Written by Srividya Manoharan.
Fashion, as seen through my eyes, has been a profound journey shaped by my early fascination with television. From my earliest memories, I was captivated by the glamorous attire of the women on TV, resembling the dolls I once cherished. I yearned to emulate their charm, leading me to discover a passion for dance while attempting to embody the idealized figures of the "it" girls I admired. However, amidst my efforts, I grappled with feelings of inadequacy—my hair lacked the desired straightness, and my lingering baby fat stood as a reminder that I could never resemble the flawless Poo from K3G.
Born in 2001, my formative years were dominated by the influence of Indian screen goddesses like Kareena Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai, and Priyanka Chopra. Yet, as a 12-year-old, the weight of societal expectations burdened me. Academic pressures loomed large, seeking validation became a constant quest, and the absence of paternal encouragement coupled with distressing episodes of fat shaming and bullying from peers and even educators darkened my adolescent years.
The societal emphasis on conforming to rigid beauty standards left me feeling inadequate, triggering a retreat from focusing on my appearance. This withdrawal, however, led to profound emotional distress, culminating in years of therapy to navigate through severe trauma and depression. Yet, amid this struggle, a realization dawned that my appearance would pale in significance over the course of time. What truly mattered was the impact I could make by striving for something significant, something revolutionary. Despite uncertainty, I was urged to embrace honesty in thoughts and feelings, and to express myself—be it through art, dance, or the written word.
In my quest to confront my insecurities, I uncovered a new avenue of expression—fashion. Garments, I discovered, were potent symbols of expression, reflecting diverse cultures and narratives. It struck me that I predominantly dressed in black, guided by perceptions that it flattered my skin tone and conveyed a slender silhouette. Yet, I failed to recognize the unintended alignment with mourning, a color intertwined with my darkest emotional phases.
This realization prompted a teenage rebellion against prescribed norms, urging me to reclaim happiness and confidence within my skin. Fashion became my battleground for self-assertion—I defied imposed color restrictions, embracing hues that resonated with my soul. Curiously, despite my disinterest in personal appearance, I had harbored a latent passion for fashion, idolizing figures like Blair Waldorf from 'Gossip Girl' and Miranda Priestly from 'The Devil Wears Prada' for their unapologetic authenticity and style. These icons epitomized the confidence I sought, inspiring me to embody my true self.
As I discarded others' opinions about my life and attire, a sense of contentment gradually settled within me. My love for journaling persisted, intertwined with an enduring fascination for fashion icons. Though I bore no resemblance to them, I embraced my inner beauty and gifts. I began seeing people beyond their exteriors, recognizing designers as creators and fashion as an art form that empowered models to showcase designers' masterpieces.
My admiration for the fashion industry burgeoned, acknowledging its trailblazers redefining norms and fostering inclusivity. While acknowledging existing imperfections, the industry had gradually embraced curly hair, fuller brows, diverse body shapes, darker skin tones, and natural features once deemed 'flaws' as new standards of beauty.
Motivated by a genuine admiration for beauty in its truest form, fashion to me symbolizes a protest—an assertion against societal norms and the very industry it thrives in. It serves as a beacon to reveal beauty in unexpected places, challenging outdated ideals. Fashion, as a profound manifestation of self-expression, empowers millions like me, defying antiquated rules dictated by ghosts of the past.