Now where was I?
Ah yes. I had to be a klutz. I was reassured very kindly that it was okay but it was a good indication of how I would ever fare if put in front of the cameras.
I got to meet some of the girls during their lunch break – lunch looked Yummy!! It was a relief to see them chowing down instead of setting it aside.
In Conversation With The Contestants
“This competition is a validation to the fact that beauty is diverse. It shows the viewers that we come in all forms and beauty does not know talent” – Contestant Haleema
Beauty does not know talent. So that stopped me in my tracks because I do lapse into self-doubt, like we all do. Especially when constantly having to ‘stay relevant’ or include more aesthetically pleasing posts on Instagram. Aesthetics aside, I am first and foremost a writer and advocate. That will never leave me or ask me to ‘be cool’. Taking mental notes from these girls now as we talk!
“It’s a good initiative and I hope it makes people more open to how they regard other people” – Contestant Hashwini
As a self-professed novice to the body positive movement, she was really enthused about it gaining more exposure. She was perfectly at ease during the interview and I was pleasantly surprised that she had taken a gander at my body of work before we met! It makes me really happy when people new to what I consider my life’s work, approach it with a keen interest to learn, instead of making snap judgements. If I had nerves before, they slowly began to wane as I realised the girls were just as curious and open minded to what our conversations would be like.
Aarthi and Aarti
“Selena Gomez does what she feels right about. Being her true self is what inspires me, because I want to be my true self wherever I am.” – Contestant Aarthi
Always fun to interview your namesake As the ‘youngest’ of the group Aarthi is doted on. She delights in how affectionate and supportive the other contestants are because it helps immensely with handling the pressures of the competition. I noticed through a peek at her Instagram account that she was a big fan of Selena Gomez and I asked her about it. Interestingly, what she said about Selena was what I thought about Aarthi – an unassuming free spirit.
“I was very apprehensive about taking part in this. Especially as someone who is quiet, and feels conscious about her smile” – Contestant Pooja
As a an introvert and bashful person, I could sense a likeness in Pooja. Introverts get such a bad rep – we’re too quiet and we like being alone .. we don’t open up as readily, you need to give us time. We are hard to read and we smile when we want to. As I watched her tackle the tasks in each episode and stoically take the criticisms presented, I could tell she was nervous but determined to give it her best. She spoke effusively of how this show has helped her work past her insecurities, in terms of confidence and how she views herself. Which made this Mama Bear very heartened because you don’t always get the pleasure of being uplifted and encouraged in similar settings.
“It ideally means being confident with your body, regardless of how it looks. Building that confidence is important” – Contestant Parmitha
Given the time constraints between recordings, it was so good to see everyone looking forward to having a quick chat! Parmitha was a little nervous at first but I reminded her that this was really informal. What charmed me about her was her poise and as we got chatting, you could see her visibly feeling more at ease. The girls had an important challenge coming up right after lunch.
“There needs to be more representation. We relate to media and social media a lot more than we used to. When you are able to see somebody who looks like you, you will naturally feel encouraged to” – Contestant
You KNOW that I was celebrating when I saw a fellow plus size girl making it past the auditions. During auditions there were 3 plus size girls who gave it a shot and listen, that was a sheer delight to watch on the telly! Sadly, Dashna was eliminated in episode 2.
I was super bummed to see her leave so soon. There was quite an outcry over it and I was glad to see people rooting for her. It is a rarity to witness that outpour of love. We are either pigeon holed into specific roles in the media or used as a token fat person.. it is hurtful. Dashna was neither of those for the duration that she stayed in the competition. Watching her grace the runway, speak to the judges and commit to her tasks was a thing of beauty.
Like me, Dashna took a leap of faith to pursue a dream. A dream many would discourage us from having. We did it anyway. I cannot wait to see what is in store for her in the near future. Again, I was very humbled that she knew of my work. For the past 6 years, speaking about what I do always got me the wary side-eye.
Content Warning: Childhood Sexual Abuse, Trauma
“Advocacy has been the biggest motivation for me, it helps knowing that what has happened to you is not in vain and there is good that you can make out of it no matter how terrible it might have been” – Contestant Devika
Devika struck me as a kindred spirit. We are both dancers (well I await to be able to dance freely again) and we have lived through trauma to tell the tale. Unfortunately we do not know many women who have not been targets of sexual assault. With the #metoo movement, it was a collective battlecry. Assault and trauma is rough. Healing from childhood sexual abuse though?
There is something in all of us that pushes against pain and despair, channeling the anguish towards the advocacies we delve into. We find creative modes of self expression. Catharsis. That is what Devika is accomplishing. We are not the victims of our story. We are not what has happened to us.
“I got married at 21 and we told each other we were not going to stop pursuing our dreams. We will support one another, learn and grow together on this journey. So that is how it has been throughout” – Contestant Shareen
The South Asian culture is still rather patriarchal in nature.
