Anorexia is Not Beautiful

 (sanjay austa austa)

(A few years ago I was asked by The Times of India to write a piece about the sort of woman I find beautiful as a photographer. I wrote the article below which was published in TOI sunday edition, Dec 2006. True to form The Times trivialized it all  by misquoting me in the headline “I love fat voluptuous women,”  says  Sanjay Austa!!) 


When I got into  photography one of the excitements of the job was  shooting beautiful women. Ah beautiful women! Women who had never been too far from the realm of my  imagination. My  first crush in school. My  first date in college. The beauty  across the street. But when the lights were all angled and ready, the camera positioned and focused, it was not this imaginary beauty  that stepped into the frame. It was a strange creature from a strange world.

Yes she was a model. A professional fashion model at that. All 180 cms of her . “A sizzling beauty”, as the spike-haired designer hissed. Her body had  launched prestigious brands, had sashayed down the ramp for famous designers, and had been the envy of every teenage girl in the neighborhood.  But was she beautiful?  I looked at her standing against the backdrop , all flesh and bones, sunken cheeks, bony  knees and matchstick legs. A sort of person you would see at the starvation camps in Somalia. My  first thought  was someone  please give her some  food. And lots and lots of it.

Where was the sensual swelling of the hips, the roundness and ripeness of form, the crests and the troughs, the slopes and the curves.?  Instead what I saw in front of me was a telephone pole on legs. A scrawny strait-jacketed form that held no challenge nor mystery.

I believe Indian women are beautiful. And they are beautiful the way they are and the way they have been down the ages- unapologetically full-bodied and far from the curse of anorexia. But unfortunately, the aesthetics of the female body are often determined by a clique in the fashion industry. The designers, the fashion photographers, and the fashion editors.   People whose measure of success is usually how accurately they can replicate the western notion of beauty.

And alas the perfectly beautiful Indian woman is whittled down until she resembles the western stereotype.  She is then no longer a woman but a certain body-type. A particular measurement of the waist. Reduced to a statistic that is at best a western notion suited best to western women. To say that a piece of cloth looks best only when worn by a Kate Moss clone is the death of imagination.

Indian women are genetically not the skinny-variety. Thank god for that. For show me a Indian man who thinks an anorexic female is attractive  and I will show you a liar. Before the beauty gurus hijacked this aesthetic space deciding for us  who is beautiful and who is not,  we had people like  Raja Ravi Verma and  Amrita Shergill. .  These artists also represented Indian women in their works but you never saw  an emaciated, hollow-cheeked female in their paintings unless the painting was about starvation, deprivation, want and death. If you go further back,  you have the nameless sculptors striving eras in our history. They all celebrated the full-hipped Indian woman.

Even Prabuddha Dagupta, the celebrated photographer  couldn’t escape the curse of the cliché. “Women” his much talked about book of nudes was touted a ‘tribute to Indian women’. But sorry Prabudda, there was not a single  Indian woman in your book. You could just as well have hired a spindly fashion model from the ramps of Milan and we wouldn’t have had a clue.

I am not making a case for fat women. No. Not in the least. But for normal healthy women with the proper body mass index. Women we see in our markets, our offices, our clubs , our  dreams. Its time we appreciate their beauty for what its worth.

p.s. I am of-course referring to anorexia as a psycho-social condition more specifically its promotion in and by the  Indian fashion industry.  This is not a piece about those suffering from  anorexic due to any health reasons or genetics.

19 Responses to “Anorexia is Not Beautiful”

  1. Esther says:

    Hi Sanjay!
    I should thank you for writing this article, I have some personal experience with anorexia. I completely agree with you that Indian women are so beautiful, and its even better hearing this coming from a man. I think sometimes as women we don’t give ourselves enough credit for being the way we fact we keep looking for flaws! Perhaps we should stop looking in the mirror so much…
    I’ve come to realise that inner beauty is far more important and lasting, this is something I’ve learned and am still learning.
    Thanks again for this. 🙂

  2. sanjay says:

    Esther.. Thanks for your comment. Im gald you won your battle with anorexia 🙂

  3. nirupama says:

    hi sanjay…. i love the way you have written this article.. i have never faced anorexia.. but i sure feel that fit is important.. and fat is not a taboo!
    excellent writing..

