Back with her latest book, What's Up With Me?, actor Tisca Chopra opens up to Cosmo on all that she wants to tell young girls (and their fathers and male-friends) through her latest offering. She also talks about her own evolving relationship with her body and looks, the changes she wishes women would start demanding, and why women can be great drivers, too, among more.
Cosmo: Congratulations on your latest book. What made you work on What's Up With Me?
Tisca Chopra: “My editor/publisher Vidhi Bhargava came to me with this idea, of a book which was a letter from a mother to her daughter on puberty and growing up. But as we developed it further, it became far more inclusive. So we decided to drop the letter, and made it a book of me talking, in first person, to young girls about puberty and all things associated with it. Throughout, what attracted me to the whole concept was that we keep talking about gender equality, but are we actually doing about it? A candle-light march every time something horrible happens isn’t going to change much. It’s people’s mindset and cultural-orientation that needs to change.
With this book, I hope to start conversations between fathers and daughters, between male and female friends. So menstruation isn’t seen as a taboo, and can become part of everyday conversations, as normal. Even today, if you go to buy a packet of sanitary napkins, the chemist gives it wrapped in a paper. What is the embarrassment for? Young girls catch on to that shame and start feeling self-conscious about their periods. I wanted to talk about period-pride—to swing the stance from shame to pride…for the miracle that your body is. The book also provides the science behind menstruation and other growing-up phenomena—why our body changes, why our hormones are all over the place, why our breasts develop, etc. With knowledge and awareness, which I hope this books offers, they’ll be able to navigate the tide far better, and will have the power to question any senseless myths that are passed on to them.”
C: The book talks about puberty and all the angst associated with it. Tell us about some of those issues you had to face growing up?
TC: “In school, we’d have our physical training classes every Wednesday, and had to wear a white uniform that day. Inevitably, at least once a year, your periods would fall on a Wednesday. I remember being filled with dread in anticipation of that day! And we’d carry extra sanitary napkins, and if one ended up staining, all your girl-friends would walk behind you to cover you, and they’d pin up your skirt, etc. There was so much anxiety, that was totally unnecessary. We needed more sensitivity—like being allowed to wear our regular uniform if we got our periods that day. Perhaps school should start this period-pride idea, and be more sensitive to girls getting their periods, make it normal. It’s just periods, what the hell!”
C: From then to now, what are some stark changes that you have seen in youngsters in the course of your research for the book?
TC: “There has been a huge progress, at least in the urban areas. I haven’t had the chance to interact with the rural belts much in the last few years, but in the cities, I see a lot of change, for the better. My daughter is eight, and I see there is a very high BS-detector in her and her friends—you can’t give them any cr*p, they will never buy it and will have so many questions to ask. My generation was quite naïve at that age, but the young girls today are extremely intelligent, aware, and bright. And yet they have the innocence and curiosity that’s synonymous with that age. It’s beautiful to see that.
And it’s also great to see the world around becoming more sensitive. In my research for the book, I found there are so many brands making eco-friendly sanitary napkins, in various lengths and sizes, there are different kinds of bras available for different body types, there’s a whole range of innerwear for developing girls. We never had these kinds of choices. This makes not just parenting easier because you can make your daughters so much more comfortable in the physical sense, but also helps bridge that anxiety gap in young girls. ”
C: What are some of your wishes for the women of today—changes you’d like to see in the world for it to become a better place for them?
TC: “It has been far too comfortable for men, for far too long; and it has been far too uncomfortable for women, for far too long. So the change needs to arise from us, women. Men don’t need anything to change, it doesn’t inconvenience them and their lives are going on fine as they are—unless it’s a particularly woke man. So it’s crucial that women start demanding what they deserve, from pay parity, to representation in all aspects, to be seen, heard, and understood more in every way.”
C: What is the one thing you think women need to start believing in?
TC: “That they are good with numbers. I think women need to start taking charge of their own finances, and understand that they can be great at it. And that there’s no-one better at saving.”
C: And one thing they need to stop believing in?
TC: “When people tell them they can’t be good drivers. My sister is a national motorsport champion, and I have taken part in the Himalayan car rally myself. I am a driving enthusiast, and I drive really well—I can park in the tightest of spots! So don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t drive.”
C: One of the chapters in the book talks about the various changes young girls go through when they hit puberty—like breasts, body hair, acne—that often end up making them conscious of their bodies and looks in adulthood. What was your relationship with your body and looks when you were growing up?
TC: “Growing up, I was a chubby girl, and I was very conscious of it. So much so that, for the longest time, I felt I wasn’t attractive. And I had big breasts. Now they are proportional to my body, but that time, they weren’t. So I had started walking with a little bit of stoop. Later, someone told me it was perfectly fine, and that it doesn’t matter what size you or your breasts are, so long as you are fit. That’s when I slowly started working on myself—practised yoga and exercised—and became physically fit and also more accepting of myself. But I did have my fair share of trauma growing up as a plump, busty girl.”
C: And how has that relationship evolved over the years, with age and wisdom?
TC: “With time, one starts understanding the beauty is so much more than the physical appearance. In your body, things that truly signify beauty, and mean something, are your immunity, strength, and stamina. These are what you should aspire for, everything else is just cosmetic.”
C: And for all women struggling with confidence, or fearful of following their aspirations, what will your piece of advice be?
TC: “There is so much information available to you today, at your finger tips, with a good wifi connection. You have everything. So you can groom yourself to be an extraordinarily attractive person, whichever shape or size you may be. And there is nothing more attractive than self-confidence. So don’t hesitate to be yourself.”
C: There is also a mention of the need to have a strong support system, especially friends. How important do you think female bonds are in shaping fierce, fearless women?
TC: “They are everything and more! I am extremely close to my elder sisters, my mother and my mother-in-law. They are all strong, powerful women, with unbreakable wills. They are hardworking, determined women who have raised their families with confidence. I carry that with me, and I hope my daughter carries that with her. I don’t know any strong woman who doesn’t share a great bond with another strong woman in her life. And I have a good mix of both male and female friends, but my female friends are the mainstay of my life!”