plus sized Indian lass from Singapore,
who champions fat body positivity and intersectional feminism. Also an advocate for mental health, living with chronic illness, chronic pain and invisible disabilities. Does chat about a variety of other important topics from time to time.
this post is long overdue and while I can simply explain that away by saying Life Happens, I do believe that I have been distracted for a few years. Instagram makes it easier to access people and I was swayed by that for quite a while. But something was always missing. Most people might say, blogs are obsolete and hardly anyone reads them anymore but I do not let that stop me from writing today. This is where I started in 2012 and this is where I will continue my advocacy, despite the easiness of other social media platforms.
So what has changed since I last updated the blog? Let’s see. Since my ACL surgery in 2017, I debated constantly with quitting altogether. But there is much work to be done and I find myself unable to quit. I started out wanting to embrace fashion as a plus sized person and as time went on I realised that I was always an activist but did not know it. So I tried to make the best of both worlds and I still am.
Fashion has definitely taken the back burner because of factors like finances and disability. I live with the motto : I am doing the best I can with what I have.
I now speak openly about finally embracing Disability and I will discuss it more in this space. I also speak in great detail about the multiple chronic conditions that have ailed me for years, since I was a child and the ones that crept up over the years. My LGBTQ identity is definitely something I speak of as well.
The body positive movement is now an umbrella term that gets divided into various subsections. When CBH was spoken into existence, the movement was something I could completely identify with because it was created by queer fat women of colour. Plus size folk of colour were gradually ousted from the movement and we advocate within the space of fat acceptance, fat positivity. I reclaimed the word FAT quite a while ago and if that unnerves you, this might no longer be a conducive space for you.
My pets are now senior pets and we lost our beloved cat Bindi 2 weeks ago. The loss is overwhelming and knowing that my remaining 3 babies will leave us eventually breaks my heart but I endeavour to focus only on being the best pet mom for as long as we have them.
As someone who struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia for most of her life and with chronic depression and social anxiety, mental health care and advocacy is of utmost importance. I may stumble and be vulnerable but I try to stay strong while soft.
So here is a new introduction to who I am :
Hi, I am Aarti Olivia Dubey. I am a Singaporean Indian fat body positive activist. I have been a feminist before I knew what that even meant. I live with multiple chronic conditions and invisible disability. I am the B in the LGBTQ rainbow. I embrace all of these identifiers and advocate for marginalised communities. I try to be kind but I take no shit. I am an aspiring writer, a Dream I have had all my life. I love fashion and occasionally play dress up. I cannot ignore Bullying and speak up against it. My three absolute favs in life are : Matcha Latte, Meditating and Swimming. I live to laugh and love to live although living is hard. I hope you will be here with me as I figure out how to be a proper activist, human being and a decent writer.
On Monday the 25th we found out who would be crowned 2019’s Ms V Supreme, and it was down to these three finalists – Aarthi, Haleema and Devika. I got to interview the girls before the semi finals and you can check out their interviews Here.
The girls made some time for me over the weekend and we got chatting on Instagram Live.
Aside from the fun banter during the chats I asked them 3 pertinent questions:
How are you feeling this close to the grand finale?
How do you think you have grown from the beginning of the show until now?
What expectations do you have going into the finale?
So let’s check out what they had to say!
“I am definitely very nervous. We’re all prepping for it, we’re just going to give it our best shot! We were in rehearsal this afternoon and the entire group of girls have come together for group rehearsals as well!”
“There has been so much growth! First off, I have brushed up on my Tamil – I learnt Chinese in school – and I love that I get to embrace my roots. Definitely have developed more confidence and I am able to speak my mind with less hesitation”
“Of course my biggest expectation is to win the competition! I have been working very hard from Day 1 plus the sacrifices I have made, would make my winning this much more satisfying.”
“My growth has been tremendous! I came into the competition only with experience with hosting but through the tasks given on the show, have tried my hand at acting, doing the catwalk, dancing – among other things – so it has really helped me grow. It’s not simply about proficiency in Tamil and being well spoken. ”
” It is an honour to share the stage with Aarthi and Devika. I cannot wait to slay the stage on the finale with them!”
