Aishwarya Rai is known as one of the most beautiful women in the world. She is a successful Bollywood star who found international fame because of those stunning good looks. However, her post-baby body has fans in India criticizing the 38-year-old star.
Aishwarya Rai gave birth to her first daughter in November of last year. Like many other mothers, she gained weight. But, even with her celebrity status, Rai has said that she is in no hurry to drop the pounds. She simply wants to enjoy motherhood.
Critics have not been so lenient.
One website posted a video entitled Aishwarya Rai's Shocking Weight Gain, documenting Rai's baby-body in photos, with elephant sound effects played in the background. The video has been shared more than 500,000 times, according to the Guardian.
Commenters poked fun at the once svelte Miss World 1994. She is a Bollywood actress and it is her duty to look good and fit, said one. She needs to learn from people like Victoria Beckham who are back to size zero weeks after their delivery, wrote another.
Some think that the backlash Aishwarya Rai has had to face in regard to her pregnancy weight gain sheds light on an overarching issue in Indian culture - the attitude towards women and motherhood.
There is a glorification of motherhood in India and Indian cinema, cinema professor Shohini Ghosh told the Guardian. But people are confused because they don't know whether to glorify Aishwarya in her new motherhood or lament that she is not looking like a runway model.
Ghosh said that India's beauty ideal is constantly shifting, but right now Western celebrities are the top paradigms.
The role models being held up are Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham, show-business columnist Shobhaa Dé told the Guardian. But our body frames are different - we have wider hips and curves - so this whole business of looking desperately skinny two weeks after giving birth is a western import.
Aishwarya is like a goddess. She is held up as the ideal of beauty and so there is an expectation on her to look perfect at all times, Dé added.
Rebecca Gelles of the SIT Graduate Institute explained the shift, in an essay entitled, Fair And Lovely: Standards of Beauty, Globalization, And the Modern Indian Woman as such:
India is a society undergoing a dramatic increase in its Westernization, partially caused by the opening up of its economy to international businesses, a step taken by the government in order to promote the growth and development of the Indian economy. This Westernization has not only affected what businesses operate in India, but many aspects of urban Indian culture, wrote Galles.
It might appear that Western society is more empowering for women than Indian society. In this, case, it might be assumed that adopting Western standards, for beauty, sexuality, or anything else, would be empowering for Indian women. This is a dangerous assumption, even if we take at face value the claim that women are by and large more liberated in Western society than in Indian society. For one thing, even if a society as a whole treats women better than another, this does not mean that each aspect of that society?s culture is more beneficial to women.
Of course, Aishwarya Rai is not the only actress to face such recoil. Western celebrities have faced harsh criticism during pregnancy as well.
Singer Jessica Simpson was lambasted after she posed naked and pregnant for the cover of Elle magazine. The 31-year-old first-time mom flaunted a rather large baby bump for the April issue of the fashion publication. Although she was once hailed as one of People's Most Beautiful Women in the World in 2011 and Maxim's Hottest Woman in 2004, critics were quick to voice some snarky feedback.
Thanks to Demi Moore showing off her naked pregnant a-- on Vanity Fair in 1991 and the technological advances of Photoshop, any knocked up celebrity trick thinks she can flash all her nooks and crannies on the cover of a magazine, quipped DListed blogger Michael K. Case in point: here's Jessica Simpson recreating 'the Demi' for Elle's April issue. Elle must have dulled all their Photoshop tools while touching this up, because Jessica's baby balloon in its current state would need 2 pages to show it in its complete glory.
Here's a pregnant Jessica Simpson posing nude for the April issue of Elle if posing nude means they de-jowled her head and slapped it on Demi Moore's body because it was cheaper than airbrushing out nacho cheese burns, wrote The Superficial.
Other arguments were a bit more refined, like the critique from the Dallas Observer that said: Why do we feel the need to sexualize expectant (and non-expectant) pop stars this way, and in the same exact pose as Demi Moore and Britney Spears, no less. Have we not evolved past that? Why are women with some level of success forever relegated to the same cliché poses?
Even morning talk show hosts joined in on the joke.
Remember the time that Jessica Simpson was criticized because she didn't know the difference between chicken and tuna? That kind of thing is more fun to criticize than the fact that the girl is fat, said Joy Behar of The View.
Simpson will now reportedly be able to profit off her weight gain. In December, Entertainment Weekly reported that Simpson signed a $3 million deal with Weight Watchers. The blonde country crooner will join other celebrity moms Mariah Carey and Jessica Hudson who act as weight loss program spokespersons. Since Simpson's weight gain and pregnancy diet have been popular topic of conversation, her weight loss will take center stage in the months after Maxwell Drew's birth.
Aishwarya Rai and Jessica Simpson are just two of numerous celebrities around the world known more for their good looks than their talents. Rai is an icon in Indian culture because of her beauty. If those who look up to her observe a fading of that beauty, a shift in perception may occur.
She is an icon because of her extreme beauty, novelist Kishwar Desai told the Guardian, and also because she has broken through to the international market and that means a lot to Indians.
The timing is right for us to start learning to accept women with a few more curves and appreciate that gorgeous women do age, said Desai. But the question is would Aishwarya want to age gracefully in front of us and will we let her?