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'Don't apologise for your size'

By ANITA AIKARA
July 01, 2021 06:37 IST
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'You are what you are and you have to live life embracing all of you.'

IMAGE: Sobia's look from Designer Masaba Gupta's campaign.
Photograph: Kind courtesy House of Masaba/Instagram

Sobia Ameen, 28, is proof that there is a lot of diversity within the plus-sized industry as well.

She makes curvy look gorgeous and beautiful, to say the least.

Out to make waves in the fashion industry and push boundaries, her confidence will make you fall in love with her.

Sobia is not one to use make up or Photoshop to lighten her dusky skin tone, even though she has lost track of the number of times people have asked her to bleach her skin.

Recalling the time she was embarrassed because a staff at a photo studio edited her pic, she shares, "I once went to get a passport pic taken and I made sure that I told them whatever you do, please don't make me fair. 

"The pics ended up looking like a Fair & Lovely ad. Those pics were so embarrassing for me. I had literally begged them not to do it and that's what they eventually did."

There is a certain quality about Sobia's smile that will warm your heart. Probably it is the same quality that made Designer Masaba Gupta cast Sobia as a model in her recent campaign.

Dressed in a green printed trackee, she featured on the House of Masaba Instagram page, much to the delight of many plus-size women who could easily relate to her.

Masaba shared the pic, writing, 'The minute I saw Sobia in House of Masaba, I knew I wanted to have her bring her magic to my work.

'She brought me immense joy just by being herself in these trying times. I am sure she will bring you joy too.'

Back in February, Sobia had grabbed the designer's attention when she uploaded a pic of herself dressed in a green Masaba lehenga for her sister's haldi.

Through the years, Sobia has inspired her 21,000 followers on Instagram with her stunning fashion choices -- mostly flaunting her curves in minimalistic saris with artistically tailored blouses.

'Saris have always made me feel at home. It is like the warm embrace of a loved one, from loving maternal figures to caressing lovers,' she says.

IMAGE: Sobia Ameen dressed in a jumpsuit made from deadstock fabric or the leftovers of fast fashion.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Mushda Ali

The fashion industry globally isn’t known for championing curvy models, but Sobia hopes to change that narrative.

For her, it is not only about representing the various colours and body types around the world, there is also a need for clothes for people with physical disabilities as well.

She feels casting a plus-size model should not be mere tokenism or a gimmick to gain brand publicity, as then it's clear that the work is far from done.

'When I modelled in Bangladesh, I have definitely been taken as a token plus-size to show that these brands are so diverse. But I don't think they are that diverse, because they are not welcoming to people who are an extra size,' she says.

In an interview with Anita Aikara/Rediff.com, Sobia Ameen talks about learning to love her body and her dusky skin tone, why beauty is subjective and the importance of diversity and representation in the fashion industry,

We are in 2021 and people are still uncomfortable with a plus-size model.
However, you sent out such a bold body positive message through the Masaba photoshoot.
What is the best compliment you received post the campaign?

I could not believe the amount of positive responses I received from the campaign.

I got a lot of lovely messages. I was actually asked in an interview about the woman I look up to.

I mentioned women of colour such as Ella Fitzgerald, Maya Angelo, Oprah Winfrey and in recent times, Masaba.

Masaba read that and told me that 'Now you're an icon for so many girls. Just by being yourself.'

I feel that is one of the most deep messages I got from that campaign.

I have looked up to Masaba and to have her say that was unreal.

Do you recall the exact moment when your relationship with your body changed?
The moment you learnt to love your body, embrace it flaws and flaunt your imperfections?

In the recent times, I was with a friend and we were both looking at our teenage pics and couldn't figure out how we thought we were fat.

We thought to ourselves that every time we look at our bodies, we are being critical about it for no reason.

For me, I realised my body has not done anything terrible to me. It is functioning well.

It didn't need to be treated like sh*t just because someone else thinks it is not good enough.

I can't base my whole personality and life on my body. It is very important to respect it for everything that it does.

I feel I have been really critical of my body and that is because it has been ingrained in me, for years and years.

I still am trying to move away from that 'My arms are too saggy, my back has too many rolls, etc.' We really need to learn how to be kinder to ourselves.

What's the best advice you received from your mother?

I remember my mother used to tell me that she was darker-skinned and would get picked on for that.

So from a very young age she made me understand that I couldn't let the colour of my skin affect how people looked at me or how I felt.

Because it really didn't matter and it is a beautiful skin to have.

I appreciate that she didn't demean the other side just to make me feel comfortable. She didn't say that being fair skin is ugly -- I think this is important especially when talking to children.

She just said that everyone has a different skin colour and you just have to find beauty in your skin.

My dad also felt strongly about that so I didn't face anything regarding my skin colour at home.