“I just want to give it my best, without disappointing myself. Coming this far means a lot to me, the stakes are really high. Honest talk: I’m feeling unwell with a migraine so I am trying my best to stay motivated and not let it bother my frame of mind too much. Hoping to get some time tomorrow to prepare even more for the Finals”
“I’m feeling oddly calm and I guess it’s because most of the competition has already been done and I am just going to do my best for the last lap. I had my freak out moment 3 weeks ago! Now that it is closer to the date and I have an idea of what’s in store for the finals, it doesn’t feel as scary. Also, doing this with Aarthi and Haleema helps – we’re in the same boat!”
“I have gained so much more than exposure from this. I have gained a sisterhood, friendships and perspective. It has been wonderful. This has made me a better person, helping me to evaluate the way I thought about myself, about competing and learning to be more open about my thoughts with my fellow contestants. As an advocate for sexual violence awareness, it emphasised that I need to practice what I preached”
“Much like what Haleema said, I expect myself to do my best. It has been quite the journey, having come this far. It is a privilege and responsibility to be in the Finals and to honour that, I just want to do the best that I can!”
Before we knew it, the weekend passed in a blur and Monday arrived, with so much excitement in the air!
I started off the day with a morning visit to meet the finalists in person, while they were rehearsing their respective skits for the evening with the rest of the Ms V Supreme family – former contestants who gamely joined the finale to help the finalists during their final tasks for the competition. That too, in front of a live audience for the first time!
After completing a quick live video to see how Aarthi, Devika and Haleema were faring, I took a gander at the main stage of the programme.
All recharged for the evening, I got ready and headed back to MediaCorp studios to meet the finalists again and interview the judges.
This time round, the anxiety was palpable with the girls. They were in the midst of getting their hair and makeup done, it was unusually quieter than their usual banter. The reality of being so close to being crowned was setting in. The other contestants were there in support and anticipation as well and they were dressed up to be part of the skits the three finalists had prepared.
During my interview with the judges Indra, Bharathi and Udaya, I asked them how their expectations differ today in comparison to the very beginning of the competition as well as what the audience watching from home should come to expect.
Unanimously, they expressed a great amount of hope and excitement for the girls, who have been preparing and working so hard for Ms V over the past 6 months. Which ties in to what the audience were to expect – a culmination of the finalists’ hard work showcased in the final tasks before announcing the winner of the show.
As we took our seats for the finale, I watched supporters of the three finalists get prepared to showcase their banners in support of their loved one. Their friends and family were there giving their full support.
We were hyped up before the show started with some help from local tv host and actor Elamaran Jr who definitely helped diffuse any tension by making us laugh the entire time, while briefing us on ‘live tv show audience etiquette’.
Lights, Camera, Action and the show began once the girls stood on stage! After the re-introduction of the girls and the host of the show Jaynesh entered the foray, we were treated to the individual acting skits by the finalists that included former contestants. That was followed by the judges comments on how they fared in the task.
Next up was a talent round that took me by surprise :O
Aarthi started off with singing in both Tamil & Chinese followed by Devika performing ventriloquism and Haleema performing a stand up comedy set. Totally unexpected and very refreshing.
Since this was a live tv show, I was surprised with how quickly time passed, how time was allocated for ad breaks and for prep in between the tasks like changing props on set etc.
To say it was nerve wrecking to wait for Jaynesh to announce the winner at the end would be quite the understatement. Friends and family of the finalists were making it known who they wanted to wear the crown.
I felt so much emotion because I knew how badly each of these girls wanted to prove their might in the competition:
Aarthi, the unassuming and young ingenue who worked through finessing her Tamil and growing into a young star…
Haleema, discovering that while hosting was a no-brainer for her thanks to her experience in the field, was adept at other aspects of what it took to win
Devika, who entered the show with no expectations to begin with, the gumption and amazing dance abilities to showcase as a bonafide personality ..
