Dating in Singapore: Rahat Kapur talks to three plus-size women on body positivity, love, and relationships
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Oh hey there guys, I didn't see you in the midst of my deep inner breakdown in Week 4375735 of self-isolation.
But now that you're here, good to chat! For this week's column, I wanted to shake things up a bit. As fun as it is to hear my tales of trials and tribulations when it comes to romance or lack thereof, my piece last week on Shaadi.com ignited an unprecedented amount of conversations in my DMs, Facebook Messenger and friendly group chats, about beauty standards and experiences when it comes to love. As some of you may have read in last week's piece, when I was navigating through and reviewing the popular Indian matrimonial website, I came across a number of pit stops whereby my aesthetic and physical features became such a point of contention that it was sometimes hard not to feel like I was entering the Miss Universe pageant and not the matchmaking business. And many of you were shocked, moved and pushed to discuss more about this topic and so am I.
Growing up as a woman, in an Indian society, albeit in Australia, I've never been a stranger to the unsavoury pressure we face to adhere to a certain 'ideal look'. Yes, societal pressure to look perfect is rampant across all cultures and media, but the South-Asian mentality around weight, complexion, height, and skin is omnipresent in such a pervasive manner, that it almost becomes impossible to not find it utterly invasive. Girls are lamented from a young age to watch our weight, mind our skin, rub endless fairness creams on our faces and oil our hair so we look ideal and prepped like the perfect turkey for a Thanksgiving dinner. Mind you, the same is not so true at all for boys. Our obsession as a community with achieving the holy trinity of 'tall, slim and wheatish complexion' is at the best of times unforgiving and at the worst damaging, leading young women to feel purposeless if they don't fit the mould (a mould largely made to be adhered to for the purposes of marriage: the ultimate goal). And whilst the body positivity moment has come a long way and we have many more outlets of expression than ever before, it can be hard to let go of these internalised and conditioned thoughts, even when we really want to.
That's why this week, I wanted to shift the narrative around body, love, and complexion and speak candidly to three fellow South-Asian plus-size women, each with their own diverse backgrounds and lives, about their experiences with love, life, race and of course, their size. Each an influencer in her own right, they are bound together by their passion to be unafraid of fronting the wave of change, becoming the faces of body positivity in their local communities in Singapore and they're not afraid to tell it like it is.
Meet this week's interviewees: Aarti, Rani and Ratna.
Aarti Olivia Dubey
Aarti is amongst Singapore's first-ever body-acceptance influencers. In addition to her work around weight acceptance, Aarti on her popular Instagram channel and blog (@curvesbecomeher) is a huge proponent for those living with chronic conditions and disabilities, as well as LGBTQI acceptance, having experienced both facets herself. Aarti is unafraid to put on her best bikini and be raw and real with her audiences, amassing her a following of over 30,000 loyal fans.
Rani Dhaschainey and Ratna Devi Manokaran
It's easy to mistake these two bright and gracious women as sisters, because they're really best friends. Running one of Singapore's top plus-sized clothing stores (@thecurvecult) Rani and Ratna are plus-sized, brown, and proud of it, with over 24,000 followers across Facebook and Instagram combined. They not only sell beautiful clothes to curvy girls locally, but also inspire and lead challenging conversations around body acceptance and embracing darker skin tones. Their efforts are well-known through Singapore.
Buro.: Thank you so much for speaking to me this week on the topics of race, body and love. I know it's a controversial trio, so I appreciate it. Can I start by checking in on the marital status of all three of you?
A: I'm married.
Rani: Happily single.
Ratna: Single AF. Haha.
B: Can you please describe your individual experiences with plus-size dating in five words?
A: Insightful, hella fat-phobic and double standards.
Rani: Fat-shaming, fetishising, exhausting, unpromising, disappointing.
Ratna: Good, bad, but mostly bad.
B: I'm sensing a real theme here. Do you think that you have less options when it comes to men (or women) for plus-size women in the dating world and in Singapore?
A: Yes, for sure.
Rani: DEFINITELY! Being fat is synonymous with being unattractive in this part of the world.
Ratna: Definitely. I think that in this region most guys seem to be ashamed to be seen out with plus-size women. Many of them may actually be attracted to plus-size or fat women, but they may not want to be seen in public with them and that creates a unique dilemma.
B: Have you ever felt your curves have been the reason why someone hasn't or wouldn't date you?
A: OH YES.
Rani: So many times. I know that because of my size or body, I'm immediately not their 'type'.
Ratna: For sure. I think the difference is the fact that I am ok with being a fat woman. Maybe if I was trying to lose weight, that might be more acceptable and open up more options because I remember getting requests from guys who wanted to train with me in the past when I was in that mindset, but now that I am comfortable in my own body, it seems like something they can't comprehend. Like how can anyone be plus-size and happy? How?!
