Though established in 1996, it’s only been in recent years that the world has seen and recognized the rise of the Body Positive movement that has appeared in Western media ranging from popular TV shows such as Glee through to voluptuous singer, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (arguably pop music’s first Body Positive smash hit) to this weekend’s release of Ghostbusters where audiences will see the inspiring Melissa McCarthy battling specters to save the world.
This is a step forward for all female viewers.
The reason being that when women and young girls who don’t fit the unrealistic perfect woman mold that saturates the global media landscape, see themselves being represented on-screen, it empowers them. It makes them feel just as beautiful and desirable. Generally speaking, a woman who is uncomfortable with her body shape experiences depression, sometimes extreme depression, and anxiety.
The Apparatus theory which takes into account psychoanalysis and semantics often claims that cinema can change the dominant ideology of the culture within the viewer. If that is the case then seeing these leading female actors on-screen who are different, sometimes radically different from the typical bombshells who have dominated cinema not only has a profound effect on the female viewer but also perhaps the culture she lives in.
By default, Parineeti was the proud torch-bearer for the anti-Bollywood woman, changing the system from within and making it kowtow to her.
Moreover, the movement’s presence in the media loosens the grip of the rampant male gazing subjectivity of media, which is responsible for the creation of the perfect woman mold, and hands over the reigns to women resulting in a power transfer.
Around the same time this phenomena grew traction in the West, arrived the fearless Parineeti Chopra in Bollywood; the starkly unconventional actress who inadvertently became the proud representative of the Body Positive movement in the superficial Hindi film industry. Although by no definition obese or even unhealthily fat, Chopra managed to attain the same level of success as all her female colleagues without having to look like them. She was an inspiration to many.
The characters in her films also reflected her proud stance in that they were unusual and more often than not, fierce. Indomitable. In Ishaqzaade, she was a gun-wielding Muslim who risked her life for an inter-faith relationship, in Shuddh Desi Romance, she broke Indian taboo by moving in with her boyfriend and in Hasee Toh Phasee she was a sans-makeup socially awkward student who was able to win the heart of a gorgeous hunk with her many endearing idiosyncracies.
By default, Parineeti Chopra was the proud torch-bearer for the anti-Bollywood woman, changing the system from within and making it kowtow to her.
But after her last two films flopped, she retreated from the limelight for a year (a lifetime in a young Bollywood actor’s career) and resurfaced as a size two, scantily clad glamazon with an image that ran counter to her whole ethos. It all seems like an act of surrender on her part, that because her last two films flopped, she must resort to looking like all the pretty girls to revitalize her flailing career.
Much to our disappointment too, her first major onscreen appearance in two years – last week’s “Jaaneman Aah” music video – sees the once rebel gurrrl assuming the most objectified archetype in Bollywood, the role of an Item Girl – a subservient female stock character who only appears in a film to perform a salacious dance number while allowing the male gazing camera to exhibit her.
One wonders what sort of statement Chopra is trying to make with this comeback. Feminist author, Camille Paglia, has long advocated that female sexual freedom on celluloid is itself empowering, but many of her colleagues and critics feel differently, that female sexual freedom is just a ruse, that it’s in actuality women’s internalization of the repressed patriarchal system.
Even if Chopra accepted the role just to show range and still plans on accepting controversial roles just as she’s always done, this is still troubling news since everyone, including the many women who felt represented by her, have been all praises for her new body and image overhaul.
Do her female fans believe that their curvy bodies is just a transitional phase and that the real goal is to assimilate and become as thin as all the other pretty girls? Was Chopra responsible for that twist in thought, or was that thought already in their heads?
And with no one currently replacing Chopra as a Bollywood representative for the Body Positive movement, will these women regress into thinking that the only truly beautiful woman is one who is airbrushed and mythical?