Over the years, there have been some pretty glaring examples of other countries caving to western beauty standards. For example, in 1999, a Harvard study documented the outbreak of eating disorders in Fiji, a nation that favored fuller figures until the arrival of television (and U.S. programs like Melrose Place and Xena: Warrior Princess) in 1995. Then in 2001, Abgani Darego (an ultra-thin, six-foot-tall, “white girl in black skin”) was crowned the winner in the Most Beautiful Girl contest in Nigeria, a country where “Coca-Cola-bottle voluptuousness is celebrated and ample backsides and bosoms are considered ideals of female beauty.” Soon after, she won the Miss World title, thereby making “voluptuousness out and thin in” in her home country.
Well, now it’s India’s turn to wrestle with Western beauty ideals. Bollywood sensation, L’Oréal spokeswoman, and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai is facing big criticism for not dropping her baby weight fast enough after giving birth to a daughter last November. Indian film fans (um, doesn’t “fan” usually indicate supporter?) and bloggers are saying Rai has a “duty” to keep up her image and should “learn from people like Victoria Beckham who are back to size zero weeks after their delivery.”
And since she hasn’t, Rai is being called “fat,” “plump,” “flabby,” “bigger,” and “chubby.” Her weight gain is apparently downright “shocking.” (Random aside: WhoEVER would have guessed back in the 1990s that Posh Spice [Victoria Beckham], of all people, would become the international ideal against which all women—no matter what their culture, economic circumstance, or natural body shape—would be measured and judged just because she was able to wriggle back into her pencil skirts and platforms minutes after baby Harper was born last summer? It blows the mind a bit, no?)
To “help” Rai fulfill her “duty,” Indian gossip web sites have cobbled together montages of Rai before and after baby with the sound of an elephant overlaid (’cause elephants are really fat. Get it?). The goal: to shame her right back to skinny, apparently. Same goes for the Indian news reports titled “Ash’s Baby Bump Still Exists?” There’s even a YouTube slide show called “Fat Aishwarya Rai in Cannes 2012!” which keeps zooming in on the fuller parts of her upper arm in every shot to prove its point. Interestingly, some commenters on the various YouTube videos and montages call Rai “aunty,” thereby showing that for some people, Aishwarya’s having had a baby (and gaining weight and actually looking like a woman) has repositioned her as older, less sexy, and undesirable — basically, like a fat old aunt.
Aishwarya has answered her critics by calling motherhood “amazing” and “super special” and counting her blessings. She claims the hater comments about her body don’t stick, and I hope she’s right. But sadly, there are lots of celebs who preach body satisfaction (I’m talking to you, Miley Cyrus) and then suddenly slim down when we’re not looking.
It’s early days for Aishwarya as her baby isn’t even a year old. But as the mentality that idealizes and overvalues thinness continues to become more widespread in India (see this semi-recent article that details how top young Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor went from being a “typical Punjabi girl, buxom and shapely, luscious like sweet kulfi ice cream” to “svelte and sinewy enough to jog on the streets of LA and wear the tightest designer jeans.”), one thing is sure: size zero has arrived in India. And as we well know: once it arrives, it seems nearly impossible to send it packing.