WOW | People

Find Your beautiful

Find your beautiful. Because if you don’t, you are left with the rigid lines someone else drew for you; lines that can be almost painful to toe, dangerous to cross, and far too easy to unwittingly cross.

Dusky, skinny, bald, transgender, too tall, too fat, scars, tomboyish… all these tags effect your mental health too. Does beauty really have to be compartmentalised? Do people really need to live with the pressure of falling into a certain stereotype? Who created these ideas? Who drives them – is it people like you and me, or an industry that is worth trillions of dollars?

In a world that won’t stop shaming people for how they look, how does one stop feeling that shame? WOW turned to a select group of women for answers; each in her own way a warrior battling stubborn notions, fighting restrictive ideas, and trying to cross the lines that were drawn for them years ago.

These women tell us what it is to be unapologetically you and what is the essence of real beauty in their eyes and minds.

Text: Ankita Jain

SURAKSHYA BHANDARI
# too fat!

Surakshya Bhandari is unapologetically herself. Living in plus size fashion, Surakshya says, “The fashion world might be glorifying skinny models but most women are not so, yet we can look attractive if dressed the right way.” Pursuing her BBA at Ace Institute of Management, she considers self-love as her biggest accomplishment.

What do you like about yourself?

I almost love everything about me. I have realised that the most important thing to remember is: if you talk down to yourself about plus size, others will too. Perhaps I love that I praise my body every day and try to hold a positive outlook. Loving myself took a very long time but it is here to stay.

What do you struggle with?

Ever since my childhood, I have been struggling with my weight but not as much as I have struggled with people body shaming me, be it my own family or friends. In retrospect, I was structured to think of myself as less attractive and less worthy, especially by others, so I was insecure and struggled with being confident. I still struggle to be socially accepted and am usually made socially awkward. For instance, people stare at me everywhere I go. Moreover, finding the right size clothes for me used to be an exhausting process but not anymore.

Self esteem and body love starts in the mind, not in the mirror.

Do you ever feel the need to fit in?

Yes, because no matter how hard we try, fat people are not socially accepted. It reflects that I as an individual am not accepted. For instance, statistically speaking, we are hired less, paid less, suffer from higher magnitude of mental illness, and are socially discriminated. Situations like these make me wish I was able to fit in and be socially accepted. It is really a shame that our society has conditioned us to base our acceptance on body image.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

Self esteem and body love starts in the mind, not in the mirror. There are a couple of things that I do to feel confident. The key element is always to focus first on feeling good and second, comes looking good. I feel good when I surround myself with positive people, keep humble people close and forget those who aren’t. Also I feel pity for people who judge me. Moreover, I exercise, don’t compare myself with others, keep a distance from toxic people, am accepting of my body, and focus on my good qualities. And just feeling good is not enough in my case. I also have to dress in a way that makes me look good and cute.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

Education. I have always felt the Right to Education is a tool which protects you in this world. It is changing the world and I feel working for it, I can change mine too. I think education will lead everyone on the right path. Education is the only way to develop.

SWECHCHHA RAUT
# bald

It’s convenient for the summer and also fashionable,” says Swechchha Raut, speaking of her bald head. Swechchha is a journalist at Pahilopost.com. She wants to be the voice for the voiceless, and her writings reflect that.

What do you like about yourself?

One of the things that I like about myself is that I am an empathetic person and this helps me to understand others. It has immensely helped in my career.

What do you struggle with?

I sometimes struggle with my own emotions. I get overwhelmed at times. Also, I find it difficult to articulate my thoughts and emotions which lead to miscommunication.

I Believe in equality and equal opportunity

Did you ever feel the need to fit in?

Yes, I experience it whenever I need to participate in discussions and events among good English speakers.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

I love being myself. I love the way I conduct myself whether it is my hair or my dress. I don’t submit to the norms set by the society to be an ideal woman. However I have been struggling to develop my self-esteem.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

I believe in equality and equal opportunity in the society. I can’t stand injustice especially for those who do not have the voice. I actively work with humanitarian organisations. I want to become the voice for the voiceless. This has been possible due to my innate nature and my profession.

AASTHA POKHAREL
# too tall

Aastha Pokharel is 5ft 8in tall and whenever she faces height shamming, she laughs at the bullies. The dusky beauty is recognised as a super model and has earned several accolades. She won the title of Supermodel Nepal in 2013 and the same year she came fifth in the first season of Asia’s Next Top Model held in Singapore. In 2014 she emerged as the winner of NDTV Good Times Kingfisher Supermodels 2 and was nominated for India Times Most Desirable Women.

