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  • Kenko Desk

The Misrepresentation Of Body Image In Bollywood Cinema

You probably don’t realize this yet. But if you want to look like a Bollywood lead, you may be subjecting yourself to discrimination.



Do you remember recent Bollywood films where the fair-skinned actors painted their faces browner and darkened their skin tones to portray characters from a marginalised community? Or do you still see people laughing at the jokes made at the expense of the fat sidekicks or anyone who does not conform to the kind of beauty standards set by the film leads?


All these are examples of Bollywood’s obsession with certain bodies (almost always fair, lean, and muscular with spotless skin) considered attractive in the popular imagination.


These norms define specific traits and standards to achieve and follow in the pursuit of beauty. Exposure to such messaging makes us judge ourselves and others who do not fall within these narrow parameters and perpetuate a disdain for all things deemed unattractive.


Here’s how these beauty norms shape our worldview and create social divisions:


Promotes colourism


In a recent interview, Priyanka Chopra commented on how she was called “dusky” and judged for her skin colour in her early years in the Hindi film industry.


Our obsession with fair skin may have to do with our history of British colonialism and the hierarchical caste system. Even though these institutions should no longer be a part of modern society, Bollywood’s idealisation of fair skin promotes these ideas, reinforcing discrimination based on caste, class, race, and region.


Enables fatphobia


Films that worship very lean and gym-toned bodies as the pinnacle of beauty and mock fatness or any physical flaws may create a bad attitude towards the latter. It has a real-life impact.


Research suggests that weight bias has negative consequences for individual health and social equity.

Sexualisation of women


Bollywood’s problematic beauty norms are perhaps best represented by the so-called item songs that define the ideal image of a woman from the male gaze.


Do you notice how the camera focuses on the dancer’s waist or cleavage? It creates a culture of objectifying and sexualising women’s bodies.


Limiting ideals for manhood


Similarly, a typical Bollywood hero defines the cultural paradigm of manhood. According to this principle, masculinity depends on your muscle mass, the prevalence of your biceps and abs, and your ability to show anger and be violent.


Such a worldview can impact your relationship with your own body and how you approach your health and wellness.


Impact of Bollywood’s beauty norms


1. Physical effects


Do you read every news story about your favourite actor’s diet or fitness regimen and try to emulate it? Without considering your body’s needs and following these beauty standards, you may end up harming yourself. The gym bro phenomenon can be counterproductive to your health.


Extreme exercise or drastically taking up extensive workout routines can cause injuries, and entirely changing your diet can lead to gastrointestinal problems. Similarly, overuse of cosmetic products or beauty procedures can damage your skin and hair.


2. Mental health challenges


Do you ever wish to have a well-sculpted body or gleaming skin like the Bollywood actor in the film? If you start obsessing over your body and aspiring for these standards, it can cause you mental distress.


You may spend too much time looking and thinking about any perceived flaws leading to a mental health condition called body dysmorphic disorder. Furthermore, you may face anxiety about how you look and appear to others, straining your confidence level.


It can manifest itself in the form of extreme diets and eating disorder behaviour as well.


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3. Problems with interpersonal relationships


If you continue to abide by the beauty standards set by Bollywood, you may isolate yourself from people due to self-judgement.


It can ruin your dating life or your relationship with your partner, family, and friends. A 2016 study found that those who were satisfied with their weight and appearance had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction.


Even though many of us know of these issues, both in terms of worldview and individual health, caused by Bollywood’s narrow beauty standards, what can we do about it?


How to overcome these unhealthy ideas?


1. Change your mindset


Unlearn these ideas by reading more about the diversity of the human body and how popular culture sets unrealistic standards.


Even those perfect-looking actors on the screen are made to appear that way under extreme physical duress and through makeup, lighting, and visual effects.


2. Focus on your needs instead of ideals


Assess your body’s needs and practice small steps that support your overall health. It may mean participating in some physical activity, eating a balanced meal, sleeping hygiene, and applying sunscreen before going in the sun.


3. Boost esteem and confidence


Work on your self-esteem by being kind to yourself. Understand your value and that of others beyond the physical self. You can also use positive affirmations to learn and imbibe a healthy attitude towards yourself.


4. Seek help


If these beauty norms continue to cause you physical or mental distress and affect your day-to-day life, consult a professional to work on your thought patterns and towards attaining a healthier relationship with your body.


Kenko’s Individual Health Plan can help you get no-cost, easy access to medical professionals for your well-being. Get discounts on all your OPD bills like doctor consults, lab tests, medicines, daily healthcare and much more.


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