  4. sanjay austa says:

    Thanks Nirupama. I agree 🙂

  5. Leena says:

    Maybe its time to show a mirror to the hundreds of girls who want to be photocopies of the photoshopped images seen on magazine covers and billboards

  6. Parul says:

    Hi Sanjay,

    A very well engineered articulation of the body hassels of Women! I am happy to encounter people like you who still appreciate a normal Indian lady than a ‘Size Zero’ fantasy prototype. Let us all ladies commit that we also love to be in a structure in which we have seen our fittest mothers, sisters, aunts etc (of course the bulginess is not being publicised here!) A proportinate weight and height is what makes us look attractive. But the clear winner here is our beautiful heart, culture and values imbibed in us throughout our childhood. I grossly believe in the indianism we possess, be it physical or psychological. We Rock!!


    • sanjay austa says:

      Parul i am glad you liked what i wrote. However i am not advocating `Indianess’ in anyway. Unfortunately i don’t share an overtly nationalistic ideology. I was just making a case against anorexia in the fashion industry. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Rajat Jamwal says:

    Thats wonderfully written.

  8. Shibani says:


    Anorexia is a disease, or a condition. Much like Obesity. Would you write an essay called ‘Obesity is Ugly’? Many people who are anorexic (or bulimic, that’s even more painful) don’t wish to be so. Agreed, it is often brought about by the kind of misguided body image expectation that you are writing against, but I feel that you’re alienating your most relevant audience with your title. I know you’re using ‘anorexic’ just as an adjective, but we should pay heed to the thousands of normal women who fall prey to the expectations of friends, lovers, employers and even parents, and BECOME anorexic – i.e., UNABLE to eat and drink like a normal person.
    I agree with your essay, but please change the title. Anorexia is unfortunate.
    your otherwise fan,

    • sanjay austa says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree Anorexia is a disease or a condition. But unfortunately unlike obesity not many people think it is a disease or a condition. The article was more specifically about the fashion industry and how they encourage anorexia. In the fashion world anorexia is not considered a disease. It is a choice models make to remain in the business. The audience of the article is more specifically the fashion fraternity and the article was in fact published in a fashion supplement of The Times.
      The article is certainly not about women genetically anorexic. It is perhaps against the idea of Anorexia as a `cool’ condition to be in. But yes it certainly about the `thousands of normal women who fall prey to the expectations of friends, lovers, employers and parents’. Its tells them not to fall prey to this overweening peer / parental/societal pressure. That don’ t `become’ anorexic because of others expectations of you and please eat and drink like a normal person. Anorexia is unfortunate only if you are genetically inclined that way and are unable to get out of it. But it is very ugly as a fashion statement. And hence the title.

  9. xelocin says:

    Enlightening article. Sad that younger and younger girls fall prey to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia. It’s essential to know how fatal these disorders are and how many models actually die due to self starvation.

  10. AJ says:

    Lovely read and a very relevant article Sanjay. It is indeed sad but true that a trickle effect exists in that, we see really thin women being projected as the ultimate beauty and the idea gets ingrained in our minds too. Gradually we start hating the way we look and end up as victims of such disorders.

  11. Bipasha says:

    Hi Sanjay,

    This was a nice read. I used to be very thin and now that I am nearing my thirties I am pleasantly plump (I like calling myself that) and believe me I am happier now. I look nice, my skin glows and I am not bothered if my waist size is 29 and not 24 inches. I am a prettier woman today. There are times when references are made that I should lose weight and I reply that you wouldn’t have said so if you see my thin pictures. 🙂 And, yes who would want to sleep with a bag of bones and get poked. Bones do come in the way 😛

  12. Nimitha Shetty says:

    Hey Thankyou but IM A VICTIM! Im an Indian,174cms tall,From my childhood all (family,parents,sisters)started calling me names like- Fatty,fatso,fatttt…… even though I was of a medium size but I started feeling Im really fat like people tell…,and IT STARTED!!! I started Fasting(water fast) ,I only drank water!all day I dreamt about food but never ate!I started lying to my parents that I ate…. I started Fasting and My Periods stopped,Hair stopped growing and it looked dead,My back bone started paining,my ribs started hurting,I couldn’t walk properly and my voice changed,My bowel movements stopped,I only urinated…… I was an excellent student but now? Im flunking…. no memory… All I want to say is PLEASE GIRLS AND BOYS STOP wanting to look skinny!!If they call you fat its thier problem let they Love the way you are or tell them to GET LIFE
    I’m in a worst situation…I was Happy before but Now? I look like worster than a skeleton….Im 17 and it all started 6months back… I will die any day…who knows? Due to kidney failure or heart attack! LOVE THE WAY YOU ARE ,never change for others.

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