What do you like about yourself?

I would say I like my creative spirit, endless curiosity and open mind.

What do you struggle with?

I struggle with imposed authority, procrastination and having the difficult but necessary conversation. I avoid conflict as long as possible and when it crosses all limits, I spill.

Did you ever feel the need to fit in?

I don’t. It sounds quite idealistic, I believe in all kinds of personalities, values, belief systems and lifestyles co-existing in harmony to make the world a better place. Just like in nature.

Let go of this obsession with youth and celebrate beauty at every age.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

Still working on it but I would say it starts by being more spiritual, putting value in your abilities more than just appearance, focusing on holistic healthcare rather than running after a certain aesthetic. Let go of this obsession with youth and celebrate beauty at every age. It helps tremendously to have body positive role models in real life and in the media you consume.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

I feel passionate about gender equality, sustainable fashion and lifestyle and equal social and economic opportunities for all especially in Nepal.

ROMI KOTHARI HIRAWAT
# too plain

Romi Kothari Hirawat is among those women who believe makeup and women do not necessarily go together. Romi is comfortable carrying herself often with no make-up. She completed her Master degree in Business Studies from St. Xaviers College. A mother of twins, she also manages retail stores for brands like Crocs, Esprit, Guy Laroche, etc.

What do you like about yourself?

One thing I like about myself is that I see beauty in little things like enjoying sunsets, admiring nature, gazing at the beautiful sky, etc. I can find happiness in almost any situation. Happiness is a state of mind. I look for positivity in all the things.

What do you struggle with?

Currently my struggle has been managing both my work and my twins. But now that my kids are turning almost five and they are independent to some extent, I can devote more time to my work.

Did you ever feel the need to fit in?

Human beings are social animals and we have a need to interact with other humans. Each person needs this to a different extent and this feeling changes over time. I am a very flexible person and I have never had any serious issues about fitting in to any situation.

happiness is a state of mind.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

I strongly believe in appreciating your own beauty. Take note of everything you like about yourself. Comparing yourself to other people is a sure-fire way to start feeling crummy. Try to focus on your own goals and achievements rather than measuring them against someone else’s. Nobody needs that kind of pressure. Eat right, exercise regularly and stay hydrated.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

The cause I am passionate about is animal welfare. We all need to accept the fact that there are other humans and other living beings who also want to live, who also feel pain and who also want happiness. It’s high time we ask ourselves: if it is NOW possible to live a life that involves delicious food and drink, delivers better health, leaves a smaller carbon footprint and avoids killing other creatures. The answer is within you.

RENUCA SINGH THAKURI
# skinny

In an industry where ‘thinness above all’ is the norm, Renuca Singh Thakuri, a model by profession, has had to live with the tag of ‘skinny’, but even if she struggles with it, she refuses to conform to any standards that society sets for her.

What do you like about yourself?

I am very happy where I am today and I feel it’s all because of my positive nature. I have always been an optimistic person and try to find good in everything and this is what I like about myself.

What do you struggle with?

I am quite childish at times and when it’s time to act maturely, I often struggle with it. As I live in Mumbai to pursue my modelling career, language has also been a great struggle. My Hindi isn’t great and this often makes me a subject of mockery on many occasions.

We have to inspire and motivate ourselves everyday in order to grow and move forward in life.

Did you ever feel the need to fit in?

Yes, of course. I feel the need to fit in many situations and it’s also mostly because of the need of the society where people judge you if you don’t act according to the norms.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

We have to inspire and motivate ourselves everyday in order to grow and move forward in life, and have to take care of our body because that’s the only thing which is our own.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

I have always supported women who want to pursue their dreams. It always reminds me of the day I left my country to passionately follow the dream of becoming a renowned model.

AASHIKA THAPA
# transwoman

“I am not a hijra,” says AashikaThapa. After years of humiliating social stigmatisation, abuse and contempt from the community, Aashika came out as a transwoman four years back. She strongly believes that the traditional Nepali mindset is beginning to alter and changes are taking place in terms of how trans people are being treated and recognised but the slang words hijra and chakkha are etched in societal mindsets forever.

Based in Butwal, 23 year old Aashika is a dancer by profession. “I am living a dignified life and that’s all I pray for,” she shares.

What do you like about yourself?

I like the fact that I am independent and am able to carve my own identity in society.

What do you struggle with?

