Yaana Gupta: 'A model is just a piece of meat'
In her latest book, How to love your body and get the body you love, Yaana Gupta talks about the insecurities she faced as a model and her struggle to come to terms with her body. Talking to rediff.com, the former Kingfisher swimsuit model reveals the dark, depressing side of the modelling industry where size zero isn't an option but rather a necessity.
You've probably fantasised about her at some point. It's really hard not to. Yaana Gupta has been a Kingfisher swimsuit model and an item girl of some repute. Some years ago, she caught the nation's fancy as she gyrated to Babujee in a Vivek Oberoi movie that was remembered more for the song than his acting.
Then for most part, she disappeared off the marquee before making bit appearances here and there till earlier this year when she made a comeback of sorts with her book How to love your body and get the body you love, one of the many nutrition and get-fit books that have exploded on the Indian publishing horizon.
In an interview to rediff.com, Yaana Gupta talks about the insecurities she had about her body as a model and how she finally got over them.
What kind of apprehensions did you/do you have about your body?
Once you are in that kind of mindset that you don't feel perfect it doesn't matter if you've put on half a kilo or one.
I was in an industry where we are always, always under pressure. The industry demands that you look good all-the-time. In some way it expects you not to be a normal person but rather a superhuman.
And it isn't just me who felt that way, (I'd imagine) 98 per cent of models in the industry feel that they need to fix something. No one feels perfect there. (And I realise it is all in one's mind).
Image: Yaana Gupta
'Someone always has a better butt or flatter abs than you'
So what was going on in your mind back then?
People look at models as people who have the perfect body (and nothing beyond in a way). But we are always comparing our bodies with those of our fellow models. I was doing that too.
That was difficult because someone always has a better butt or flatter abs or bigger breasts. And I really think there are very, very few models who feel they are perfect and are cool with it because there is nothing such as a perfect body.
Image: Yaana Gupta
'As models we were told to mess with our diets'
What were your insecurities about your body?
When I started I was 16; I was skinny so it was never about the weight however I was very insecure about my height because in some markets (like the West) you need to be really tall and I am not very tall. So I would always wish to be taller.
Again this is a market-driven thing. In India, this height would do fine. In Japan (where I modelled too) I was really tall! So it (the complex) comes from being rejected by agencies because you fall short by a couple of inches, when they look at your composite card and tell you 'Oh if only you could grow a little bit...' and that's when you begin to feel it.
At the time I was skinny and I never knew my body could actually look better because back then I thought skinny was alright. It was only much later that I figured that I could work out and tone it and make it look better.
Either way by then I was already messing with my diet because (as models) we were told to.
'The only thing models care about is that they shouldn't be eating'
How were you messing with your diet and who was asking you to?
Very often the modelling agencies (who sign you up) fly you down from your hometown to... (whichever city they think there may be a job opportunity), they pay for your travel, your accommodation, your food, everything because they hope this is their investment and they'll get their money back when you get a job.
So they don't take it lightly because if you've put your money somewhere you'd like to (get good returns on it). And then they start telling models what to eat and what not to eat. If by chance they see a model having a pizza they give you a (dirty) look.
All this is around you all the time. It wasn't like I was some sort of a freak. It was pushed on to me. Some girls are lucky to have very high metabolism so they can eat anything they want but some of us don't, most of us don't!
Some girls don't eat at all; a lot of them are into drugs and the only thing they care about is that they shouldn't be eating. This is happening around, especially in London, Paris, Milan (etc) where the competition is tough. I shouldn't be saying this but it's quite fed up. It's not a very positive place.
At the end of the day, you are just a piece of meat. In a casting you are just one of the hundreds of girls in the queue and when your time comes they'll probably just ask you to walk a little bit, look at you and tell you that they'll get in touch with you. Very often, they won't.
It is like a market for meat.
For me even 4-5 kilos was a lot of weight to put on
What was the more extreme diet you've been on?
They were all unhealthy and dangerous but the Atkins diet has been publicised as one of the unhealthiest diets because there you don't eat any carbohydrates and only have proteins and fat and that can really give you health issues over a period of time.
I have been on that diet for several months. Of course it works amazingly but it really messes up your health.
Were you insecure about your weight?
I was in Japan for a few years before I came to India. By then I had been very tired of modelling so I came to India and spent a year unwinding till I ran out of money. During that time I was enjoying Indian food and discovering the bliss of Indian cuisine. Finally, at the end of it, I had put on about 4-5 kilos. Now it doesn't sound a lot but to a model who looks by being in a particular shape and for me it was a l-o-t.
Strangely it was during this phase, when I was fat (to me I was fat) I landed the biggest contract in my career -- the Lakme account!
In spite of that though I thought of myself to be overweight and was working on losing it for a couple of years. Why did I take that long? Because when you mess with the diet and your body so much your metabolism slows down and losing weight can be difficult, more so when you don't know how to go about it.
Image: Yaana Gupta
'I was always under pressure to lose weight'
How did you get out of that phase when you began to love your body?
I think it was a process. But somewhere along the way I realised that making myself feel unhappy was just not worth it. I always felt the pressure. Even if I travelled for pleasure, I would always book hotels with gyms; when my friends would be having fun, I would be sweating it out there; I wouldn't have local food in the fear of putting on weight. I was making myself miserable.
I was afraid that if I put on weight on this vacation, it'd be terrible and what would people say. I was under pressure all the time. And I realised it was just not making me feel uncomfortable. If I stop giving a st about what people thought, I would be happier.
Surely I can't go on with this kind of an attitude for long in this line of business. But perhaps it's time I am willing to let it go.
'I eat about five times a day'
What's your diet like on an average day?
Well, it depends on if I am travelling or not. I try to have small portions of food about five times a day.
When I wake up I try to have a cup of green tea, an apple and a shake made of yogurt and protein powder, mix with banana etc. That's usually one of my meals. But when I'm travelling, I obviously cannot have that so I end up having a porridge or brown bread with a little bit of egg omelette and veggies.
After three hours I have a little bit of rice, some veggies, some fish. These days I make a vegetable soup that has a lot of see weed and vegetables and sprouts. I have a little portion of it and three hours later I have the leftover of it.
Later, I'll have some almonds and yogurt and vegetable salad, depending on where I am.
The thing is I don't mind repeating my dishes because anyway whenever I travel, which is quite a bit, I get to have a variety.
But as a rule of thumb I am into apples, spinach, vegerables, salmon, brown rice (always) and I love Indian food so whenever I travel I have Indian food. At home I don't cook much. Sometimes I have lamb meat because it is good for my blood type.
My worst diet mistake? I didn't eat enough!
Describe your workout routine
Earlier, I used to workout to lose weight; these days I workout to stay fit. So most of my exercises include a lot of stretches, a routine on the cycle I have at home, dance and basically do a lot of body weight exercises. The whole idea is to sweat a lot.
What were the big mistakes you committed while you were trying to lose weight?
The first big mistake I made was that I didn't eat enough. I was afraid I'd put on weight so I just refused to eat.
Then there was a phase when I used to do a lot of cardio -- even when I would return home late from work, I would grab a cup of strong coffee, hit the gym and run on the treadmill for an hour and later come back crawling because I was too exhausted. Over-exercising was definitely a grave mistake.
Being on coffee practically all the time was another mistake! I had begun to be overly dependant on it at one point. I was really pushing myself too hard and too much during that phase.
Finally, words of advice to young Indians to lose weight.
Three simple tips really:
Eat frequently and in small portions.
All you need is 20 minutes of high intensity exercise every day.
And leave about two-and-a-half hours of gap between your dinner and your sleep.