Today, Parineeti Chopra surfaced on my Facebook timeline, built THAT way. I would be lying if I said that the little voice in my head - which also demands crumb fried chicken the size of Australia for dinner every day - didn't whimper, 'Et tu Parineeti?'. There she was in tiny work out pants, landing punches on a boxing bag, pushing a tyre nearly as tall as her, pulling what looks like ropes, arching her leg so that her foot touched her raised arm - activities that my muscles would like to believe are as avoidable as Salman Khan in an SUV.
"Leave the average behind," Chopra exhorted, crouching on heels that look like they couldn't take the weight of a mosquito, forget a fully-grown woman. She is in a high-waisted bikini bottom in this picture, her left leg stretched out as she squats on the ground - a posture I don't see myself recovering from without a couple of drinks and muscle relaxers.
I duly rolled my eyes at the suggestion that not being super fit was 'average' and hence undesirable. And the idea that a real 'challenge' is one that earns you a mid-riff that doesn't crumple up to resemble a rack of burritos when you sit. And then it struck me - why am I wading through Chopra's pictures and its accompanying messages, feeling slightly disappointed? Firstly, it's her body. She can spend nine months, or her lifetime if she chooses to, to make it look lean and fit. And those messages with her pictures--'challenge the difficult', 'rise repeat'--are perfectly in line with not just fitness brands, but even sportswear brands. A Nike says, 'Just do it' and Adidas advised 'impossible is nothing' for the longest time.
Chopra's fitness 'mantra', therefore, is neither exceptional nor shocking. In fact, messages such as hers stare down at you from billboards and gymnasium signboards, and pop up regularly as sponsored posts on your Facebook page and Twitter timelines. When was the last time, they actually disappointed you? Own up to it--never. Because you were mostly comfortable with the choice you have made for your life and body, and the popular, fashion magazine endorsed idea of the perfect didn't manage to excite some of us enough.
In fact, in personal spaces, our ideas of the 'perfect'--intellectual and physical--are not remotely homogenous, much like the idea of a 'perfect' cup of tea. Then why did Parineeti Chopra--who made choice for her own body and publicised it like celebrities are wont to--strike a discordant note in our politics that favours pragmatism over the ideal at most times?
The answer perhaps lies in our hypocrisy. Your, mine and of those bunch of people who scrambled on to Facebook to comment that she didn't need to lose weight, or how in losing weight and toning up, she has caused much heartburn. We are disappointed because we have, unfairly, burdened her with the responsibility of being our body image icon. We, without really considering her agency or her right to choose, have conveniently stereotyped her as the 'real' woman in Bollywood, as opposed to the waif-like heroines, who in our scheme of things are unreal photoshop wonders.
"Mam..we want to see u acting..U r quite a good actor..Why don't u stick with that...I guess toned body is not compulsory for good acting..U worked hard building such physic.. Hopefully will see u soon in some good movies," said a 'fan' on one of her pictures.
Another one commented, " (sic) was liking you looking like a real woman...yes we work out, but we are human to.....and someone like me who struggles with an auto immune disease its hard to retain my body weight...but good for you that you lost it, was just really proud to see bollywood represent real looking women tho."
"Parineeti has a weight loss campaign now. That everyone should spend lakhs to lose weight all the while claiming to be happy in their skins?," sighed someone on Twitter.
And soon there was a deluge of comments bawling for the 'real' Parineeti to be back. Only, the real Parineeti was right there before our eyes--being a fitness ninja on her Facebook page. What we were actually yearning for, was our idea of what Parineeti should be like. It's like she had just vacated the 'body hero' slot in our imaginary famous-people-like- us world, and we were miffed that she did so without any warning. Did she sign up to be there in the first place? No.
If Chopra indeed has be faulted for something, perhaps it has to be on her choice of copywriters, who didn't bother to look beyond 'come-to-my-gym' rule book while captioning the pictures.
Also, by moaning that she has is no more 'real', aren't we enforcing the same dubious body stereotypes that we set out to bust with her success? Her body, her choice, remember?
If we really want to split hairs, we may point a finger at her Facebook post where she says, "THIS IS MY BODY and I'm proud of it! Took me 9 months to look this way. But I'm still work in progress!! Will look better with time." The last sentence comes dangerously close to declaring that her body as we saw it in the past was not good enough and she wants to 'better it'. However, that will be that--splitting hair.
If we are going to claim ourselves as true body image liberals, the least we can do is cut Parineeti Chopra some slack. If washboard abs are neither an achievement nor of any importance in your life, so be it. But don't fret over someone else's right to get them or flaunt them. Especially when she is not dissing your choice.
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