B: So agreeing that your pool of options feels smaller, do you think your dating lives would be better or happier if you weren't plus-size or if you lost weight?
A: Solid no. Happiness isn't defined by size, it's defined by mind.
Rani: More people would be interested in me for sure, so I'd probably be busier. But I can't say I'd definitely be happier because I don't see people liking me only when and if I'm smaller, as some cause for celebration.
Ratna: Nah. I think it would make dating slightly easier in the sense I may have more options, but that doesn't mean that it would make it better. It's the lingering stigma and shame that people have against larger women that makes the experience so uncomfortable.
B: What is the one thing you wish people knew about plus-size women when it comes to relationships?
A: We like to be treated with respect, tenderness, passion, and love like any other woman. We don't want to be treated like we are inferior, because we are not. Nor do we want to be fetishised.
Rani: It may or may not surprise people to know that, just like 'other' women, we too are perfectly capable of being in emotionally- and sexually-fulfilling relationships!
Ratna: I agree with Aarti and Rani. I guess there's this line between where people look at you as a normal person or as a fetish. We're in this constant battle where we just want to be looked at like nothing is wrong with us and nothing needs to be fixed. We want to be loved and accepted just like everyone else, for who we are.
B: The inevitable question, are you attracted to plus-size men or women yourselves?
A: Very much so.
Rani: I'm attracted to men full stop and their size does not matter to me, so yes I am attracted to plus-size people.
Ratna: Yes, I'm attracted to both plus-size men and women.
B: What is the biggest myth about dating plus-size women that really annoys you?
A: That we are eager to please, easy to bed and grateful for any attention that comes our way. It's as if people think we don't have self-respect or do not deserve it because of our fatness. The two things are not mutually exclusive.
Rani: You can't have a pleasurable sex with plus-size or fat women. Who told you that?
Ratna: For me, I hear a lot about the sexualisation of plus-size women and the fetishisation, like we said before. A lot of the men either want to fetishise and label us under the guise of things like 'real women have curves', thinking they're singling us out in a complimentary way or they don't even want to look at us. And that is the issue. Where is the in-between?
B: What is one thing plus-size women can do to start being more confident in the dating world?
A: Unpack their own internalised bias of their bodies, because it starts from there. Then? Have lots of fun with plus-size fashion and embrace all the parts of themselves people didn't think were worthy of love — physical or not.
Rani: Starting to look inwards for all the validation you need. For me, this has been life-changing. Ever since I embarked on my body positivity and fat acceptance journey with my body and mind, I've found it's completely transformed the way I view myself for the better.
Ratna: Learn about yourself, get to know what you like and don't like in a person. So when the right or wrong person comes along, you are aware of this. And stand your ground always.
B: How does being a woman of colour and plus-size affect your experience? Is it different than if you weren't brown according to you?
A: In Singapore and the region, for sure my 'brownness' and size have affected my experience. If I was Chinese or Eurasian, I feel it would be a totally different story. Also, Eurocentric standards of beauty unfortunately still dominate quite a few regions, so it's hard to break those perceptions overnight.
Rani: Honestly, when I date outside of the brown community, I end up getting classified as exotic and curvy, which really seems like a fetish and that makes me nauseated.
B: And lastly, to wrap things up, what's a piece of advice you'd give to plus-size women dating online?
A: Don't lower your standards and don't fall for empty sweet talk! You're worth much more.
Rani: Embrace your body and the way you look. That way you can truly stand in your power and not hand over the reins for anyone else to hurt you.
Ratna: Have an open mind you never know who you'll end up meeting. There's this thing I used to do after talking to a guy I would say but are you sure you're ok with me? Do not second guess yourself and give someone else the power to assert their opinion or ideas of what they want to see of you!
I have to admit, listening to the women share their thoughts and stories, I certainly felt a sense of relation but not surprise. To hear that so many of us as women experience and endure the same challenges is troubling, but in a way, it's also enlightening. However, what is truly amazing, is that so many of us experience the same challenges, which means the wave of change here is inevitable, and eventually will and can shift the dial not just on plus-size beauty ideals, but the standards of what is deemed attractive in general. The truth is, we can strive to be the healthiest versions of ourselves physically all day every day and I encourage you to do so, but what good is it if our minds are still stuck in the destruction? So this week, I leave the column a little more open-minded and a little more privy to being kind to those around me. Weight, disability, disease, size, hair, height may change but what will always remain is our ability to impart love and understanding. And I'm body positive about that.
Till next week!