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More than a body

  • Published at 01:42 pm June 21st, 2018

More than a body

How would you define beauty and what it’s worth to you? Beauty is subjective after all. And today’s mono-dimensional perception of being beautiful means having a slim physique with perfect hair and skin. What would you give to fit into this ideal image of beauty?

If you are constantly thinking about how your body looks, you’re dragging yourself into the trap of self-objectification, and looking beyond it is difficult in our body and physical appearance-obsessed culture.

It’s time we learn to make the paradigm shift and accept that we are more than just a body, and it’s more important to have a good body than a “good-looking” body.

Humaira Khan, Owner and Designer of Anokhi, and General Member of the Fashion Design Council of Bangladesh, talks about her plans with the body positive movement that she is about to venture on this year.

What was your motivation to become a body positive activist?

In Bangladeshi culture, feeding children is the most important thing for the parents. Ever since I was a teenager, we were not conscious about what we eat or put in our body. We were never asked not to have chocolates, ice-cream, or overeat. As a result, I was overweight in my teens. That’s when the bullying started in a big manner. In later years, I came across a doctor who suggested that I reduce my weight and eat more fibre; which is why I lost the weight. But it wasn’t because I was conscious. Soon I became a teenage mother, but I still managed to maintain a steady weight. And even though I may have lost the weight, the cravings or my sweet tooth hadn’t disappeared.

I may look quite okay for my age, but when I look in the mirror, I see the same old person, who’s fat, short, stout and dark. And I cannot love myself. I get complimented on my looks, but nothing pleases me. So it’s a body-confidence that I lack, more than anything else.

I have always encouraged my daughter to eat healthy. But as is with most Bengali families, her father would feed her to his heart’s content out of affection. She too became overweight. In the course of time, I started to look thinner than my daughter, and people started making comments on that. “Your daughter didn’t turn out to look like you,” is something I’d hear on a regular basis, and it hurt me more than it hurt her.

My daughter has a beautiful personality, but it is overshadowed by her weight. It really goes to show that there’s something fundamentally wrong with us, and that was my awakening.

Do you feel this is an issue that’s not being properly addressed in Bangladesh?

It’s not being addressed at all. It is something a teenager has to face every day. The harassment, the bullying, peer pressure and body-shaming are things that are very prevalent not just in schools but even at homes. Children and teenagers are made to feel small and insignificant. It doesn’t matter if they have a great personality or acing exams. It all comes down to how they look. The vicious cycle of disapproval from everyone is scary. We need to teach our children to be okay with their body first. We need to teach them that it’s okay to chose and work on their own palate by themselves, without force feeding or stopping them from consuming sweets.

There are three things to address here. Healthy living style, healthy eating style and change the body image that’s considered “ideal” not just in Bangladesh but worldwide. We need to stop being so image-conscious. Children should be taught to love themselves for who they are, and not be dependent on other people’s approval.

A lot of men push themselves to go through intense workouts to achieve the perfect physique, much like how women starve themselves to fit into that ideal body image definition. What would your message be to them?

I would say obsession is fine, but not to the extent where you become destructive to yourself or your surroundings. Anything you do should be in moderation, and it should have a purpose. Looking good is good. But we just have to keep in mind that our energy can also be used to achieve bigger things. To be completely honest with you, I am a little upset with the self-obsession and narcissistic characteristics of the new generation. It’s like everyone is trying to gain recognition and validation with their looks, and not by their work. The feeling of happiness is quite deep-rooted, and it should come from within. You shouldn’t have to seek validation from others.

When is a good time to start teaching people about body acceptance?

It has to start with our children, and in our homes. And then in schools. Instead of telling our kids what to do and what not to do, we should teach them how to be happy and comfortable in their own skin and bodyweight. People who are constantly being rejected by the society and labeled as “overweight”, “dark-skinned”, “too short”, or “too fat”, tend to nurture a lot of hatred towards others. Sometimes, they end up being bullies or even self-destructive.

It’s time to teach our children that they don’t need to look good to have a voice. They can be whoever they want and still be heard and respected.

How do you plan to go about addressing these issues?

Recently, we changed our brand from Anokhi to Anikini. Anokhi always had this very la-di-da and red-carpet-esque appeal. Perhaps that’s what I was aiming for with my appearance and red lipstick, rather than my success itself. But it did bring me success and it was probably because I put my heart into my work. I think it was more about proving myself to me. And what I have learnt now is that it’s okay to be myself, instead of trying to look like a diva at all times.

It’s important to let women know that they will be accepted just the way they are. If they want to spend hours to look perfect, that’s fine. But let them decide and choose what they want to do, how they want to look, or what they want to wear. 

Tell us a little more about Anikini.

At Anikini, we are going to keep all sizes on the racks. We are going to pick our models that are more real. For the last few years, I have been scouting for plus size models. The idealized body image leads to models starving themselves to the point where they develop anorexia. I understand, the clothes drape well, it’s commercially better. You may argue that the whole world is about visual impact, but somebody needs to make a change. Will those who don’t go by the ideal definition of beautiful continue living their entire life feeling that they’re inadequate?

This is what we’re hoping to change here, by letting the real women, who are not all skin and bones, take centre stage in the industry.

What do you hope to achieve through the campaigns, and by rebranding Anokhi as Anikini?

The new venture is about making a change. It cannot be about one single person or a designer. It should be about the entire industry. We would like to join hands with anyone who shares our vision and is interested in making a difference. Another project that we have in the pipeline is designed to provide a platform where weavers and taantis can showcase their work, and uphold our heritage through their craftsmanship. We also want to make our products more eco-friendly and sustainable.