Sonakshi Sinha wants young women to know that there is a lot more to life than being skinny. “I want to tell them to stop putting so much pressure on themselves, to look a certain way,” she says. “I mean, if you want to look a particular way, go for it. But don’t obsess or beat yourself up over it... You are so much more than a number on a weighing scale or the size of your outfit. And in the larger scheme of things, these things—your weight, your looks—are trivial.”Coming from another celebrity, this advice might have sounded trite...rehashed, Internet advice masquerading as counsel. From Sonakshi, though, it comes from the experience of battling her own weight wars for years, standing up against a default view of how women’s bodies are *supposed* to look in cinema, and finally taking ownership of her body and her being.
We are chatting over a Skype call, and Sonakshi is wearing a black, off-shoulder top...and a delightful air of self-assuredness. I have on hand a list of somewhat personal questions—around her body, bullying, and self-esteem—and I am worried that she might deflect my probing queries (or worse, take offense). All doubts are quickly allayed because, as I soon discover, Sonakshi is past the point of awkward self-consciousness and carefully-weighed responses. Instead, her candour is the kind that brings joy to an interviewer.“You know, I was always an overweight child. I used to be 95 kilos in school,” Sonakshi tells me. “People bullied me, and the boys called me names... When you’re that young, you don’t understand why you are not being able to lose weight. You don’t know why you are made this way. And then you start blaming yourself for a lot of things. And that can really affect you... What matters is how quickly you can ignore it and bounce back.”
“Even as a young girl, I remember being very confident,” Sonakshi explains. “And if something bothered me or made me feel sad, I’d just go and play, and I would feel confident again. I never took the bullying to heart. And I didn’t let it bring me down because I’ve always known there’s much more to me than my weight or my size.”
Sonakshi tells me that she was “amazing at sports” and would participate in debates and theatre productions, all through school and college. “I could hold a conversation. I am well-spoken and well-educated...these are the things that really built me up, not how much I weighed.” She is quick to admit that she might have been luckier than many other girls who have spent their lives tending to the pockmarks left behind from years of fat-shaming and bullying. “I’m probably in the minority here... Because I have interacted with girls who have been through the same issues growing up, and their confidence was shattered.” A solid support system, Sonakshi will tell you, can make all the difference in the life of a young woman struggling with fluctuating self-esteem. For Sonakshi, her cheerleading squad was led by her father, Shatrughan Sinha. “My mom always kind of nagged me to lose weight, but I think she finally realised that the nagging wasn’t going anywhere,” Sonakshi says, laughing. “In fact, it was when she stopped nagging me that I decided to get fitter. My dad was always incredibly supportive, and he made it clear that it did not matter what I decide to do...he would always be there for me.”
“He said I didn’t have to be an actress if I didn’t want to,” she continues. “And I never wanted to. He was just happy to see me happy. Like, I enjoyed playing sports in school. I was the captain of most teams, and he was very proud of my achievements... My friends saw me as a team leader, so they were not judging me for my size or my weight. You know, when you excel at something or have someone to turn to, it’s easier to feel good about yourself. And that makes you realise that confidence doesn’t just come from the way you look.”
Sonakshi decided to lose weight at 20...on the brink of her first film. “I remember being 18 and taking up a gym membership...it was considered kinda cool to work out at a gym. But when I got on the treadmill, I couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds! I was huffing and puffing!” she says, shaking her head. “That’s when I decided to lose weight. Not because I wanted to be an actor, but because I knew it was needed.”Two years later, before her big Bollywood debut in Dabangg, Sonakshi had dropped a whopping 30 kilos. “It was a huge achievement for me,” she says. “And I was so proud of myself. But people were still talking about how much I weighed and how I looked! Eventually, I told myself that I wouldn’t let them bring me down because they had no idea what I had been through, how hard I had worked to get here. And, in the end, it really didn’t matter what they thought. They were not the ones in a big-ticket Bollywood film, I was!”
Creative Direction: Zunaili Malik; Photographs: Kussh Sinha