Tears of joy from beloved supporters in the crowd as Devika was crowned winner! A well deserved win for a woman with so much passion, dedication to her craft and enthusiasm!
And while Aarthi and Haleema did not win the crown, they won our hearts. I have so much respect and awe for the effort, sacrifices given to pursuing their dream. Well worth worth the blood, sweat and tears.
Like the contestants, I was not sure what to expect when I decided to be a part of the Ms V Supreme world. This was so out of my scope of work for the blog and I feared if I could take it on. I was cautiously excited to be part of a local initiative since support for my work in the local community has not been the best. Some view me and my body of work with disregard or disdain.
I wasn’t expecting to feel so welcomed. I wasn’t expecting to make friends and become so enthused with the entire process of the show and the girls. I wasn’t expecting to feel oddly sad after the winner was crowned because it meant I may not see some of these amazing people as often as I got to during this process. The judges, the production team, the contestants and their loved ones.
This was about so much more than about the competition itself.
Finding kindred spirits, working through my social anxiety to bring my own confidence forward to the foray. Pushing past fears surrounding my mobility and self esteem since the injuries. Feeling more connected to my people here in Singapore, especially the Indian community. Moving past fearing the backlash I thought would come my way as a big girl from said community.
Taking leaps of faith. Just like the girls and the entire crew did for the new and improved Ms V Supreme.
I truly hope you have enjoyed reading my posts about the show as much as I have enjoyed covering it. There is so much more in store for the blog and I look forward to sharing those moments with you 🙂
Ah yes. I had to be a klutz. I was reassured very kindly that it was okay but it was a good indication of how I would ever fare if put in front of the cameras.
I got to meet some of the girls during their lunch break – lunch looked Yummy!! It was a relief to see them chowing down instead of setting it aside.
In Conversation With The Contestants
“This competition is a validation to the fact that beauty is diverse. It shows the viewers that we come in all forms and beauty does not know talent” – Contestant Haleema
Beauty does not know talent. So that stopped me in my tracks because I do lapse into self-doubt, like we all do. Especially when constantly having to ‘stay relevant’ or include more aesthetically pleasing posts on Instagram. Aesthetics aside, I am first and foremost a writer and advocate. That will never leave me or ask me to ‘be cool’. Taking mental notes from these girls now as we talk!
“It’s a good initiative and I hope it makes people more open to how they regard other people” – Contestant Hashwini
As a self-professed novice to the body positive movement, she was really enthused about it gaining more exposure. She was perfectly at ease during the interview and I was pleasantly surprised that she had taken a gander at my body of work before we met! It makes me really happy when people new to what I consider my life’s work, approach it with a keen interest to learn, instead of making snap judgements. If I had nerves before, they slowly began to wane as I realised the girls were just as curious and open minded to what our conversations would be like.
“Selena Gomez does what she feels right about. Being her true self is what inspires me, because I want to be my true self wherever I am.” – Contestant Aarthi
Always fun to interview your namesake 🙂 As the ‘youngest’ of the group Aarthi is doted on. She delights in how affectionate and supportive the other contestants are because it helps immensely with handling the pressures of the competition. I noticed through a peek at her Instagram account that she was a big fan of Selena Gomez and I asked her about it. Interestingly, what she said about Selena was what I thought about Aarthi – an unassuming free spirit.
“I was very apprehensive about taking part in this. Especially as someone who is quiet, and feels conscious about her smile” – Contestant Pooja
As a an introvert and bashful person, I could sense a likeness in Pooja. Introverts get such a bad rep – we’re too quiet and we like being alone .. we don’t open up as readily, you need to give us time. We are hard to read and we smile when we want to. As I watched her tackle the tasks in each episode and stoically take the criticisms presented, I could tell she was nervous but determined to give it her best. She spoke effusively of how this show has helped her work past her insecurities, in terms of confidence and how she views herself. Which made this Mama Bear very heartened because you don’t always get the pleasure of being uplifted and encouraged in similar settings.
