To understand how we reached a culture of model-worship it is important to understand how advertising works, and there's no better place to look for answers than John Berger's Ways of Seeing
. The noted art critic and writer is perhaps best known for this seminal work (a TV series available on YouTube for those willing to be initiated) in which he deconstructs cultural aesthetics thereby challenging perception. In speaking of glamour as an industrial construct he says, "Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion."
It's only after I talk to Krithika that I realise what Berger means by this, and how manipulative images can be. Krithika is a radiant presence around the room, yes, but she is also just a girl like you and me. She has just wrapped up her last solo shot when she walks into the room, all smiles and energy. "This was such fun," she gushes, "This was my first lingerie shoot and I'm so glad Taras (the photographer) kept telling me to look strong, not sexy." This was further amplified when the stylist put her in a pair of trousers. "I always feel my strongest when I'm wearing pants," she tells me.
Now a easily recognisible face, Krithika Iyer has had humble beginnings. Her south Indian genes give her a gorgeous skin tone and covetable facial features but she seems wholly unaware of it. She has been the face of numerous fashion labels, modeled for editorials in the top fashion magazines and has made her foray into commercials. But Krithika is so much more than just a pretty face. For instance, she has a degree in law. She is also a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and is presently preparing for her theatre debut. Clearly, she is someone who loves to be on her feet, and her energy is contagious. "I'm really excited about the play I'm going to be in," she tells me and I don't want to interrupt her by telling her that the excitement is obvious, "I've been re-writting the script in my own words (at the director's suggestion) to get into the skin of the character." To me, this is a curious exercise so I ask her how she does it. "I go into a shoot or a rehearsal as a blank canvas," she answers.
But in this shoot, Krithika is not a blank canvas, she is the strong role model we wanted to shoot. "My biggest strength is my earnestness," she tells me when I ask, "That and my curiosity about everything keep me going." It's difficult to believe that someone as articulate and level-headed as Krithika ever grew up with insecurities. Make no mistakes, though, she hasn't had it easy. She was bullied for her unconventional looks and her skin tone. While her family were supportive, she admits to having a brief phase when she snuck into the bathroom to apply fairness creams, hoping to get fairer. The low-point came to her when she was fourteen. "I overheard the most popular girl in high school tell the rest that I had a face only a mother would love," she says,
"I remember running to the bathroom in tears and trying to slather fairness cream all over my face but then I stopped. I realised this is who I am and I can't change it. I reached a point of acceptance."
Today, she has banked on her distinct features and uniqueness to pave her career as a model and an actress. "The way you look is who you are," she says, "It is a you identity, it is you
and the best thing you can do is make your peace with it." As women, we are constantly subjected to ideas of perfection. This distorts the way we perceive ourselves. It is about time we move on from constantly judging and policing ourselves and those around us. "We need to accept ourselves and the women around us first," Krithika says, "Only when women accept other women will men start accepting women and subsequently other men. We might finally have shot at gender equality then."