“I don’t understand what being ‘unapologetically yourself‘ means, to be very honest,” says Sakshi Sindwani, when I ask her about the tag that’s most associated with her as a full-figured model and content creator online, “Why should anyone be apologetic about who they are as a person? I’m not doing any of this with the intention of being ‘unapologetically me’, I’m doing it because that’s just who I am. I think this stems from the fact that a lot of people don’t expect big girls to be confident. It’s always expected that big girls always need to be conscious of how they look and behave. That’s exactly the kind of stereotype that I’m trying to break, but I don’t want to label it as anything.”
Sindwani unwittingly became one of the top crusaders for body positivity in the country when she was scouted as a model for Lakmé Fashion Week in 2019, with an audition story that seems straight out of a movie. “I didn’t even go to the audition to, well, audition! I was there to cover the event as a small-time blogger, in return for a few shopping coupons! Rina Dhaka saw me in the Media row and she asked me why I wasn’t auditioning. When I told her that I wasn’t there as a potential model, she insisted I do and I ended up being the showstopper for a show. I didn’t even know what a ‘showstopper’ even meant at that time!”
The fashion influencer then went on to walk the runway for designers Shivan & Narresh as the first full-figured model to walk in a swimsuit at India Fashion Week. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I say this to everyone that I was always made for the ramp, I just didn’t know it! I never had training in modelling, nor did I have any idea how to be in front of a camera or media. It all came very naturally to me. It was all good feedback. Seeing that kind of support meant the world to me and I can’t even put it into words. I didn’t anticipate it, to be very honest.”
Sindwani also walked for multiple designers, including Shantanu and Nikhil and Manish Malhotra, at Lakmé Fashion Week this year. “I feel like the whole five days were such huge highlights for me. I’ve been a fashion student and to work with all these designers who I’ve been looking up to, it meant a lot to the young girl who never thought she would be represented in this industry. It felt like an out-of-body experience.”
Sindwani also counts the fact that she got to meet many of her followers in person as a top highlight from the event, “ I only got famous during the pandemic, when only virtual events were happening. So seeing how many people actually recognised me in person and having them tell me that they’re huge fans of my work was something I wasn’t prepared for,” she says, “There were times when I actually needed people to get me out of the crowd! The fact that it was a fashion event where all these people were already following a lot of digital creators and they actually recognised and appreciated my work was like magic.”
The influencer acknowledges that this places a huge, unasked for, responsibility on her shoulders, “When I started my journey as a model, I was one of the first plus size models of the country. But now there were three other plus size models who were there as a part of the pool. I was specially asked to be a part of the shows this time, I wasn’t just a part of the regular line up,” she says, “To see that designers were open to take on another plus size girl eliminated any chances of it just being there for tokenism. It meant a lot to me that they hired a plus size model when they already had plus sized models walking for them.”
This amount of pressure, to be almost a pioneer in the industry where representation of diverse sizes is still scant, would be hard to handle, especially knowing that this is not something ‘regular’ sized creators have to even think about. Sindwani doesn’t fully agree with that, “There’s a general pressure to kind of stay relevant because that kind of comes with the territory of being on social media. You have to constantly think of ways to reinvent yourself to keep it fresh. So that’s the pressure I feel as a content creator. As far as being a role model goes, I feel more of a responsibility than pressure, and it acts more as a motivational force for me,” she says, adding, “When I come across people telling me that I’ve made a difference for them, it makes me realise that I’ve only done 1% of what I’m supposed to do, there’s still a long way to go.”
I wonder out loud if this was something that she originally set off to do, or did becoming the face of body positivity on the Internet came organically. “I always knew that there would be girls like myself who were in need of representation in this industry, who were done being overlooked. So I knew that I would get support from them, but I also knew it was a small niche, in comparison to other creators who have ‘standard bodies’. Because whatever people might say, it was still uncomfortable for them to see bigger bodies and just accept them as is,” she says, “We’ve been conditioned to think beautiful bodies are of a particular size or proportion, so to break that kind of stereotype, to change that entire belief system of what is considered beautiful, was always going to be a challenge. I knew a lot of people wouldn’t find me attractive because of my size and this mattered a lot because we’re a part of the glamour industry, because you always have to be aware of how you’re looking, how the clothes are looking on you, so I’ll be foolish to say that it never mattered to me.”
“But I wanted to change the perception of what’s considered, or accepted, as beautiful and create a new narrative. I knew it would take time to do this and I think I’m still in the process of achieving this. The bigger the community I build, the more impactful the change I want to bring can be, so the hustle to get more people into the community never ends. I knew I would get hate comments and be bullied for the way I look. But I expected more hate, but fortunately I’ve faced more positivity than negativity.”
But it’s inevitable, as a content creator, to be completely immune to the hatred and negativity of online trolls in this day and age. The anonymity provided by the Internet allows people to say the most heinous and offensive things to people that they wouldn’t dare to otherwise. Sindwani, too, faces her fair share of haters online, but has a unique way of looking at them.
“I started my series called ‘Breaking Fashion Stereotypes’ because of a hate comment,” she admits, laughing, “I remember I was having a really bad day and I came across a really absurd comment on the lines of ‘You shouldn’t be wearing crop tops’ and they commented on how bad my stomach looks in it. I just laughed and it made me think, how did a piece of cloth come to be reserved for just one body type? I decided to create a series where I would take these presumptions and hate comments and wear them to show how amazing they look. It got so much love and it became one of the most successful series on my page.”
With every post and video, the influencer proves that she is one of the best role models we have right now. She might not like being called ‘unapologetic’ but she has been responsible for making a lot of people feel unapologetic about their supposed flaws and be more themselves.
In the end, she concludes the conversation with a solid hack for becoming more confident in your own self. “You need to stop being in your head. Half the time we’re more critical about ourselves, than other people are about us,” she says, “If you can’t find that confidence or positivity inside you, then you have to start faking it till you make it. It won’t take much time before that just becomes who you are. It happened to me as I pretended I was confident when in reality I was just an insecure child, and it soon became my reality.”
Are you taking notes, children?