By Supriya Ganesh:
“Leave the average behind.”
I was pretty taken aback by the caption. So Parineeti Chopra lost weight, presumably due to her own volition. And yes, she had a photoshoot celebrating her body, which is pretty great. I am all for a woman feeling empowered and at peace with what she looks like – God knows that’s hard to come by these days.
But the pictures, featuring a slimmer Parineeti and prominent “fitspiration” quotes, leave me uneasy. “Fitspiration,” according to Lauren Bersaglio, creator of the movement #StopFitspiration, is “any message (usually in the form of an image with a quote included) that encourages one to ‘persevere’, ‘push’, or even ‘suffer’ through exercise for the sake of achieving change in one’s physical appearance.” Parineeti Chopra’s photos are a classic example of fitspiration– a newly lean Parineeti tells us to “stretch, never surrender,” “push harder” so we can “feel stronger,” and more prominently “leave the average behind.”
Is this notion of “average” supposed to refer to less than physically “perfect” individuals– without toned limbs, or an above average height – or people who cannot achieve a fitness goal? Either way, this message is disturbing. I think back to the days when I would use similar rhetoric to restrict my eating to one meal a day or less. I think back to the several forums I visited, where numerous people wrote of “obsessiveness” with exercise– spending several hours a day running without much sustenance, repeating similar mantras of endurance under their breath until they nearly collapsed from exhaustion.
Parineeti Chopra might love her new body, but what she fails to realize is that by celebrating it in this way, with these messages emblazoned on her pictures for the world to see, she harms others’ perceptions of their own body. Her weight loss is used in tandem with these quotes, telling us her “struggle” led to “celebration”. She is equating pain and exercise with an aesthetic change in her body, and that is a dangerous underlying message.
Firstly, it perpetuates the idea of an ideal body type. Her campaign’s message is “built that way”; the idea is that she kept pushing until a beautiful lean self, who was built “that” way, emerged from the folds of her old “chubby, childish” body, according to her Twitter. She writes, “I am sure, like me, even you are built that way … you can also do it!” This isn’t necessarily true– not everyone is built to adhere to society’s standards of beauty, regardless of how much we push ourselves.
Secondly, it associates the goal of exercise with an aesthetic purpose, rather than with the improvement of one’s health. Exercise should be engaged in with the aim of prolonging our lives, of having functioning bodies as time passes, but not because we want to look like “that actress did in that poster.” Once we have that aim in mind, we begin to push ourselves to reach a certain body type– streamlined, with a perfect hip to chest ratio and fat distribution. We tell ourselves we will push through and get there, and once we do, we will feel so much better about ourselves– or as Parineeti puts it, we will “celebrate.” Conflating your self-image with exercise is risky, and will only lead to disappointment. As Bersaglio aptly puts it– if you don’t like yourself now, you won’t like yourself twenty bench-presses from now, either.
These aren’t ideas that Parineeti herself necessarily adheres to – when asked for her response to the criticism, while she did say that she endorses “being your fittest self” and not “being thin” (which is an important distinction, as slimness should not be equated with healthiness), she added “I wanted to work on my body and I got 6-8 months to work on it. I am glad that the results are showing.” This clearly reveals her mindset – that the goal of exercise is to be toned.
Parineeti might be happy with her new self, and I am genuinely glad for her– it’s her body and her choice, and I know I can respect that– but I have to say I am disappointed in her. In an industry filled with slim, toned women, she of all people must know how difficult it is to have her self-worth tied to your appearance. Regardless of her personal thought process behind her weight loss, I had hoped she’d be a little more sensitive to the message she’d send out there– or to how the media would inevitably react to her transformation, especially with these photos in mind.
Articles have already been churned out on the actor’s “hot” new avatar, and her “beautiful” photoshoot, celebrating and glorifying her transformation. I am sure there’s a teenage girl out there reading these articles, craving the same compliments, who has a body far from what is considered to be “perfect.” I can only hope she doesn’t begin to follow Parineeti’s example to feel beautiful– attempting to match societal standards of beauty won’t get her there and it likely never will. Even though Parineeti might claim you are “leaving the average behind,” you’ll just end up running into yourself.