“Mirror Mirror on the wall,
who’s the fairest of them all?”
All of us have grown up reading or listening to the famous lines uttered by the Evil Queen from the story, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The mirror would show the image of the queen, which would boost her vanity. But over the years, Snow White grew into womanhood and her beauty transcended the beauty of the evil queen. And when the day came when the mirror said to the Queen, “Snow White, O Queen, is the fairest of them all,” Snow White became the object of her intense hatred. This popular fairytale has been recreated multiple times on screen and it is interesting to observe that the character of Snow White is shown to be fair, tall, and slim, the attributes which are reinforced to propagate a singular definition of beauty. Any deviation from these rigidly defined parameters is deemed to be a flaw, which makes you a ‘social misfit.’
One of the most traumatic prisons that seems to be operating all the time and seeks to stifle the individuality of a person is the social prison of bodily judgment. It provides no respite to any kind of deviation from the ‘ideal body image’ created by the social lens, and traps those who do not conform to the required body type. Body shaming is one of the painful realities of modern living as it thrives upon its active circulation through popular media, which acts as a powerful brainwashing device.
The mainstream Bollywood movies have played a significant role in propagating regressive stereotypes about individuals who do not conform to the social standards of beauty. The plus-size protagonists were often showcased as a source of comic relief for the audience. Uma Dev Khatri, who was named Tun-Tun by the film industry, was cast so as to heighten the comic element of the film as there were so many jokes that revolved around her weight. From there on, there have been countless depictions of plus-size protagonists either chasing the handsome heroes while they run away from them. Their bodies are repeatedly shown to be an object that is ridiculed in a variety of ways to reinforce the myth of the ‘ideal body.’
As David Hume remarks, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.” There is a gradual awareness seeping into Bollywood, as impressive movies like “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” and “Fanney Khan” provide centre-stage to plus-sized protagonists. Such movies are an outstanding attempt to normalize overweight people, rather than alienating and humiliating them. Moreover, strong protagonists like Sandhya and Pihu do not believe in adhering to the standard norms of beauty and perfection. Rather, they dismantle these stereotypes and unapologetically embrace their identity. As Kahlil Gibran rightly says,
“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”