Submissions open for Wingword Poetry Prize 2020

In Conversation with Odeshni Kistan - A Plus Size Model

By Sristy Choudhury

A society that struggles with accepting people for who they are is a dangerous one. The hate gets tossed around and the cycle of suffering never seems to end. Your next door neigbour calls you ugly just out of the blue because you weigh 75 kilos and love to wear crop tops. He says it doesn’t suit you and you should stick to wearing clothes that are more suited for your body type. In simple terms he is saying that fat girls shouldn’t wear certain kind of clothing. You wonder if you missed the memo that was given to everyone about the right attire for the right body. In all honesty, the only reason he is spitting so much hate is because at his workplace his colleagues call him ‘chotu’, of course because he is short, and short people can easily withstand the Indian humour about looks. And the cycle of spitting venom continues. 

Women especially have to struggle so much more than men when it comes to body image. Newspapers, Magazines, Billboards, TV, Film is filled with skinny women. Big women are barely represented in media, and whenever they are, it is to play a comical character. And not to forget ‘How to Lose Weight’ and ‘How to Lose Belly Fat’ are the favourite topics of all health magazines that are promoted to women. What a shame to live in a society that dismisses everyone that doesn’t fit their narrow definition of ‘beauty’.

Why can’t we just accept each other and see the beauty in every shape and size? Chubby girls are just as okay as skinny girls, and short boys are just as okay as tall boys, there is no real problem here, the world isn’t collapsing. 

The only way we can change this kind of mentality is by accepting ourselves and staying true to our character. Body positivity is much needed in today’s day and age. And it is refreshing and inspiration to see someone who lives their true life, unencumbered by people’s judgement or negativity. 


Meet 23 year old Odeshni Kistan, a South African Indian plus size model and aspiring businesswoman. She shares her experience of growing up struggling with body image, and then finally coming to terms with herself, and loving every minute of it. She radiates confidence and through her journey she hopes to aspire other young people to accept themselves and become the person they are destined to be.  



Interview:

 

Tell us a bit about yourself: Personal details such as age, where you currently live, what you do, where you grew up, cultural background and a bit about your family. You can quote some instances from your early life that motivated you to be a strong willed individual

My name is Odeshni Kistan and I am 23 years old. I grew up in the Johannesburg region of South Africa and I am currently studying towards my BCom (Finance & Economics) degree. Coming from a small Indian family it’s in our ethnicity to believe that the wife has to take care of the household chores, including children. However, my mother has worked her whole life, sometimes being the only breadwinner in our family. Her work ethic and perseverance in, at times, her very tough financial situation has definitely been my biggest inspiration in leading a strong willed life. Her character is the driving force of all my goals and aspirations I hope to achieve one day. As an individual, like everyone else, I have obviously gone through personal experiences that shape who I am. Every day I constantly change and grow from the person I was yesterday.

 

The caption of one of your instagram images read " Once upon a time the world made me feel disgusting in my own skin" . Can you elaborate on those experiences and remarks that made you feel that way. 

“Once upon a time the world made me feel disgusting in my own skin” - this is something that we all feel on a daily basis and it’s not okay. I remember when was in high school, the pressure of constantly wanting to look a certain way used to eat me up inside. Entering high school I was not an insecure individual, I had an average amount of confidence that any 14 year old would have at that age but when I left high school I quickly realized that throughout those 5 years I became severely self-conscious and insecure. Don’t get me wrong, I was never outright bullied for my appearance, in fact I got along with most of the people at my school, but it was an instance as stupid as having a crush on a boy that would never look twice in my direction because of my weight. I wanted to change my appearance for him. I felt like I needed to change the way I looked so that I can become what he has been taught is “beautiful”. Because that’s what it is right?        

Society has taught us that “beauty” looks a specific way and it has a specific number on the scale. I to have fallen prey to that mind set. There would be certain days where I would try on a new pair of jeans and feel satisfied, while looking at myself in the mirror, but when I stood on a scale it reflected a number that society deemed unacceptable which meant I was not allowed to accept who I physically am. That constant limbo of acceptable and unacceptable was emotionally traumatic and going through adolescences didn’t make it any easier.

 

 You also mentioned that your friend convinced you to wear 'Crop Tops' although you were always hesitant because of your figure. What was the point where you let go the 'shame' around being plus-sized and embraced yourself fully? Also tell us about people who inspired you in this journey.

For me, the battle of accepting myself (body, mind and soul) is a chronic disease. Something that I treat every single day. I would be lying if I said that I always wake up feeling extremely confident and positive. At the end of the day, I am human and it is human nature to have days where the confidence level is low. Days where we feel like we want to change and it is completely okay to want to change something. But with me making a conscious effort, to work towards the change that I want for myself and not what society wants for me, I embrace who I am. I accept and acknowledge that this who I am today and I love myself for it. I hope that answers your question. As far as being inspired by others, I am someone who draws inspiration from situations. For example, society’s negative perspective on certain body shapes and structures inspires me to want to work harder to change that perspective. I also draw inspiration from certain individuals, where their experiences and struggles may not be similar to mine, but the tactics they used could also be applied to whatever I’m going through. These are individuals who make a difference for the people around the world and expect nothing in return, some famous like Mahatma Gandhi, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Malala Yousafzai. and some apart of my inner circle. 

 

 What advice would you give to others who are struggling with body image? Young girls and boys all over the world are bullied in classrooms, on social media, on streets even because of the way they look. As you mentioned in one of your posts "even being perfect comes with its 'ifs' and 'buts' ". How should one keep their minds strong around so much toxicity and judgement?

I think the biggest advice I could give anyone is to become more self-aware. With the world we live in, especially in the era of social media, it’s so easy to get caught up in someone else’s life, giving you the desire to look and live the way they do. But it’s your duty as an individual to give yourself happiness and love, and for that to happen you need to be completely aware of who you are. Its only then that you can make better choices. For example, whether or not you are going to let someone’s negativity affect you, or accepting yourself. When you accept who you are, your mindset starts to change in a more positive manner and you begin to accept and respect others for who they are. It’s not an easy road, you really have to go through some harsh things in order to reach the point of self-acceptance. But put in the work every day and persevere because self-acceptance is the beginning of self-love. 

 

 Where do you see yourself going with the new found confidence? Tell us about your ambitions, goals and dreams for the future in regards to personal and professional life. 

I would say all my goals are a reflection of personal and professional ambition. They are all linked. I have set so many goals which I wish to achieve in this lifetime, it would be impossible to list them all. Like I said before, every day I have a short term goal to work on myself and right now that’s my biggest objective. I don’t have the largest following on social media and that’s perfectly fine but my goals with my posts on social media is to inspire at least one person to try and improve their self-love. As far as business or profession is concerned I am in the process of launching my own company. I can’t talk too much about it but what I can tell you is that it will be operating in the fashion industry and it is a project that is very close to my heart. It will open various doors for me as a business woman and aspiring philanthropist. 





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