In a world of the ‘look at me’ culture and the pressure to look good, women fight a daily battle from mild narcissism to bordering on the obsessive. It is not only about what big labels you wear but more about if your body does justice to the brand you’ve donned. So, working out for a good body, today, means that you can wear what you want without the fear of being out of place. Also, the look needs to be accepted by peers, needs to be in vogue for that edge. Shweta Bhatia explores the minds of those who, for years now, have passed the pressure test
At a recent soiree, hosted by one of the city’s most glamorous socialite, I witnessed women exhibiting, what seemed to be, their own version of this year’s Fall collection. All of them dressed impeccably from head to toe, wearing figure hugging gowns and dresses that complemented their toned bodies. Hair and makeup designed perfectly to go with the look. Every one of them seemed to be in their best shape with no hint of cellulite or even an ounce of fat. I noticed, how most of them dodged the hor d’oeuvres floating around the room. I saw how one of them studied what was on the tray that was offered to her by a server and she almost went for it when suddenly she seemed to have, what looked like, an epiphany and shook her head, shooing away the man for doing his job. One woman called for a glass of hot water and lime and sipped on it all evening camouflaging it for a hard drink. All of a sudden, I felt like the elephant in the room. Literally.
What was it that these women were doing? Were they really this health conscious? Almost all of them were mothers and working professionals, where were they getting the time to look like that? Here I thought I would have had to work this hard to get a body like that. I was intrigued and shot some questions around.
Elham Afrand, 32, co-manages the customer service department at a home finance company. She practices a mix of yoga and cardio five times a week and allows her body to guide her into eating healthy nutritious wholesome foods. “Unfortunately, people do judge you based on the way you look,” Elham shares. “I was always on the heavier side in my teens and chose to lose weight to look good and fit in because I reached a point where I couldn’t handle people’s ugly remarks, the bullying in school and the stares. People are unconscious with the way they treat you when it’s based on looks, but it takes a toll and has a deep psychological impact if not made aware of it.” In order to fit the ‘norm’ Elham tried every weight loss diet and pill and suffered consequences. She lost 30 kilograms but in the race to ‘look good’, Elham lost almost all her energy and was close to going bald. It was then she had a complete paradigm shift to holistic eating and a lifestyle change. Today, she still continues to workout to keep fit but now looking good for her is internal work. “Feel good is just a state of mind and happiness.”
Lea Debian, a dietician with Cosme Surge, Dubai, strongly disapproves of crash diets and drastic measures. “Women may feel that starving themselves will make the process of weight loss faster and it will but they will be doing a long term damage in the future such as brittle bones, skin problems, hair loss and many more. Commit to a healthy diet that will give you energy for life and help you look and feel your best. Along with maintaining the exercise routine, it is extremely essential to eat healthy well balanced smaller meals throughout the day,” she advises.
Kamala Iyer, on the other hand, feels that pressure is self-induced. Kamala, 45, is the regional head of marketing for HSBC. Kamala lost about 20 kilograms after her pregnancy, as she hated herself for putting on all those pounds. “Looking good is very important to me, but as you grow older it becomes tougher to maintain, particularly your skin as it does not lie. I’ve although, reached a stage in my life where I am careful about the way I look, but don’t care if I’m judged only on that. I love to dress up and make that effort for myself only. I would never resist going to a party because I felt that I wasn’t looking good enough. It would be only if I was really tired. Along with carrying yourself, you also need to carry the right attitude no matter what shape you are in.”
Taha Elfeky, senior trainer at Platform 3 Dubai, has trained celebrities such as Chris Martin, shares that a lot of women come to him with a limited time frame to fit into an outfit for a party or a wedding they need to attend and will go to great lengths to do so. He condemns that. “Women are ready to work out twice- thrice a day to achieve their goal weight. I don’t encourage that at all coz at the same time they aren’t eating right. It would be like running a car on no fuel. Excess workout, without the right diet can do more harm than good. If you need to lose weight, you must eat right and workout the same amount. Also, sleep is another important factor. It helps replenish your body and mind keeping the muscles strong and energy intact.”
Mother of two, fashion designer of the brand ‘Chewing gum’ and owner of store ‘Vastra’ in the heart of Dubai, Anjali Chandiramani can give any model a run for her money. At 38, Anjali watches what she eats all the time. “I guess the only time I ate to my hearts content was when I was pregnant,” she confessed. She believes that looking good and being well dressed gives you an edge over the others. But that’s not the only formula. “I feel women need to be more accepting of themselves. The emphasis needs to be more on being healthy than to look good. In my profession I meet women who are very critical about themselves. I think we work very hard to stay healthy and look a certain way, but we really need to stop comparing ourselves to the airbrushed models in the magazines. Unfortunately judgment goes both ways. Slimmer people are judged for being vain and overweight people are judged for their lack of control, but if we can just accept ourselves for the way we are and feel confident of the personality we carry then happiness is all you feel and need.”
Dr Avinash D’souza, psychologist, deals with the woes of such women way too often. “I see many women who live with this insecurity of looking a certain way and they go on extensive beauty treatments as well as repeated cosmetic surgeries to get the perfect look, but the pressure only keeps rising. It is imperative that women accept their bodies are Gods gift and there is no shame if skin colour or looks differ. Trying to be different to be a part of a group is wrong and peers must accept one another without changes. Otherwise, from what I see, the increased stress to look a certain way results in severe anxiety and depression.
When all is said and done, it seems as if we are on the right track then. With a sigh of relief and learning my lessons on self confidence and right attitude, I signaled to the once shooed off server and helped myself to the delicious fried shrimp. “Will that be all?” he asked. “No,” I replied, “Can I have a glass of warm water with some lime in it please!”