Akshaya Navaneethan, who broke every stereotype associated with a woman’s beauty, is an inspiration to many.
“She has a pretty face, but why can’t she tone down a bit and lose those extra kilos, which might be the reason why she is not getting a good marriage proposal? Who cares if she puts on as much weight after getting married and having kids, because after marriage no one cares if a woman is still beautiful?” says society. Beauty and size, despite being two independent entities, have remained interwoven from time immemorial. Then there is ‘hair’. When beauty is the topic of discussion, how can one forget about the hair? For a woman to be attractive, long, black and thick hair is a must.
Though studies say that in the Indian context, a woman’s beauty was never associated with being skinny or fair, such arguments remain only on paper. The popular notion about being attractive is what society believes in. However, here is a woman who chose to row against the tides. Akshaya Navaneethan, bravely came forward and broke every stereotype associated with a woman’s beauty when the entire society, including her parents decided to go with the flow.
Akshaya, who hails from Chennai, is a fashion designer by profession. She is also a blogger, plus-size model and anchors various shows as well. What makes her unique is her strong determination to reach out to other women and motivate them to accept their ‘fat’ bodies and feel beautiful and positive, which, she says, will automatically give a woman a charming personality that will become their key to success. A content and confident Akshaya says, “I consider each and every achievement of mine as a feather in my cap during the journey of self-admiration that I started a couple of years ago. After being sad and morally down for many years due to the bullying in school, college and society regarding my weight, I realised one day that it is my life that I am ruining. None of those people who bullied me would help me come out of the mental trauma that I was facing. Only I could help myself and I, therefore, started taking things in the opposite way. I started accepting my body in whichever size it was because I knew that it was also due to the hormonal imbalance my body was going through. My concern shifted to feeling good and being positive. Though staying fit has always been my priority, I have never wished or tried to cut down sizes and become skinny. I started following the mantra that beauty is the way one feels about herself.”
One of the recent attempts this curvy beauty made was to help cancer survivors for which she shaved her head and donated the hair. Going bald was the recent big decision that Akshaya took without worrying about the number of questions she will have to face from her family and society, the greatest hindrance being her caste. “Being a member of a Hindu Brahmin family, my customs never allowed me to shave my head as it is said that women of our community could only possibly shave their heads if their husband or parents passed away. My decision to donate hair for cancer survivors was never a problem, but when I said that I wanted to go bald, my grandmother was extremely unhappy and adamant that I don’t break the customs. Even my parents were not happy with me. However, I didn’t want any emotion to make my moral go down and though I respect their feelings to the core, I was sure that I was not wrong. I strongly believe that if I am on a mission to promote anything good then I should be the first one to practise it and become the example for others,” she says, adding that the idea of going bald has been on her mind for two years now, but it was after some research that she finally decided to donate hair to cancer survivors.
For the past six months, Akshaya has been trying to rejuvenate her damaged hair so that she could donate a healthy and natural looking hair. “It was not like getting rid of a baggage. When you donate something it should be nice and worth using,” she says. She has been ever since receiving a massive feedback from people down South India and other parts of India. One of her TikTok videos shows her taking off her wig and it received four million views. Akshaya says that she received a number of phone calls and messages appreciating her decision. She adds that she has also motivated many to donate their hair. She couldn’t believe it when many people in Chennai and Mumbai, other than her friends, also shaved their heads or cut short their long hair and donated it to cancer survivors. “In an era when people are extremely conscious about their looks and are opting for numerous treatments that include injections, consuming steroids, and even going for hair transplant, I just wanted to show them that opportunities look for talents and not the looks.”
Akshaya, who was rejected by a channel for being plus size, says that her focus is on motivating mothers who have gained weight after pregnancy and plus-size teenagers who have hormone-related imbalances. She tells them not to get disheartened by rejections and that opportunities are plenty. “It’s just that you need to feel confident and beautiful. The rest will follow,” she opines. She has also been receiving many offers for photo shoots which, she says, is a sign of acceptance for her bald and curvy look. Akshaya recently did a photo shoot with Playboy magazine’s photographer L. Ramachandran. She also organises various workshops and one-on-one sessions with curvy women wherein she discusses their problems and help them find solutions.
Akshaya, who has succeeded in changing her family’s perspective that going bald against customs will not make her suffer God’s wrath, is on a journey to bring about the same change in society as well.