Much ado about size zero
Shakuntala Rao

There has been much fuss over Kareena Kapoor’s weight loss
There has been much fuss over Kareena Kapoor’s weight loss

DOES anyone remember Rekha from her early hits of Ganga Ki Saugandh, Khoon Pasina and Aakraman? I do. As a precocious teenager, I enjoyed emulating Rekha’s scintillating dance numbers in front of my bedroom mirror, providing a good laugh for my parents and siblings. Rekha came across, in numerous Stardust and Filmfare photo shoots, as the quintessential Indian beauty but no size zero. The same goes for her contemporaries (and predecessors) like Hema Malini, Parveen Babi and Rakhee.

There has been much brouhaha about Kareena Kapoor after her appearance in the box-office washout Tashan, when she proclaimed herself as size zero and followed it with her wildly advertised stick thin figure on the cover of Vogue India magazine. Since then I have read innumerable blog postings and newspaper columns criticising Kapoor for her weight loss and emaciated look.

So, what’s the controversy? According to Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff, despite all of the feminist fuss over the beauty industry’s harmful effect on women, thin Hollywood (or Bollywood in Kapoor’s case) actresses are not responsible for anorexia or body image issues among women. She writes: "Obesity is on the rise worldwide among urban middle classes and there is no indication that the plethora of thin bodies in films and advertising is creating societies of thin people at all."

If there is any relationship between the weight of actresses and models and that of the average woman, it is in inverse proportion to what one would expect. While 1970s actresses and models were somewhat heavier than today’s, the average woman was thinner.

Despite assertions to the contrary, research does not support the idea that exposure to images of actresses and models make women insecure about themselves for any lengthy duration. For most women, actresses and beauties in fashion magazines are in a different league.

The extraordinary lengths women go to in pursuit of a slim figure appear to stop short of eating fewer calories or exercise, given the staggering rise of obesity among middle class Indian families and, especially, in children. In a recent study Dr. Anoop Misra the of All-India Institute of Medical Sciences found that 76 per cent of middle class women in Delhi are suffering from abdominal obesity, and there has been a 55 per cent increase in diabetes and heart disease among these women in the past 10 years.

Although Indian food was always high in calories, families now spend more than ever on eating out and buying processed food. "Over the last few years there has been extreme changes in diets, not just in Delhi and Mumbai but in smaller towns, too," says Dr. Misra. "People are snacking in new ways. Cola and burgers are becoming part of our daily menu."

If we are to believe health professionals like Misra, it is not Kareena Kapoor’s dress size we ought to be concerned with but the changes in our and our children’s lifestyle.