Fashion Bytes — Redefining Biology?

I am in India for the next three weeks, where the “scandal” over Aishwariya Rai’s post-baby weight is still the talk of the gossip columnists and even the national press. The comments and attitudes are nothing short of hateful and vindictive, some arguing that the woman supposedly referred to by Julia Roberts as the “most beautiful woman in the world” is making India itself look bad through this “neglect” of her figure.

Yet as columnist Shobhaa Dé says in the Guardian’s 15 May article, “The role models being held up are Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham … But our body frames are different – we have wider hips and curves – so this whole business of looking desperately skinny two weeks after giving birth is a western import.” The issue is creating a controversy over India’s perceptions of the female figure, because while motherhood is glorified they seem to be condemning the result it has on the woman’s body. According to a recent report, Rai’s inlaws, the Bachchans — considered Bollywood royalty, for lack of a better term — are quietly and subtly letting it be known that they are angered and upset by the national outcry over Rai’s weight. Rai herself has handled even the nastiest of comments with a defiant nonchalance.

When interviewed post-pregnancy, Angelina Jolie actually refused to say what she does because she did not think it was fair to encourage women to copy her: her mother was a fashion model, she does not have the demands on her that the average mother does, and she has nannies and staff to assist her. This comment was swept away by the gossip press and replaced with images of Giselle Bündchen or Miranda Kerr posing nude or on runways with their extremely slim post-baby figures. I have always viewed this tendency of gossip magazines as oppressive, subtly ignoring the truth to force an impossible ideal on average women. What both the Western and the Indian magazines and online sites are ignoring is that the female body often changes after giving birth. Getting back down to a size zero (an arbitrary number that has nothing to do with body shape), can actually be harmful.

What are your opinions of the scandal over Aishwariya Rai’s weight gain, and the coverage of celebrity post-baby bodies in general? Do they give a false impression of what is practical, or do they give women something to aspire to? Is it truly fashion magazines that harm women’s body images, or is it these sorts of gossip magazines instead? What effect do these magazines have on young men and women’s perceptions and expectations of pregnancy? Are there any pressures on men that are equivalent to the expectation of women to defy their own biology? Is this misrepresentation of the female body post-pregnancy due to a lack of education, or are the magazines catering to an impossible ideal in which we conquer nature? American culture’s prevalence has been referred to as being an “empire” without an empire, is this sort of influence of American attitudes towards beauty evidence that this is true? Has the West recolonized India through images of Victoria Beckham and Angelina Jolie? What do you think of Rai’s own response to the negative comments? What other countries have been negatively impacted by Hollywood’s impossible body standards?

Please share your thoughts.

Image of Aishwariya Rai at Cannes, 2012, via International Business Times.

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1 Comment

  • Valerie June 22, 2012 07.40 pm

    Though not shocking, it’s disheartening that magazines targeting women would ignore Jolie’s sensible comment about women not copying her post-baby-body strategy. Even when told, it’s hard to actually picture how YOUR body will change after a baby. How much harder when realities are suppressed. Thanks for this thoughtful post.


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