The world of glamour remains an enigma to most of us. However, women who have been insiders to the industry say there is a very unglamorous side to their professions, which often goes unmentioned. The first panel discussion at Women Writer’s Festival Mumbai 2019 was called “Behind the Glamour.” Freelance film journalist Karishma Upadhyay was in discussion with Nidhi Chaphekar, Sushmita Mukherjee and Manjima Bhattachrjya on the challenges the industry poses for women in it.

Misconceptions about the Fashion Industry

Manjima Bhattachrjya who is a researcher, writer and activist said that it is a common misconception that “there is no labour involved in modelling and that a model’s life is often an extension of dressing-up.” She shared that a lot of models she interacted with during the writing of her book shared with her that they struggle to explain to their families the actual labour that goes in their jobs.

“It takes a toll to look fresh as a flower and in building their own brand. And the body labour which is hardly spoken about,” she added.

With the spotlight on them the common perception that they are at the centre of everything but the reality is that models are only on the fringe and their opinions are often not taken seriously. Every journey may not be a rag to riches story, but it is a story of achieving financial independence.

Sushmita Mukherjee who has spent over three decades in the film and TV industry agrees that misconceptions about the profession do exist. A common misconception about the women in the industry  is, “We are amoral, and we have to do a lot of things to get there,” she said.

Further, Mukherjee said people often look at them with a sense of envy and think that they are wildly rich.

She talked about the pressures of her job and she shares how she had to do 19 scenes in one day.

Karishma Upadhyay asked Nidhi Chaphekar about the challenges women faced in the aviation industry. Nidhi, who has been the face of the Brussels bomb blast, feels over the years the industry has grown bigger, so have the demands of the job which people are unaware of. She said, “We have to go through a lot of training and they are rigorous.” Further, she added, “In uniform, we are so restricted, yes, it is glamorous but it is not like a 9 to 5 job.”

She recalls how once when her son had a severe eye injury she was in Hong Kong and she couldn’t leave her duty and come back immediately.

On Stigma associated with the profession

Manjima said, “Stigma is a very big part of the modelling industry. And people in the industry often feel it very strongly in their personal relationships. We live in a society where visibility is always stigmatized among the middle class. Often, if you are in the limelight it is not ok.”

“Stigma exists for all women who go out to work.” -Manjima

She shared an anecdote how a model revealed to her that her boyfriend was not comfortable with a tagline of an advertisement she had signed up for. It was her mother and sisters who were more supportive of her decision. Manjima further added, “Stigma exists for all women who go out to work.”

Pressure to look perfect:

Karishma Upadhyay asked Sushmita how they deal with the pressure to look perfect and if the same pressure exited and for men in the industry.

Sushmita said, “Being perfect is often about what other people think is perfect. We need to be perfect for ourselves.” Today, a lot of youngsters want to climb up the ladder quickly and this she believes is leading to a lot of sickness. She added that men in the industry go through the same pressure.

Beauty is about who you are. – Sushmita

Manjima feels the demands of what is a perfect body has changed over the years. She spoke about how in earlier days “dusky complexion” was not considered suitable for modelling. But she shared that a present-day model once revealed to her that she puts bronzer on her body every time she needs to step out, as her agency wanted it. However, she believes that the internet has been a great enabler for the younger generation today as with the help of social media sites like Instagram they are able to reveal who they really are.

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