The fitness space — across running, yoga, the gym and nutrition, has become one where this comfort is apparent.
Keeping one’s head down while doing push-ups is advised. I tend to lift mine up from time to time and turn it sideways as well. The surrounding greenery and flora in the midst of the parks I work-out in, provides a strange encouragement and is pleasant to the eye. In a recent session, girly giggles were building up in the background. My curiosity found its answer in the next head-raise when one of two girls ran across from left to right and back the same way. The other filmed her on the phone. They soon shouted “boomerang”, as a justification of both their prancing up and down and the fact that they’d successfully managed to operate the ‘boomerang’ function provided by social networking platform Instagram — that lets users shoot videos that loop back and forth when completed, almost always followed with loud laughter when viewed. I didn’t ask (upon getting up), but am sure this was their next Instagram post.
The Facebook owned photo/video sharing social platform (Instagram) has been booming over the last few years as a space where women across the country have found comfort to express themselves on. While models and well-known public figures are no strangers to it, these are ‘regular’ women. Beyond the largely popular pictures and posts about life, experiences, fun (or dull) moments, food, travel, issue-specific material and simply well-shot pictures of the Bandra-Worli Sea-link, is a celebration of ‘body-positivity’ — the current term raging globally as a sort of insurance cover against those extra kilos (if you have them), encouraging people to embrace their body-type and get comfortable in their own skin rather than chase the ‘ideal’ body. Hence, skin is all over!
While many may debate that posing for pictures in what the individual considers fit (less, more or bare) is an age old custom that taps into the extrovert in both genders, what makes it interesting in India is that the variety in outlook towards women (in specific) showing skin (even in the most aesthetic sense) is as mixed up as the variety of women showing it. A growing ‘tribe’, however, is paying no heed to anything other than their own comfort.
The fitness space — across running, yoga, the gym and nutrition, has become one where this comfort is apparent. The other is just straight up ‘sexy’ posting. Both are huge globally, but (add another T and examples open up) in India the aspect of finally finding a safe place to ‘be’ as one wants is mostly the driving factor. “What is the worst that can happen?” Yogasini, (the Instagram profile name of a fitness, travel and lifestyle Instagram blogger I spoke to), questions. “some people will comment on my post saying that I am doing a yogasana wearing short shorts and a sports bra to gain attention and followers? Some may send me negative messages in my inbox? I can delete them, block them or ignore them.” The fact that reactions to a post, negative or positive, remain in the virtual space with the creator of the page in the seat of control, is liberating. Unless personally put up by the user, no viewer has access to email, phone number or address. Yogasini’s page is a curation of videos (with a link to her yo
utube channel on tips across fitness, bikini styles and beauty) and pictures of her in poses and attire ranging from stretching on the beach in swimwear, to standing by a Hyundai in a dress. The accompanying text below the picture can playfully urge the viewer to keep their “eyes up here, boy” if cleavage is in abundance, and start a debate on the choice of remaining single in ones 30s to accompany a series of solo shots with hair tossed back, expressing freedom. In the last three years since her page has been active, she has been posting seven days a week and has received a mix of encouragement, praise and negativity from both genders. The only thing that gets to her is moral policing. “That is when I give it back hard to people and make it clear that their reactions won’t change my choice to be as I choose to be”, a feeling resonated by ‘Meheronfire’ who will “put up pictures in my undergarments if I feel like it that day”. What accompanies those pictures is a wonderfully written phrase about conquering self-doubt and staying true to intention. A gaze around her page makes it clear that teaching yoga asanas, fitness routines and dealing with issues like sweet cravings in attire she “genuinely works out in” and not “just for attention”, is her intention. The line “the question isn’t who is going to let me. It is who is going to stop me” in the bio write up of ‘browngirl.in’ (a blogger with a variety of pictures) sums up this mass comfort with skin and the trend of variety posting, where a picture considered ‘hot’ by a benchmark set by the comments posted, can be followed by one with ‘hubby’ in it and yet another hugging ‘mum’ on ‘mothers day’.
While some practising runners, gym enthusiasts and yoga practitioners have taken to the platform as an outlet to share their skill-set and embrace body positivity by wearing what they define as comfortable, many (across age groups) simply love to pose. Period. No specific skill-set to share. No qualms either. No elaborate accompanying text other than ‘Hey’. Yet, they have a following running into thousands and lakhs. This is where the second aspect to this — ‘collaboration’, opens up.
A common practice for brands across fashion, food, and possibly the entire retail and lifestyle industry, is to find ‘influencers’ on Instagram who can pose with and integrate the brands products into their individual page, in the hope that the individual’s large following of people will purchase them. Either a fee is paid or products are given free to the influencer, depending on the arrangement. This is the bite-sized explanation of the rather complex world of social media influencing, of which many of the new wave of posers want a bite. ‘DM For Collaborations’ (an invitation to directly message someone in their Instagram inbox) on many liberated profiles, supports that. “it is not so much about the number of followers one has, as it is about the quality of engagement on the person’s page. If someone has a following of lakhs and poses with just about any product wearing whatever the brand asks them to, brands who want their products to be visible to a mass audience (whoever that audience may be) will approach such individuals. But the more boutique brands search for women where the product completely fits in with who they are and what they naturally wear, as that is when genuine interest and conversations around the product start on their page, even if they have just a few thousand followers”, Elisha Saigal, Founder & CEO El Sol Strategic Consultants, tells me as she prepares to connect a niche jewellery brand with one of the few Indian yoginis on Instagram who does yoga wearing jewellery. “it will blend in seamlessly with her aesthetic approach to even the most sensual poses”.
It clearly comes down to the ‘eye’ of the beholder (and the wiring behind it). “I live in Faridabad and get stares and comments at times when I’m out on a road-run, even though I wear full length tights.” I can resonate with Fityogini_runner. I get them too (not the comments but a full body check out) when I wear my short shorts and hit the road for a run, even though I’m male. I usually smile back with “hello”. In a country where greeting passers-by is not a norm, the fiercest looking men melt. It’s just a body after all.
Reshil Charles is a Web and TV producer, presenter and writer who tracks trends