“It ideally means being confident with your body, regardless of how it looks. Building that confidence is important” – Contestant Parmitha
Given the time constraints between recordings, it was so good to see everyone looking forward to having a quick chat! Parmitha was a little nervous at first but I reminded her that this was really informal. What charmed me about her was her poise and as we got chatting, you could see her visibly feeling more at ease. The girls had an important challenge coming up right after lunch.
“There needs to be more representation. We relate to media and social media a lot more than we used to. When you are able to see somebody who looks like you, you will naturally feel encouraged to” – Contestant
You KNOW that I was celebrating when I saw a fellow plus size girl making it past the auditions. During auditions there were 3 plus size girls who gave it a shot and listen, that was a sheer delight to watch on the telly! Sadly, Dashna was eliminated in episode 2.
I was super bummed to see her leave so soon. There was quite an outcry over it and I was glad to see people rooting for her. It is a rarity to witness that outpour of love. We are either pigeon holed into specific roles in the media or used as a token fat person.. it is hurtful. Dashna was neither of those for the duration that she stayed in the competition. Watching her grace the runway, speak to the judges and commit to her tasks was a thing of beauty.
Like me, Dashna took a leap of faith to pursue a dream. A dream many would discourage us from having. We did it anyway. I cannot wait to see what is in store for her in the near future. Again, I was very humbled that she knew of my work. For the past 6 years, speaking about what I do always got me the wary side-eye.
Content Warning: Childhood Sexual Abuse, Trauma
“Advocacy has been the biggest motivation for me, it helps knowing that what has happened to you is not in vain and there is good that you can make out of it no matter how terrible it might have been” – Contestant Devika
Devika struck me as a kindred spirit. We are both dancers (well I await to be able to dance freely again) and we have lived through trauma to tell the tale. Unfortunately we do not know many women who have not been targets of sexual assault. With the #metoo movement, it was a collective battlecry. Assault and trauma is rough. Healing from childhood sexual abuse though?
There is something in all of us that pushes against pain and despair, channeling the anguish towards the advocacies we delve into. We find creative modes of self expression. Catharsis. That is what Devika is accomplishing. We are not the victims of our story. We are not what has happened to us.
“I got married at 21 and we told each other we were not going to stop pursuing our dreams. We will support one another, learn and grow together on this journey. So that is how it has been throughout” – Contestant Shareen
The South Asian culture is still rather patriarchal in nature.
As a married woman, I have always believed that my marital status should not deter the pursuit of dreams. People are still quick to say that we have an image to uphold, responsibilities to manage as married women. I am so glad to have learnt that this has had a minimal impact on fellow married woman Shareen’s participation. While I do not seek validation or permission from the hubster, it does make a difference when your spouse is supportive.
Cultural standards of beauty vary from region to region. Within the South Asian communities fairer skin tones, slim bodies, silky smooth hair textures are preferred, among other things. This group of girls wanted nothing to do with perpetuating these unfair standards. I was so chuffed! This was nothing like I had expected.
In Conversation With The Judges
Admittedly I was rather nervous to meet the judges because I was star struck and did not know what to expect from them, especially when broaching the topics of diversity and body positivity.
Indra Chandran,Bharathi Rani and Udaya Soundari have hosted, acted, performed dozens of tv serials, travel shows, foodie shows (we are Big on food here in Singapore) and performed for live audiences for Vasantham.
Between the three dynamic ladies, there is a wealth of expertise and experience. Which makes them the perfect combination to judge and mentor the contestants. While judging happens as a collective every week, the girls are mentored individually by Indra, Bharathi and Udaya through tasks and episodes.
“We have a responsibility with how we present ourselves because the young girls are watching us on the screen. We have to put across messages to remind them that looks aren’t everything. Don’t chase beauty” – Ms V Supreme Judge Indra Chandran
I remember watching Indra win Ms V, quite a while ago! I was excited to find out her thoughts about this new and improved concept for the show.
“I specifically remember when I was taking part as a contestant, the first auditions started in April or May. There were 24 of us and the competition ended in November. So we had a long period of time to practice in front of a live audience, before we went to the finals” Ms V Supreme Judge Indra Chandran
Indra spoke with candour of how she may have subscribed to diet culture in the past but as the years have gone by, she has come to see beauty as a whole – regardless of size or aesthetic. It is in the way a person talks and carries themselves.
