Plus Size Influencer Neha Parulkar: Don’t Settle For Less Just Because You Think It’s Okay For People Like Us
- IWB Post
- February 15, 2021
The standards of beauty have been restrictive and narrow for too long. The quintessential perfect image of a woman has always equated to being fair, thin, and tall. Somehow the media, advertisements, matrimonial snippets, and hence society at large was okay with this cringed and limited definition of beauty. Yet, slowly and steadily, the unimaginable unrealistic standards are being shattered and the vision that is emerging from these sometimes fake and forced reflections is in fact, quite refreshing and real.
A few women are finding newfound confidence, wherein they are happy and comfortable in their own skin. These women are not necessarily tall, thin, and fair. But they exude grace, charm, and intelligence, qualities that are and should be the beauty defining attributes.
Neha Parulkar is one such beautiful and confident woman who has many feathers to her cap. A body positivity influencer and a plus-size model, Neha calls herself a ‘typical next door girl from Mumbai who promotes and stands by the whole aspect of self-care and self-love.’ She is one of the first plus-size models of India and the only one to have walked the Lakme Fashion Week four times in a row. She has also been a TEDx speaker, the platform whose speakers she has grown up admiring and looking up to.
Neha doesn’t hold grudges and doesn’t lament or start off on a sob story. She also isn’t the angry, defiant rebel who wants to get back at society. Instead, she admits that she was always in love with herself, but also equally obsessed with society. “I also belong to the Indian society, to the same mentality and I also gave in to peer pressure. No one cared whether I was a good student or daughter or human but in the end, everyone cared about my waist size. So I gave in to this pressure at some point in time because I didn’t know better. I started dieting, going to the gym and it did affect my studies because my focus was on only losing weight.”
But when did she decide that enough was enough? “After a point, I realized if I lose 10 kg, after a while, they will ask me to lose 10 more. Where is the end to expectations and where am I in all of this? Am I happy losing weight, not eating, and not concentrating on studies? So I realized the fact that I was doing something not because I wanted to do it but because someone else wanted me to.”
From here on Neha’s focus shifted. “I started building the confidence slowly and gradually and I started standing up for myself.” As she decently started telling people to not make fun of her weight, she also started taking better care of herself. Always fond of fashion, she finally told herself to stop worrying about what she could or couldn’t wear. “It’s a process, it takes years to be comfortable in your skin because something can just happen tomorrow and you are back to the square one. It took me years to come to this place today, where I am very indifferent. I have created this bubble around me so that no negativity can penetrate.”
Neha is an inspiration to the many young people who feel belittled because of their weight, size, shape, or color. As she says, “You are not alone. This is the story of every household! But this is not the end of the world, your weight is not your identity, and please don’t let this criticism make you think otherwise.”
In conversation with Neha, who talks about her journey so far, her renewed confidence and love for herself, and her take on why influencing the younger generation is important.
How did the idea of becoming an influencer come to you?
Neha: I never had an influencer or a motivator or an idol to look up to when I was struggling with body image issues and self-confidence issues. And I know how desperately I was struggling to find someone who understood me or someone to look up to. I know how important it is to have a role model or an inspiration factor that can push you through life and struggle. And so I wanted to be that someone for others, I wanted to be that push that anyone would need to pull themselves up. If someone is struggling they should know that they are not alone, through my journey, posts, social media I wanted to inspire people and that is what I aimed at being.
Body shaming has existed for a long time. Do you think shaming is more openly done in our technology-driven times or do you think it was as bad earlier too?
Neha: Any sort of shaming, judging or any form of criticism always existed. But with our virtual world, yes it has increased in the way that earlier only the people who would have met you would have said something to demean or judge you. But now that access has increased. And in turn, bullying, body shaming, or any other criticism has also increased. People while online know they can say anything because they are untouchable and unreachable. People judge, bully or shame others online because they are probably insecure or intimidated by your life and success or maybe they have no other work. Some people may not care or get affected much but some do suffer because of online bullying.
Similarly, do you think the coping mechanisms of dealing with body shaming are more accessible today?