As a married woman, I have always believed that my marital status should not deter the pursuit of dreams. People are still quick to say that we have an image to uphold, responsibilities to manage as married women. I am so glad to have learnt that this has had a minimal impact on fellow married woman Shareen’s participation. While I do not seek validation or permission from the hubster, it does make a difference when your spouse is supportive.
Cultural standards of beauty vary from region to region. Within the South Asian communities fairer skin tones, slim bodies, silky smooth hair textures are preferred, among other things. This group of girls wanted nothing to do with perpetuating these unfair standards. I was so chuffed! This was nothing like I had expected.
In Conversation With The Judges
Admittedly I was rather nervous to meet the judges because I was star struck and did not know what to expect from them, especially when broaching the topics of diversity and body positivity.
Indra Chandran, Bharathi Rani and Udaya Soundari have hosted, acted, performed dozens of tv serials, travel shows, foodie shows (we are Big on food here in Singapore) and performed for live audiences for Vasantham.
Between the three dynamic ladies, there is a wealth of expertise and experience. Which makes them the perfect combination to judge and mentor the contestants. While judging happens as a collective every week, the girls are mentored individually by Indra, Bharathi and Udaya through tasks and episodes.
“We have a responsibility with how we present ourselves because the young girls are watching us on the screen. We have to put across messages to remind them that looks aren’t everything. Don’t chase beauty” – Ms V Supreme Judge Indra Chandran
I remember watching Indra win Ms V, quite a while ago! I was excited to find out her thoughts about this new and improved concept for the show.
“I specifically remember when I was taking part as a contestant, the first auditions started in April or May. There were 24 of us and the competition ended in November. So we had a long period of time to practice in front of a live audience, before we went to the finals” Ms V Supreme Judge Indra Chandran
Indra spoke with candour of how she may have subscribed to diet culture in the past but as the years have gone by, she has come to see beauty as a whole – regardless of size or aesthetic. It is in the way a person talks and carries themselves.
“I do not believe in standards of beauty. I have been plus sized and I was still beautiful then!” -Ms V Supreme Judge Indra Chandran
I had such an easygoing conversation with Indra and would have loved to pick her brain more. I’ll leave it for when I meet her at the competition finale! Once again, blown away by what I was hearing and really heartened.
I think I had the most apprehension in my interview with Bharathi.
She is a lovely person and that smile! But I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a pest with the questions because they had pressing work at hand. She graciously listened to my questions as I fumbled on. I wanted to ask her about her pet dog since I am a fur momma too but I think it escaped my mind out of anxiety! So imagine my shock when she said
“I still get very nervous when on stage, but with practice I have become more confident. I think it’s good to have a little bit of nerves so that you’re in control” – Ms V Supreme Judge Bharathi Rani
“With regards to body positivity I feel the only reason why people would feel bad about themselves is because somebody else makes them feel that way. It’s not like they wake up one morning and hate their bodies. You want to buy a dress but you cannot fit into it. That makes you upset and the extent of that damage is quite underrated” – Ms V Supreme Judge Udaya Soundari
Udaya and I spoke at length about the challenges of shopping and finding clothes that you actually like, when you are not a standard Asian size. For reference, a US size 0 would be the size XS here.
I listened on as she gave me her thoughts on body positivity. She was right, there was more pressure to be “put together” today than it was when she first started out on television. We did not have the advent of accessibility to YouTube makeup tutorials, online shopping.
We really lost track of time during the interview! I was told politely many, many times that Udaya needed to be on stage, the hubster had to give me the mutual sign we use to say – Okay, lets wrap this up – before I noticed. Perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t pursue my dreams of being a journalist or news correspondent.
“As long as you’re well presented, it does not matter if you are single or married, have kids. It does not matter what your size or skin tone is. At the end of the day, what we want is to create artists with versatility and talent. Anyone is welcome to audition” – Ms V Supreme Producer Sharon Roosevelt
Sharon was such a gentle, affable person to chat with. Just like the contestants and judges, it was such a pleasure to meet her despite her busy schedule. As she spoke passionately about wanting to find not just artists but role models, it made me wish there were more people like her in the region. More people like the girls I got to meet.
At the beginning, it felt like I was trespassing and found myself wondering how the reception would be towards me. While I have no qualms about existing in my space, it matters when you are regarded beyond your exterior. Much like that grey building haha! At the end of the day, everybody just wants to be accepted for who they are.
It gets tiring to be up in arms all day fending yourself against body shamers online and in real life.
I thought I might have to steel myself for some of that when I walked into the stage area. And sure, some of them probably went to check up on who their interviewer was. But the answers were genuine, with no sugar coating and over hyping.
Most of all, this introvert has found herself a few new friends in the process. Thats always a win in my books!
Chat soon folks!! All my love