“I do not believe in standards of beauty. I have been plus sized and I was still beautiful then!” -Ms V Supreme Judge Indra Chandran
I had such an easygoing conversation with Indra and would have loved to pick her brain more. I’ll leave it for when I meet her at the competition finale! Once again, blown away by what I was hearing and really heartened.
I think I had the most apprehension in my interview with Bharathi.
She is a lovely person and that smile! But I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a pest with the questions because they had pressing work at hand. She graciously listened to my questions as I fumbled on. I wanted to ask her about her pet dog since I am a fur momma too but I think it escaped my mind out of anxiety! So imagine my shock when she said
“I still get very nervous when on stage, but with practice I have become more confident. I think it’s good to have a little bit of nerves so that you’re in control” – Ms V Supreme Judge Bharathi Rani
“With regards to body positivity I feel the only reason why people would feel bad about themselves is because somebody else makes them feel that way. It’s not like they wake up one morning and hate their bodies. You want to buy a dress but you cannot fit into it. That makes you upset and the extent of that damage is quite underrated” – Ms V Supreme Judge Udaya Soundari
Udaya and I spoke at length about the challenges of shopping and finding clothes that you actually like, when you are not a standard Asian size. For reference, a US size 0 would be the size XS here.
I listened on as she gave me her thoughts on body positivity. She was right, there was more pressure to be “put together” today than it was when she first started out on television. We did not have the advent of accessibility to YouTube makeup tutorials, online shopping.
We really lost track of time during the interview! I was told politely many, many times that Udaya needed to be on stage, the hubster had to give me the mutual sign we use to say – Okay, lets wrap this up – before I noticed. Perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t pursue my dreams of being a journalist or news correspondent.
“As long as you’re well presented, it does not matter if you are single or married, have kids. It does not matter what your size or skin tone is. At the end of the day, what we want is to create artists with versatility and talent. Anyone is welcome to audition” – Ms V Supreme Producer Sharon Roosevelt
Sharon was such a gentle, affable person to chat with. Just like the contestants and judges, it was such a pleasure to meet her despite her busy schedule. As she spoke passionately about wanting to find not just artists but role models, it made me wish there were more people like her in the region. More people like the girls I got to meet.
At the beginning, it felt like I was trespassing and found myself wondering how the reception would be towards me. While I have no qualms about existing in my space, it matters when you are regarded beyond your exterior. Much like that grey building haha! At the end of the day, everybody just wants to be accepted for who they are.
It gets tiring to be up in arms all day fending yourself against body shamers online and in real life.
I thought I might have to steel myself for some of that when I walked into the stage area. And sure, some of them probably went to check up on who their interviewer was. But the answers were genuine, with no sugar coating and over hyping.
Most of all, this introvert has found herself a few new friends in the process. Thats always a win in my books!
My goodness we are almost 3 months into the new year? I am sorry for being quiet but this post will be an update on what I have been up to since the year begun.
A show I have been following for quite a while on local television has been Ms V, on Vasantham tv. The spin off version Ms V Supreme has definitely caught my attention.
The format of Ms V Supreme has undergone quite the revamp – originally seeming more like a beauty pageant that happened to scout talent for tv, it has now become so much more. In its bid to be more inclusive of diversity in appearance and walks of life, auditions for the 2019 competition were open to all women.
Sure, prior experience is helpful but what they seek in the winner is someone adept with facing the cameras, has good hosting abilities, is able to take on the weekly tasks/challenges with grace and finesse, showing growth as they move up in the competition. You know, No Big Deal, Easy Peasy.
I come in to ask pertinent questions and perhaps provide food for thought on my advocacies, as a plus size body positive intersectional feminist – whoo what a mouthful! It has taken a while for body positivity to be regarded as anything more than a passing fad here in the region. There is an awareness and I wish to find out if the movement has made more progress.