But I did face it definitely at school. I used to get called kali by people with darker skin tones and I just didn't understand.

In hindsight it was just a projection of their own insecurities, but you don’t understand that at the age of seven.

 

IMAGE: Saris occupy a special place in Sobia's heart and wardrobe. 
Photograph: Kind courtesy Mushda Ali

Why is diversity such an important thing in the fashion industry? Do you agree that one size doesn't fit all?

I think diversity is insanely important because it gives people the confidence to be different and comfortable in their own skin.

It gives a lot of people the courage to do the things that are new in a creative industry.

I understand the importance of diversity even more now because of the platform I have been given.

It isn't only plus-size women writing to me, there are people of different shapes and sizes who are non-binary, transgender, etc.

Men have written to me (telling me how) I have inspired them because they never thought they could go to places looking the way they are.

I think this has a lot to do with encouraging people to feel accepted.

Once upon a time the fashion industry had only one size. One had to either look like that or get out.

I think that is slowly changing. It has already changed a lot compared to where it had started.

Representation in the right way is very important, because otherwise people get to classify others in a very negative light.

Were you ever told to lose weight?

I'm constantly told to lose weight. Even today I'm told, 'Oh you're so pretty, you should lose some weight.'

As a plus-size woman, I think one is judged and demeaned a lot.

People think you are lazy, you don't work out, you eat crap constantly and you take up too much space, when none of that is true in most cases.

What happened every time you tried to fit into a society that's obsessed with physical appearance?

I think now I am comfortable enough in my own skin that it might make others uncomfortable, so they don't really say much to me to my face.

When I was younger and they could see that I was more vulnerable, the emotions I'd get were quite frustrating and disappointing.

Definitely (what they said) kept playing in the back of my mind.

Even today, I see people my age getting affected really badly (due to society's negative comments).

As humans we look for comfort, but I think we fail to get that when people are constantly putting you down.

It affects the society as a whole when we do not let people be themselves or put up their best intentions or work.

Have you been trolled for your size? How did you cope with it?

I'm constantly trolled for my size, but I just don't care.

They (the trolls) don't know how hard I work to be as fit as I'm.

Maybe to them I don't look like what the ideal woman should look like.

But mostly I am trolled by people who are clearly suffering from their own insecurities.

At times I get triggered, but most cases I find it funny and ridiculous because no one gave them the authority to tell me how I should look.

IMAGE: 'There are a lot of women who try to justify why they are the shape they are. You just don't have to really!' says Sobia.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Mushda Ali

Your take on Photoshopping. Do you think it could personally damage one's self confidence?

I like Photoshop for other reasons because you can do some cool effects with it.

I think it is very damaging when used to modify the skin or body because I was young, I used to think people have skin the way they photoshopped it -- like airbrushed skin.

I used to wonder why does my skin not look like that -- poreless.

I think it can also be damaging for the person who has been photoshopped themselves. It is a clear message saying 'You need to change'.

Is there a negative time in your life you wish you could go back to and give yourself a piece of advice?

I would definitely want to go back to my teens and tell people who told me to change my body to get the f**k out.

That really affected my self-confidence for the longest time and it took me so many years to unlearn all that I was told about my body.

I have come a really long way from where I started, because none of that affects me anymore but I don't think it is necessary as a child or young adult to hear those things.

Do you think the general notion is that plus-size people don't work out?

I remember once during dinner I said, 'I know this other person from Zumba.'

This uncle with a huge belly was like, 'You do Zumba?' I said, 'Yes.'

He said, 'It doesn't look like it.' I was amazed that he that the audacity to say that.

I really do work out a lot.

The people training me tell me that I have a lot of muscle and can lift heavier than most people they train.

They try and train me for the body I want.

I don't think I want to be skinny and that is not my goal. I am not skinny shaming, it's just not why I work out which is sadly, a hard concept for most of the people to grasp.

My goal is to try and be at a healthy weight so that I don't have to deal with with my hormones having a terrible time inside me.

I think we just have to learn to be kinder to our own bodies, so that eventually we can be kinder to others.

Style tips for plus-size women?

I think the only style tip I have to offer is wear very comfortable innerwear like a supportive bra and undies or not, it is up to you -- it is just what makes me feel comfortable.

Whatever makes you feel comfortable will make you look better because you will feel confident in it.

Dress however you want to, just make sure you feel good in it.

A message for curvy women?

You're not bound to tell anyone how you live your life or why you look a particular way.

There are a lot of women who try to justify why they are the shape they are. You really don't owe that explanation to anyone.

It is something curvy women face all the time and it is not fair. Do not apologise for your size -- you are not taking my more space.

You are what you are and you have to live life embracing all of you.

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ANITA AIKARA / Rediff.com