Recently a number of top publications carried reports about curvier women making a ‘comeback’ to Indian cinema; or Bollywood ceasing its obsession with Size Zero. These reports gush about how Bollywood is ‘changing’; about how curvy actors such as Sonakshi Sinha, Huma Qureshi, Vidya Balan, Parineeti Chopra and others have redefined the concept of female beauty in recent times.
I humbly suggest that neither Indian films nor Indians in general have ever been really gung ho about the much vaunted Size Zero concept – the Indian ideal of beauty has always conformed to the well rounded female form. There are evolutionary reasons for this. And historically, Indians have admired the well rounded female form and have held it up as an ideal of health and beauty.
The Evolutionary Basis for Men Preferring Curvier Women
In evolutionary terms, natural selection dictated that women were attracted to large, well built men who were capable of being good providers – stronger men likely made better hunter gatherers – and would presumably be able to provide better protection to a mate and their offspring.
Similarly men would have been attracted to women who were sturdily built; who seemed capable of undergoing the rigors of childbirth to produce healthy offspring. A more sturdily built individual would also be able to withstand periods of scarcity, famine or illness; another indicator of good health and longevity.
Researchers and academicians have opined that curvy women send out signals of youth, reproductive fitness and general good health. So it sounds logical that men are atavistically drawn to women who seem capable of producing the healthiest babies.
The Historical Concept of Beauty in India
We only have to glance around at ancient Indian sculpture, friezes, temple art, caves and murals to know what the ideal of beauty was understood to be. Curvy would be an understatement to describe the women depicted – well nourished, amply endowed, voluptuous, buxom – would be rather more accurate.
Historically, being thin would have been associated with being poorly nourished and hence belonging to the lower economic and social strata. Having more flesh on the bones was indicative of prosperity, a life of plenty and a lifestyle to be envied. So being curvy was desirable not only for how it looked, but also because of what it represented.
Bollywood’s Leading Ladies Have Always Been Curvy
Look at the leading ladies of Bollywood over the generations: from Madhubala during the 1950’s to Asha Parekh and Nanda of the 60’s and 70’s to Rekha and Sridevi of the 80’s and Kajol of 90’s – which screen goddess among these would you call thin? Nary a size zero in sight! And yet these women are held up to the ideal of feminine allure to this day.
Bollywood has a time honoured tradition of well endowed leading ladies – one famous actress was once rejected on the grounds that she was too thin. Leading ladies perceived as not being well endowed enough have long been required to wear (ahem!) falsies! All those soulful romantic songs where the hero is supposed to lift his heroine into his arms with effortless ease – one could only wince in sympathy – and imagine the hero’s deep relief when they finally yelled “Cut!”
The Size Zero Phase Was an Aberration
As with every trend that emerges from the West, we Indians latch on to it with breathless zeal – if the West said that thin is in; well in it must be! If the West said that Size Zero is the ideal of female beauty, well that would have to be so! So when Kareena Kapoor famously went down to a Size Zero for her role in the rather forgettable Tashan, that was the exception and not the norm. Her then beau Saif Ali Khan went on record to say that Kareena at that size was not to his liking – he much preferred her with a few more curves. It is telling that a few years later we have Kareena not only sporting a few curves but also having a song dedicated to her well rounded rear end.
So if we now have a Sonakshi Sinha looking as a healthy woman should, or if Huma Qureshi looks like the ‘khate peete ghar ki ladki’ that we Indians tend to admire – well that is par for the course. This is our normal perception of beauty. Curvy women are not so much ‘back’ as ‘size zero’ was an aberration – after all men are genetically programmed not to be attracted to women who become invisible when standing sideways.
By – Reena Daruwalla