It's a fact that we've been conditioned to perceive beauty from a one-dimensional lens—an exceedingly restrictive one that does nothing but jeopardise our ability to see beyond. It's not our fault. Think about the standards of beauty marketed to us every day. We're inundated by a bewildering number of air-brushed images featuring sought-after versions of the concept that aren't quite realistic to emulate, but it's only natural for us to attempt to adhere to this narrative and gravitate toward the most conventional iteration of beauty. It's because we derive our value from our ability to conform.
From matrimonial advertisements stricken with demands for a fair-skinned bride bedecking pages of the most renowned Indian newspapers to covers of internationally-recognised magazines promoting a certain kind of curve, dip, height, and weight through a series of handpicked models, we’re constantly encountering a recurring standard. And, for the longest time, we were replicating without questioning. That, though, is changing. We’re learning to assess beauty not through a reflection in a mirror anymore but through a reflection of our values, principles, compassion, beliefs, and ideals.
At BB, our work is driven by one principle that sets the foundation for all you see on our platform—diversity claims centre-stage and takes precedence over everything else. In our attempt at redefining beauty, we chanced upon a few individuals headlining this change and decided to speak to them to understand how they are expanding the scope of this lens and disregarding age-old norms to carve their niche.
We chose to kick-start this series with 23-year-old Raipur-hailing Riya Agrawal. Diagnosed with vitiligo at the age of three—a condition characterised by patches of discoloured skin on the body—Riya decided to acquaint the masses and dispel baseless myths associated with vitiligo through her presence on Instagram, “I've been educating myself about vitiligo for a while now. If I have enough knowledge about the condition, why shouldn't I put it to use?” she says.
From shunning today's standards of beauty, and understanding the realities of living with vitiligo to discussing our insecurities, here's everything I learned about this audacious trailblazer’s story.
- 01. On living with vitiligo
- 02. On insecurities she grappled with
- 03. On using Instagram to empower
- 04. On changes she’d like to see in media
- 05. On beauty transcending appearance
01. On living with vitiligo
We started off by discussing the nuances of the condition. “Vitiligo is unpredictable. It varies from person to person. There’s no standard form of the condition. It started as patches under my eyes and migrated to other parts of my body. At one point in time, I was almost white. And, eventually, the brown-ish patches resurfaced,” Riya explains to me. She says that the condition runs in her family as well, “The rate at which my parents’, as well as my brother’s skin, turned white was faster than mine. So it’s contingent on the body. I’m not sure what the condition is going to look like for me in the future either.”
02. On insecurities she grappled with
Because vitiligo runs in her family, Riya never quite perceived herself as different. The condition never occurred to her as ‘not normal’. “My parents never treated me differently because of vitiligo. They fed me information about the condition whenever it was required.”
She says that she didn’t feel insecure about vitiligo as a child, “You don’t pay much attention to the way you look as a child. You’re all about your friends. And I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by friends who didn’t bully me.” There were comments here and there, but she didn’t heed them.
As she evolved from a child to a teenager, there was a shift. She was introduced to the realities of society. She started noticing how people stared at her. And she realised that this condition wasn’t what they’d define as ‘normal’. She talks to me about the time she attended a college in her city temporarily, “A lot of students passed comments on my skin. You expect people to mature after school, right? You expect them to understand. That’s when I decided this had to change.” And there was no stopping her. A passionate advocate of self-love, Riya’s all about empowerment now. And her Instagram, flooded with everything vitiligo-related, testifies to that.
I wondered if she’d have felt the same had she been the first in her family to be diagnosed with the condition. Is acceptance from your loved ones an enabling step toward self-love? “I’m not sure if I’d have perceived the condition in the same way as I do now if that were the case. Your loved ones need to accept you and understand that there’s nothing wrong with you. These are the people you’re spending your everyday life with. If they’re not accepting of you, it’s relatively tougher for the rest of society to accept you. You know how one thought leads to progress, right? It works in the same way.”
03. On using Instagram to empower
There’s an acute lack of awareness about vitiligo in India. Riya decided to change that through her presence on the internet. “Even when my profile was private, I’d write about vitiligo, but that was just for my circle. My friends, though, empowered me to put myself out there. A majority of people don’t even know about the fundamentals of vitiligo, so I decided to make my profile public in May 2020 to address this lack of awareness and connect with more people like me. If you scroll through my profile, you’ll notice that I’ve covered all the basic questions about the condition; but I still receive the same questions on an everyday basis.”
The two of us agreed that sensitisation is crucial. Many people are curious—not ignorant or indifferent—and they just want to know more. And it’s commendable how Riya chooses to be that person for them. She says that the condition is a part of her as much as she is a part of it and credits her confidence to vitiligo.
04. On changes she’d like to see in media
I’m a 21-year-old writer with a degree in media communication, and I’ve spent a considerable portion of my time evaluating the portrayal of women in magazines, movies, advertisements, and sources alike. I was intrigued by what Riya thought of this portrayal and whether she had witnessed many changes in terms of representation, diversity, and inclusivity in the industry. “I think brands are working toward being more inclusive, but I hope they’re not doing it just for the sake of it.” She believes that it’s a general rule of thumb for everyone to imitate what works.
05. On beauty transcending appearance
There's a shift in the way we perceive beauty, and according to Riya, we can attribute this change to our generation. She sees beauty in our ability to accept ourselves. This acceptance transcends appearance. It triumphs over appearance. Your confidence, she reiterates, is your beauty.
Image Courtesy: @rhea_agrawal