The unbearable weightiness of being 'perfect'

The unbearable weightiness of being 'perfect'

How much weight is too much?

That is the question which is raging across India.

The woman caught in the middle of the fierce storm is former Miss World and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai.

Rai, who is married to actor Abhishek Bachchan, became a mother to a baby girl six months ago.

Ever since, fans, media and netizens have all weighed in on why she isn't losing all the pounds she piled on during pregnancy.

In a country where millions survive on less than a dollar a day, the obsession with how celebrities look has garnered international attention, the Times of India reported.

The image that sparked the storm showed Rai in the back of a car on her way to a party being thrown for the United Nations' (UN) secretary-general Ban Ki Moon.

Mr Ban is believed to have asked her to be the global face of the UN's Save the Girl Child campaign.

The Indian media, though, latched onto the fact that she looked like a 38-year-old woman who had recently given birth.

One website posted a video, complete with elephant-trumpeting sound effects, titled "Aishwarya Rai's shocking weight gain", which has been seen more than 500,000 times.

Many in India are asking whether the actress, often referred to as the most beautiful woman in the world, and who occupies a place in Indian popular culture, has an obligation to her fans to lose weight.

Showbusiness columnist Shobhaa De told Sydney Morning Herald: "She is held up as the ideal of beauty and so there is an expectation on her to look perfect at all times.

But she added: "The role models being held up are Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham. But our body frames are different - we have wider hips and curves - so this whole business of looking desperately skinny two weeks after giving birth is a Western import."

Rai's weight gain has also brought into focus Bollywood's attitude towards women and motherhood.

"There is a glorification of motherhood in India and Indian cinema," said cinema professor Shohini Ghosh.

"But people are confused because they don't know whether to glorify Aishwarya in her new motherhood or lament that she is not looking like a runway model."

But doctors support Rai's style of motherhood, the Times of India reported.

Said Dr Amrit Shaluja, gynaecologist and obstetrician: "From a nutritional point of view, it's not healthy for a lactating mother to go on a strict diet immediately after childbirth because you need to nurse the child.

"Ash is nursing her baby, so she is eating well. Hence, the weight gain. It's absolutely normal."

Rai is set to appear at the Cannes film festival in France, and fans back home are watching for how the world media will react to her weight gain.

Novelist Kishwar Desai told the Sydney Morning Herald: "She is an icon because of her extreme beauty, and also because she has broken through to the international market and that means a lot to Indians."

Rai's appearance at Cannes could, then, be an important cultural moment.

Said Mrs De: "It could be a turning point in making us stop and review the absurd expectations we have of our female celebrities."

Added Ms Desai: "The timing is right for us to start learning to accept women with a few more curves and appreciate that gorgeous women do age.

"But the question is would Aishwarya want to age gracefully in front of us and will we let her?"

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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