According to the New York Daily News, Bollywood actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai holds “a place in Indian popular culture akin to Kate Middleton or Victoria Beckham” in the U.K. And like Middleton, Beckham or any number of American equivalents, Rai is now being ridiculed for not losing weight quick enough after having a baby.
Rai, who has acted in Indian and British films, started her career as a model and is also famous for “brand endorsements, charitable work and a high-profile marriage” (to actor Abhishek Bachchan), according to Sarfraz Manzoor. But ”unlike heroines from the 70s and 80s who were often healthily curvy, Rai’s popularity rested on a body that was supermodel lean.”
After giving birth to a baby girl six months ago, Rai was photographed on the way to a UN party with a post-baby body that wasn’t appropriately slimmed down enough for some people’s tastes. Critics suggested she has an obligation to fans to lose weight. Fans seem upset that Rai isn’t living up to standards set by Western celebrity beauties for quickly regaining pre-baby bodies.
One website posted a video, complete with elephant sound effects, entitled ‘Aishwarya Rai’s shocking weight gain,’ which has been seen more than 500,000 times. “She is a Bollywood actress and it is her duty to look good and fit,” suggested one commenter. Another added: “She needs to learn from people like Victoria Beckham who are back to size zero weeks after their delivery.”
Geez … we see a lot of pregnancy and post-pregnancy body critics in the American and British tabloids, but it’s usually framed differently, posed more as a concern for health or wellness. [See: Last week, when outlets like the Daily Mail and Fox News expressed concern over sleep deprivation and jet lag as an excuse to snark on pictures of Hilary Clinton "without makeup".]
Still, the underlying sentiment is familiar. Clinton was criticized for not getting dolled up to discuss heavy international relations stuff with China and India. According to Mazoor, the image “that sparked the storm” with Rai was her on the way to a party being thrown for the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, where he asked her to be the “global face” of a new UN campaign.
“The Indian media, though, was less interested in the job offer than the fact that Rai looked like a 38-year-old woman who had recently given birth.”
The most disturbing part: Part of the criticism of Rai seems to be based on how it will look for a woman considered one of the most beautiful in India not to regain her ‘pre-baby body’ as fast as western celebrity women.
“The role models being held up are Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham,” said (Showbusiness columnist) Shobhaa Dé. “But our body frames are different – we have wider hips and curves – so this whole business of looking desperately skinny two weeks after giving birth is a western import.”
The problem is compounded by certain Indian cultural ideas about marriage and motherhood. ”The career trajectory of female Bollywood actors has been downwards after they married and had children,” Mazoor writes. Indian audiences have been slow to accept movie stars known to be married and/or mothers. Recently, however, two other film stars have been making comebacks after having children, and Rai is visiting Cannes as a brand ambassador for L’Oreal.
Rai’s appearance at Cannes could be an important cultural moment, said Dé. ”It could be a turning point in making us stop and review the absurd expectations we have of our female celebrities.” Well, here’s to wishful thinking ….
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