March this year, the half-Punjabi half-American model, who’s now settled in Mumbai, shared a moving Instagram post on her journey from super skinny to curvy.
On the left was a black-and-white photo — with her bones showing prominently — from the beginning of her modelling career. On the right was her current, healthier self, a noticeable curve in her waist.
In her post, which was picked up by Vogue India and UK’s The Sun among other media, as an example of the health issues faced by super-skinny models, Golden-Bhojwani spoke about the adrenaline rush of walking for the best designers and with models she had looked up to, until a fainting spell while preparing one of her low-cal meals (20 pieces of steamed edmame) led her to quit her diet and workout regimen.
The pounds started piling on and she began losing shows at lucrative fashion weeks. No matter how much she worked out, she struggled to lose weight.
On a “soul-searching” trip to India, she met her now-husband Karan Bhojwani and quit New York for Mumbai. Today, she’s in a much healthier space and proudly flaunts her new size: 38-31-43, numbers she claims would have given her a heart attack a couple of years ago.
Golden-Bhojwani is one of several professional models in India who are part of the worldwide plus-size movement.
Globally, the movement has been on an upswing, with models like Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday paving the way for greater diversity in mainstream fashion. In fact, Graham graces the July cover of Glamour magazine, a rather unusual phenomenon as magazine covers go.
In India, fashion magazines have had the token ‘plus size’ issue, which celebrates curves and fuller bodies, but haven’t gone so far as to put a plus size model on their cover. Lakmé Fashion Week introduced a plus size show in their five-day schedule last year, and with designer Wendell Rodricks on board for the second one this year, looks to sustain the movement.
Mumbai-based image consultant Kezleen Kholie’s work involves helping people boost their self-image and gain a sense of confidence, no matter what their backgrounds or physical appearances. It’s a matter that’s also quite personal to her. Being plump, she was teased and ridiculed for her weight throughout her formative years, growing up in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh.
Recently, the 23-year-old auditioned for a plus size fashion show in Mumbai and owned the ramp completely. Dressed in a black top and leggings, she strutted with conviction, a smile on her face and emerged as one of the 21 winners.
“When I moved to Mumbai for college five years ago, I would attend fashion weeks and wonder if I would ever get such a chance, as models are generally very thin,” says Kholie. She will now walk for Wendell Rodricks at Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive ’17 in August, in a show that signals a major win for body positivity. “We need to wear our curves with pride, and know that the number on the weighing scale is just that…a number,” she adds.
This new body image representation is slowly gaining ground thanks to photo-sharing platform Instagram. While it abounds with picture-perfect holiday snapshots, beautiful food and celebrity selfies, an alternate space has emerged for honesty and body acceptance.
For every before-and-after transformation post is a post about a woman opening up about her struggles, the need to embrace her natural size and normalize the fact that fashion is not one-size-fits-all. Flab, cellulite, stretch marks…all are meant to be celebrated.
And it’s because of her Instagram posts that Golden-Bhojwani is accepted in the fashion world as she is. “I realized I was yo-yo’ing with my weight, which became an issue, as measurements basically determine booking jobs,” says Golden-Bhojwani. “Size zero was never my natural size so I struggled back and forth for eight years before I decided to take a step back and make a change. With time I started to feel comfortable in my own skin and no longer felt the need to conform.”
With 109k followers, she has almost started a body positivity revolution on Indian Instagram, posing in swimsuits and candidly speaking about the importance of positive reinforcement. She also occasionally posts her workout videos, which include a mix of kickboxing, reformer pilates and resistance training.
“When I started this journey, I had no idea what direction it was going to take me. I just knew that I wanted to live life and work on my own terms. It feels great to know that I moved past the negative space I was once engulfed in. There is great power in being comfortable in your own skin, but the journey to reach there does take time,” she adds.
In fact, Golden was one of the judges in the panel that picked out the plus size winners for LFW’s upcoming season and was overjoyed to see the diversity on display at the auditions — there were no height, age or weight restrictions.
No size for style
Among the 300 girls who auditioned was Fizah Khan, whose poise and self-assured stance ensured she made the cut.
While Khan has been a plus-size model for a year now, she had never walked the ramp before. “The energy at the venue was incredible, and it felt comforting to see that bodies of every shape and size were being celebrated,” she says. Khan, who has nearly 6k followers on Instagram is the brand ambassador for Calae, a fashion label for plus size and curvy women.
On her page, she can be seen wearing everything from short dresses and off-shoulder tops to ripped leggings and tank tops. “When I first started modelling, I got a lot of hate, with many people saying I’m selling fat people’s clothes and promoting obesity. You learn to take it in your stride. I’m proud to be a plus size influencer,” says the 23-year-old.
Khan’s confidence hasn’t come easy. She was very thin until she turned 17, when the weight started making an appearance. “It became difficult to interact with new people or even go shopping. It’s like people are always judging you and for society, you’re either fit or unfit. There’s no middle ground,” she adds. At a size 15 today — which she adds is actually the smallest in global plus sizing — Khan has become unmindful of the haters. “While I am this size, I don’t promote not exercising or unhealthy eating. I go for walks, eat well, and take care of myself,” she adds.
While India had a limited market for clothing designated for people above a certain size — think loose kurtas, anti-fit pants, and shabby cuts — the e-commerce boom has changed things for the better. Websites like Jabong, StalkBuyLove and LastInch retail a significant variety, offering curvy women access to the latest fast fashion trends. Popular designers have rarely ventured into the category, with a select few offering customization on requests.
Fortunately, that seems to be changing, with designers like Rixi Bhatia on a mission to expand their creative skills unhindered by restrictions of size. Bhatia, one half of Quirk Box — the brand known for its kitschy, pop prints — is launching a new brand for curvy women, with her younger sister Tinka. Called Half Full Curve, it challenges traditional norms of curvy style perceptions. Tinka, a design and hospitality consultant, and a curvy woman herself, is the muse for the brand. “Tinka often had trouble finding trendy clothes in her size and that’s when we decided that we should launch our own label,” says Rixi.
The designer adds that there’s a vacuum in the Indian market for luxury and couture fashion for curvy women. With Half Full Curve, Rixi says that she’s not peddling stereotypical clothing or styles. “I’ve always worked with bright hues so we actually don’t have any black clothes in this brand. Instead of anti-fits, we have bodycon dresses, off-shoulder cuts, crop tops and more,” she says. Half Full Curve retails at multi-designer store Atosa in July and the sisters plan to launch an independent website soon.
As the body positive movement takes shape in India, there’s hope that more models like Golden-Bhojwani will find a footing in mainstream fashion. And while there has been greater inclusivity, critics also believe that the movement encourages labels, which isn’t necessarily the case with sizes that have been normalized by media and society.
It can be a sensitive subject, believes Golden-Bhojwani. “We are booked judging our hair color, race, hip size, ethnicity and so on. It’s a way for clients to categorize us according to their individual visions and desires for the brand. I know my worth, so something as simple as a word to describe me does not offend me. But I do hope that the future generations of models can be booked on the basis of just being themselves,” she says.