I have been struggling since my childhood for acceptance. But I was lucky to have family support through all phases. After I accepted myself as a transgender around four years ago, I gained confidence and a sense of freedom within myself. There were no secrets left to hide.

Do you ever feel the need to fit in?

Every moment I used to feel the need to fit-in, probably in every possible situation. Today I am myself and the world tries to fit-in.

Today I am myself and the world tries to fit-in.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

Acceptance plays a vital role. I always tell people to never hide their gender identity. I have adopted a daughter too. I agree that it takes a lot of confidence to declare oneself a transgender and be an eye candy but it gives you inner peace as well.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

I have always supported inter-caste marriages and gender related issues.

SABITRA BHANDARI
# unfeminine

Sabitra says she is often mistaken for a man because of her tomboyish looks. “If someone judges me by my looks and considers me to be a man then it’s not their fault; we have been raised with such notions,” states the Nepali lady footballer Sabitra Bhandari. A talented sports person, Sabitra created a new record of having scored the highest number of international goals ever by any Nepali woman footballer.

What do you like about yourself?

I like everything about myself. Whether it is football or my hairstyle, I love every single thing that defines me.

What do you struggle with?

As a kid, I used to play football with senior boys in my shorts while the society expected me to be in a frock. I have been struggling since then though my explanations were limited only to my family. I realised very young that all that matters is what your family has to say about you rather than the unknown faces. Growing up I struggled to fit in among the urban women and later as a woman footballer. The society thinks that the game is only meant for men. Even today I struggle with building a women’s team.

I like everything about myself. Whether it is football or my hairstyle, I love every single thing that defines me.

Do you ever feel the need to fit in?

Yes, as a woman, you are often looked down upon and to prove yourself you often have to try to fit in.

People expect me to wear a saree and look like a girl. The fact is I do love sarees and I wear them occasionally but choosing gender based clothes should be an option rather than a forced thing.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

I am inspired by the world famous footballers and their lifestyles. Their confidence boosts mine and their level of respect for the game encourages me to worship my work.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

I always feel the need to visit rural parts of Nepal and encourage women football players. They still aren’t aware that women can also play football.

PABITRA KARKI
# living with scars

22 year old Pabitra Karki, a resident of Sitapaila, was attacked with acid on the evening of July 23. “I didn’t know what was happening. My skin burned; there were fumes coming off it and it smelled terrible,” says Pabitra.

What do you like about yourself?

The stubbornness to not let anyone else suffer the pain I am going through.

What do you struggle with?

For the next one week after the attack, I struggled with almost everything. I used to cry a lot. Chewing food was a challenge. And the mirror was my greatest enemy. I used to cover the mirror in the restroom.

Now I have accepted myself. I am optimistic about my uncertain future.

I am optimistic about my uncertain future.

Do you ever feel the need to fit in?

So far I haven’t felt it but I am sure in the near future I will be required to do so. Wherever I go, people will pity me and stare at me. I am scared to face the blunt stares of society.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

The warriors of acid attack motivate me on a regular basis. They visit me, share their stories and build my confidence. I am lucky to have them with me.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

I will be working for the acid attack victims and will be advocating for stronger laws and justice for the victims and their families. Every member of the family suffers a lot in incidents like this. More than myself, I am worried about my ill mother who has been diagnosed with cancer.

RUKMANI KHADKA
# too short

“Women with dwarfism are still subject to stigma, discrimination and eve teasing,” says Rukmani Khadka. Four feet tall Rukmani is the Vice President of Dwarf Association Nepal. Married and settled in the capital, Rukmani has currently lost her job due to Covid 19.

What do you like about yourself?

I am a fun loving person. I enjoy life to the fullest. I dance, I sing, I travel and I gossip.

What do you struggle with?

I struggle with everyday bullying. Though the mindset of people has changed over the years but still people don’t view us as humans. We are more of a joke. Eve teasing and name calling are a part of our everyday story. But I love the fact that wherever I go, I get huge attention (laughs). However, public transportation is not designed keeping in mind the disability and we suffer.

I laugh when others laugh at me. This helps me be confident.

Do you ever feel the need to fit in?

Yes, no one believes us if we complain of harassment or eve teasing. People rather laugh at this claim. At times I feel if I was like other people, I would have broken some jaws and taught people how to behave with women.

How do you improve your self-esteem and body love?

I laugh when others laugh at me. This helps me be confident.

Tell us about a cause you feel passionate about

I want dwarfs to be considered as normal as other human beings. I want them to pursue their education and earn a living. And I am against people who use dwarfs as props.