In a country like India that sets its beauty standards based on an unrealistic portrayal of women in Bollywood and as seen on social media, it really comes as no surprise that 9 out of 10 women here don’t feel like they are beautiful enough. Having idolised lead actresses with the ‘perfect’ body, a woman’s education, personal growth and professional achievements are sidelined, especially when it is time for her to get married.

According to a recent Dove report, 94% of women in India have been asked to work on their appearance, especially to improve their marriage prospects, while 79% feel that they will be rejected if they are not slim/tall/fair enough. This leads to more and more women dealing with low self-esteem and severe anxiety issues.

Plus size model Neha Parulkar on Dove StopTheBeautyTest campaign

For micro-influencer and plus-size model Neha Parulkar, the narrative hasn’t been any different. Having struggled with PCOS and hormonal imbalance, which led to weight gain, constant criticism and mean comments have been a part of her life since childhood.

“Even if you find a guy, he’ll dump you for someone hotter (slimmer)!”

“You should consider marrying a wrestler.”

These were just some of the many comments that came Neha’s way when growing up. But it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she realised how deeply ingrained these beauty standards are. “When I was a teenager, boys my age only wanted to date girls who were conventionally pretty and didn’t care about the kind of person they really were. This really broke my morale to a great extent,” she says.

Plus size model Neha Parulkar on Dove StopTheBeautyTest campaign

Fast-forward to a few years later, when Neha’s parents desperately tried to find her a groom, the barrage of negative comments continued to come her way. “This was when my family started passing all sorts of comments and asked me to lose some weight if I ever really wanted to find a ‘decent guy’. They would say things like, ‘Isko toh bohot mushkil hoga ladkha dhundne mein. Ek toh itni lambi hai upar se moti bhi’ [It will be really difficult to find a guy for her. She’s not just really tall but overweight too]. Sadly, while her parents initially ignored the comments, they did succumb to societal pressure eventually. Needless to say, this proved to be a challenging time for her. “I used to be constantly angry with the entire idea of arranged marriages,” she recalls.

Plus size model Neha Parulkar on Dove StopTheBeautyTest campaign

But today, having learnt her lessons the hard way, Neha is finally confident enough to call out these trolls and has found a way to love her body just the way it is. “Growing up, I tried everything to please society, and in doing so, I even lost some weight. But even then, people weren’t satisfied and kept asking me to lose just a little bit more. That’s when I realised there is absolutely no end to this and decided that I would rather just feel good and beautiful for myself because that’s what is really important at the end of the day.” And we totally agree with her on this one.

Plus size model Neha Parulkar on Dove StopTheBeautyTest campaign

Neha believes that it’s high time women are absolved of this duty to look a certain way in order to find a suitable groom. “I really think that Dove’s #StopTheBeautyTest is taking us one step closer to this. It’s just wrong to judge or criticise a person simply based on how they look.” So true, girl.

The narrow perception of beauty, which is so keenly sought-after in the entire arranged marriage set-up, is what Dove hopes to break with its #StopTheBeautyTest campaign.

Every girl is beautiful, irrespective of what size she wears or the colour of her skin, and she deserves to feel nothing but love and acceptance at every stage. If you agree with us, read all about the campaign here and share your story with us on Instagram by tagging @bebeautiful_india and use the hashtags #StopTheBeautyTest #DoveIndia.

All images courtesy: @nehaparulkar