`My take on diet culture and body positivity among other things can be considered pretty radical but I remember how it was when I first learnt of the global plus size and body positive communities, so I always bear that in mind when I speak to people who have just been introduced or are skimming the surface of the movement. Where better to begin than a space like a pageant?
Introductions were made between me and the Ms V Supreme world. I had the pleasure of interviewing some of the contestants, all 3 judges and an important part of the pre-production team.Most of the interviews were conducted in the midst of live recordings so I had to steal the contestants, judges away for a while to have a quick chat. Having never been anywhere near a television production, I was floored with how much work goes into it!
It was DAUNTING.
Theatre has always been my thing and I have experience in major dance performances, hosting, spoken word so I always wondered – How difficult can a television recording be?
Somewhere in the heartlands, in an inconspicuous enough looking set of buildings I remember asking the hubster – is this it? Is this big enough? Do the contestants live here?I quickly was reminded not to judge a book by its dull grey, seemingly small exterior. I walked into a proper stage. Your girl was not prepared!
Also. Having watched Miss Congeniality a ludicrous amount of times I am too embarrassed to admit, relating to Sandra Bullocks’s snorts at becoming Miss Jersey’s Gracie Lou Freebush, I was apprehensive to say the least to meet the contestants. Would there be hostility among them like we’ve seen in other pageants? Sure the show says they want diversity but is diet culture still being practiced anyway in order to stay ‘presentable’ in front of the camera? Would I be welcomed or regarded at a distance due to my unapologetic petite fat glory?
You have to remember that fatphobia is still rampant here, there is little respect for personal space and people will blatantly talk about your body like you’re not even there. This goes for all of us who fall into the ‘undesired aesthetic’ category, but it gets quite brutal for bigger bodies and darker skin tones – thanks Eurocentric standards of beauty, but no thanks!
Before meeting the girls..
The first thing I noticed right off the bat was how unnerving this could be for someone who had no experience in front of tv cameras. I thought about how annoyed I get when doing an outdoor photoshoot for the blog – cursing the skies for unpredictable weather, getting the stylised angles that I had in mind and reshooting until I am satisfied, retouching my makeup and hair, worrying about my back and knee. Knowing that it is just a small portion of the work done, I need to head home after to load the images, brighten them and write with clarity.
I watched these young girls on the stage above with full faces of makeup, immaculate hair and outfits … wearing heels for hours on end, retaking shoots and having to smile the whole time even if they were utterly exhausted or stressed out. I have been following their journey through the competition with each episode. Vying for the title was no mean feat.
Having said that, it was immediately obvious how comfortable the girls felt despite the pressures placed on them. There was a familial feeling between them and everyone else involved in the show. This felt like their domain, their place to shine. It was a pleasant surprise to see how supported they were, regardless of how they fared in the tasks for the show. That space for allowing growth, is so important in any vocation.
I was watching the girls on stage and of course, I had to be a klutz. Right when they started rolling camera, I dropped my heavy phone onto the floor. My official emoji for winning at life should be the facepalm emoji. I hadn’t felt the oddly familiar rush of blood to my ears in a long time, from embarrassment.
I did an impromptu shoot over the weekend because I have been meaning to try this look.
Since autumn is upon us, I styled this up accordingly but without a sweater because it’s still too darn hot here!
It’s a different look for me because I have typically stayed away from shorter skirts but what with being at ease finally in denim shorts and swimwear over the past few years, I figured this was not going to be too difficult to pull off!
Animal prints are taking over for Fall 2018 and it comes in a variety of colours, textures and prints from zebra, leopard, cheetah and the most popular one this season – snakeskin. I love anything bold and vibrant so this skirt Had to be tried!
I love that medium sized belts are in right now so if you wanted, you could add that to this ensemble.
Clearly, this is not Fall weather *shrug* but I amped it up with darker autumnal shades with makeup. I accessorised this look simply with a pair of gold hoops.
Do you see yourself trying an animal print or two this Fall? Which print is your favourite?
Purchased this bikini last year from Forever 21 Plus and will surely be bringing it on holiday in November!