Posted on October 12, 2015 at 10:31 pm

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Parineeti Chopra: new body, old attitude

When Parineeti Chopra burst onto the acting scene, first as a loudmouthed Delhi girl in Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl and later as a modern-day Juliet in Ishaqzaade, she was a breath of fresh air. She had the charisma of Kajol, the natural talent of Rani, and an attitude and aura that were entirely her own. After a series of underwhelming debuts by models-turned-actresses who appeared to have been churned out by a Bollywood assembly line, Parineeti’s ascent to stardom marked a departure from the status quo. She was the girl next door who nevertheless made you believe that she was desirable, dangerous even. She looked like someone you might know, and yet her presence was so compelling that watching her on the big screen made her seem untouchable. In short, she was the answer to all our filmi prayers.

photo: Elle India
photo: Elle India

And then, the world got to her.

A disclaimer: none of us who live life outside the public eye can possibly imagine the amount of pressure placed on actresses to look beautiful. I won’t pretend that I understand what Parineeti has been through these last few years, when the media put her every physical flaw under a magnifying glass, because I don’t. It takes a remarkably strong woman to remain steadfast against that kind of scrutiny, and if the constant body-shaming and comparisons to her thinner colleagues eventually took a toll on her psyche, it’s hardly surprising. Although the criticism of Parineeti’s appearance was entirely unwarranted, it is unfair to judge her for internalizing some of the negativity that has been thrown her way.

But as soon as an actress begins to verbalize that negativity in a way that legitimizes the unjust and unrealistic standards of beauty that women are held to, she loses the benefit of the doubt and, quite frankly, a large chunk of my respect.

Parineeti officially debuted her svelte new figure in the October issue of Elle India with the words “New body, new confidence” splashed across the cover. It’s a far cry from her Elle India cover of November 2014, which promised us her take on “fighting stereotypes.” Inside the newest issue of Elle, Parineeti makes it clear that she is no longer interested in fighting harmful stereotypes, but is instead all too eager to buy into them and to promote them to her adoring and remarkably impressionable fan base. In the interview, she opens up about her weight loss, achieved through a strict diet, an exercise regime centered around a South Indian martial arts form called kalaripayattu, and a visit to an Austrian detox center. To be fair, the actress sounds thrilled with her new figure: she has more energy, she feels healthier, and she has access to a brand new wardrobe. After all the criticism she has dealt with in her short career, it would be cruel to begrudge her her newfound confidence.

photo: Elle India
photo: Elle India

The problem is not that Parineeti has lost weight, or that she has adopted a healthier lifestyle. The fundamental issue is how she has chosen to present these changes to the public. In the magazine, she is quoted as saying, “I can’t be fat, I’m sorry—I’m a mainstream heroine. And I cannot be affected by whether you like that or not.” It’s an expanded version of statements she has repeated throughout the past year while on a self-imposed hiatus following a string of box office flops. Her aversion to her old figure is abundantly clear. She was fat, fat, fat! and she will scream it from the rooftops, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. She wants you to know that it’s her life and she owes you, the reader, nothing.

Her words twist like a knife in the slightly rounded bellies of many young girls who saw themselves in Parineeti Chopra. Her beauty was of the attainable variety, sure, but it didn’t make her any less beautiful or any less charming to watch onscreen. Her fans supported her no matter what the media said about her, and when she was forced to field comments shaming her for her appearance, they felt the unfairness of it on a personal level. No one would have judged her for making lifestyle changes that improved her overall health and wellbeing, but along with debuting her new body, Parineeti has delivered the same old message: the only kind of beauty worth public applause is the kind you see on movie screens, and no mainstream heroine should ever be brought so low as to have an average figure. Average is bad, average is undesirable, and if you look the way Parineeti looked, you are undesirable too. Even Parineeti herself thinks so.

photo: Elle India
photo: Elle India

It’s a pity that the conversation surrounding body positivity and fat shaming is an inconvenience to Parineeti, but someone should remind her that once you decide to become a public figure, you have a greater responsibility to use your platform in a way that challenges harmful societal norms. Your words carry weight, pun unintended, and as a celebrity you have no right to use language that insults your audience. Her open derision of her former appearance is a slap in the face to her fans, particularly young girls who are desperately in need of someone to look to for representation in a pop culture environment that constantly tells them they’re not good enough. But in Parineeti’s own words, she doesn’t really care how those girls feel about her new attitude.

Regardless of whether she’s fat, skinny, or somewhere in between, Parineeti Chopra is a performer par excellence. The shape of her body has no bearing on her acting abilities. I only hope that one day she develops a social awareness that matches her immense talent. In the meantime, young fans will have to wait for another actress to come along who is prepared to give them as much love and respect as they give her.