A new book by a city-based visual artist features a collection of digital collages that use satire to explore the culture of body shaming in Indian society and media
A week ago, actor Fardeen Khan slammed trolls on social media after a photograph of the alarmingly podgy-looking actor went viral. There were jokes and memes posted across social platforms. At a time when beauty pageant winners and soap opera actresses seem cloned, 22-year-old Kritika Trehan, a graduate of Bengaluru’s Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, recently released Excess, a book that looks at the issue of body shaming through a collage of digital images and sarcasm. The visuals in the book are based on real stories of shaming experienced by urban women from ages 13-55, using comic-style formats and kitschy images to address the serious issue.
Iconic images like that of Madhubala from the epic Mughal-e-Azam, Smita Patil relishing an ice cream bar in an advertisement, ’80s superstars Jitendra, Rajesh Khanna, Sridevi and Jaya Prada in a poster or ones of the classic Air India airhostess’ in a print ad have been depicted with witty text to talk of people’s mindset. Excerpts from a chat with Trehan:
The Bollywood influence
Q. Was the idea for Excess inspired from a personal experience or something you saw?
A. The idea stemmed from a personal space, as I have been body shamed all my life. For instance, I was at a shop buying fabric with a friend who was skinnier than me. The shopkeeper had only 1 metre of the cloth left, and when asked how much it was for, he said it would be perfect for my friend and wouldn’t be enough to sew for me, as I was fat. He then laughed and said, ‘Yeh sab slim girls pe hi achcha lagta hai’. For some reason, I felt embarrassed and hurt. This was one of many incidents. Initially, the idea was to just work with my personal experiences but after speaking to different people, I wanted to ensure their stories are highlighted too.
Conversations that reflect a typical mindset
Q. How long did it take to put it together?
A. The entire project, including research, exploration and final execution, took three months. I spoke to women in the 13 to 55 age bracket; they were all people I either knew personally or had met once or twice. For my research, I mailed them a survey. I had also been reading Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth at the time. It had a huge impact on the project and provided as almost all my research material. This apart, I read about incidents that had occured in India and abroad.
Q. How did you choose and source the images?
A. Most of the imagery is from old Indian ads and Bollywood. I used a lot of images from Tumblr, but it took a lot of searching and I used a few images from secondhand books at bookstores. I depicted many stories, which were results of shaming by older men/women, which are mostly relatives or friends in Indian families. I wanted to depict this through the use of this kind of imagery. Even though I am 22, I have grown up listening to old Bollywood songs and looking at this kind of packaging and ads. The project had a lot to do with how one remembers something that happened years ago.
Images from Excess
Q. What was the biggest challenge?
A. It was difficult to effectively use satire to spell out what I wanted to. A lot of my initial iterations were not as direct as the ones I finally chose. Also, finding the images took the most amount of time. I didn’t end up using many images.
Q. What sort of impact are you expecting from Excess?
A. I don’t think one art project can change the entire face of body shaming overnight, but during the process of creating this book, I realised that I had stopped body shaming people as a defence mechanism. I aim to remove this ignorance that exists, to make people accept that body shaming is a problem and can be dealt with.
On the Fardeen Khan body shaming episode
I think due to the recent objectification of men in the media, it is definitely happening to men too.
I read something about Arjun Kapoor too. The balance is very skewed. Shaming men is not the solution to shaming women. Shaming is not okay, no matter what gender.
Excess will be available from June 10. Trehan has self-published the book and is taking pre-orders.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Cost: Rs 550