Neha: Absolutely, more than the virtual world having a negative effect I think it has a positive effect. I think I never had an inspiration or influencer in my life because of the lack of technology. But today even someone in rural areas can reach out to me if they want some help or inspiration. So yes, the virtual world has been a boom in more ways, but it’s each to its own. If people want to use it in a positive way they can and if in a negative way they can, too. Another good thing is that it allows us to educate or change the mindset of thousands of people whom we don’t know personally. It gives us the ability and power to change and challenge so many stereotypical norms that have existed in the world for ages.
Being an influencer you have shown a way to encourage body positivity. What do you suggest to help people feel comfortable in their skin?
Neha: I would suggest seeking any sort of inspiration or doing whatever that makes you happy. For example, if I had a very dull day I would rather watch a fun video or read something or see something motivating to uplift myself. It’s not that you always have to follow an influencer to feel good about yourself. Instead, do anything that makes you happy. Self-validation and self-love are bigger than anything else. So stop seeking validation from random people and stop comparing your life with people on social media because you don’t know their struggles. It’s only one life and people will give opinions whether you ask or not. How you deal with it, how you love yourself is up to you. You cannot stop people from hating or judging you but you can defiantly empower yourself and stand up for yourself.
Women deal with body shaming issues more than men or other genders. Do you agree?
Neha: When it comes to body shaming, men also equally go through it. I know a lot of friends and plus-sized influencers who get comments like you are too thin and no one will marry you or you will get married to a fat girl, etc. Boys too fall for online bullying and they also get comments related to body shaming. We don’t probably know much about them though. But for girls, it’s a bit more because besides body shaming we also have other kinds, such as slut-shaming, etc. Women go through additional shaming that could be sexual or commenting on their body parts.
Most people come under the pressure of wanting to look good. Celebrities hardly help this cause. In fact, even those who were not always slim or size zero, flaunt their bodies after workouts, etc., and give weight loss goals. So how do you differentiate between someone who takes efforts for their own fitness vs. someone who does it under societal pressure?
Neha: For celebrities, especially actors, it is a fact that they work in a very look oriented industry. If someone wants to be an actor and survive, they usually have to lose weight. Most people do it out of helplessness. I don’t think they like to starve but what other option do they have to follow their dreams? I don’t support that and I don’t think they themselves support it. Of course, this isn’t happening all the time and a lot of web series, etc. are changing this and have characters for plus-size actors. But in terms of hardcore commercial Bollywood, things have not changed. So until that revolution happens I think the thin and slim people will only survive. For common or non-celebrities they should just stop taking validation and acceptance from others. Usually, a girl goes to the gym and works hard because she wants to prove a point or maybe because her friends are thin or she wants to date someone. Otherwise, I don’t think anyone enjoys starving and doing excessive exercising, going to the gym. Everyone has their reasons. Youngsters are naïve and impulsive and if they don’t know better, they will do what is in the season. If being thin is trendy, they will do it! It’s only after you mature that you realize what’s good for you or not. But I think at that age they usually just seek validation.
How would you support and encourage those who are ashamed of their bodies?
Neha: Your weight is not your identity. Who you are as a person is your identity. Don’t let people be the reason for your happiness or sadness or whatever is happening with you. Most importantly don’t settle for less just because you think it’s okay for people like us. No, it’s not! You deserve everything that a thin person deserves. Don’t demean your own self, respect your body, your identity, your journey, your struggles, and own yourself. Self-love, self-freedom is the best thing that can happen to you and so many doors open just because that one mentality of yours changes.
How does the pandemic affect your growth dynamic as an influencer? What new opportunities did it offer, meanwhile, what loss did it claim in your career?
Neha: Honestly, I did not become a body positivity influencer or a plus-size model because I wanted to make a profit or career out of it. I did it for the love of it. Even today there have been times when I collaborate with brands for free because I never got into this for money, I have time and I enjoy it. Because of the pandemic, all brands have gone digital, even those who were not are now using digital marketing and social media. So that has definitely benefited influencers because there are not many expectations of us going out and doing a great shoot. The brands are okay with us doing it at home. So for influencers, it has become slightly favorable because we can sit at home and create content.