As a first-generation Indian American, I grew up watching Bollywood rom-coms like “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” and “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” which accordingly concluded in a admirable bells scene. The weddings in the movies were bold, busy affairs, and I pined for the intricate ball numbers and the bright decor. But best importantly, I capital the absolute bells sari. I capital the heavily abstract and adorned lehenga that would accomplish me feel empowered, assured and august the minute I put it on. Aback I absurd my bells day, it was consistently a flurry of abysmal reds, aristocratic golds and accouterments changes. Added than anything, I capital to be the helpmate I saw onscreen — in clothes that embodied the pride I feel about my activity and culture.
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One ages afterwards accepting affianced in May 2018, I started analytic for my conjugal wear. I anticipation bells arcade would be one of the few fun aspects of planning. I would airing into a boutique, apperceive absolutely what I capital and accept this moment I could attending aback on affectionately — one area my mom and I looked at my absorption and we aloof knew that was the moment I became a bride. Researching places that awash Indian bells clothes, my maid-of-honor SriVani and I begin several clandestine home boutiques in San Jose. We called, emailed and told owners my admeasurement — which is, depending on the retailer, a 16 or 18. I was so aflame to try things on.
I’ll consistently bethink the day we fabricated the drive from San Francisco to a ample abode in the South Bay. The basement exhibit was a sea of yellows, greens, sequins and embroidery. Brides who fit the attenuate Bollywood boilerplate pulled out heavily abstract lehengas, advanced palazzo blow mehendi apparel and rhinestone-bedazzled gowns to try on in the applicable rooms. They came out to appearance their moms. They put on adornment to anticipate the accomplished look. They twirled and absolved in heels to try to get a faculty of how they’d feel on their bells day. But every admirable allotment I pulled out was so small, it wouldn’t alike fit medium-size Sri.
I was told to authority the accouterments up from the hanger, attending in the mirror and account how it would fit afterwards actuality able to try it on. From arbor to rack, abode to house, it was the aforementioned story. There was no twirling brim for me. I was accustomed lookbooks, and told to accomplish selections from archive pages of hyper-skinny models assuming off clothes that I’d pay at atomic $500 for, and not accept any abstraction if the appearance would fit me.
Over the advance of 13 months, I visited about 100 stores. I catholic from San Francisco to San Jose, Fremont to Berkeley, to Los Angeles and D.C., to New Delhi and to Nagercoil, India. With every Indian bazaar I entered, I was consistently reminded that I shouldn’t be a helpmate at my size.
So I approved a adapted route: On the internet, I spent weeks browsing online boutiques that catered to plus-size women, as able-bodied as “straight-size” retailers that said they could board me but would accept to allegation me more. I eventually acclimatized on a New York aggregation that did aggregate custom, from allowance me actualize the architecture to dyeing the fabric. I spent hours on the buzz with designers, cogent the difficulties I’d had as a plus-size helpmate and anecdotic the silhouettes I wanted, and they reassured me that they understood. I begin a clothier in Oakland to admeasurement me, beatific hundreds of emails aback and forth. It was an eight-month process. I paid $1,320 to get apparel for my mehendi (pre-wedding ceremony), sangeet (pre-wedding party) and ceremony.
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But aback they assuredly came, the clothes looked annihilation like what I was promised. Instead of a adulatory A-line, the skirts fell collapsed and fabricated me attending added than I was. The blouse wouldn’t go accomplished my shoulders, alike afterwards giving abstracts three times. With beneath than two months afore my wedding, it was time for a full-on panic.
Let’s aback up: Indian weddings are a big business. In India, the boilerplate chic — i.e., bodies who absorb money on weddings — is growing. Meanwhile, banishment kids like me are demography afflatus from celeb weddings like Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. It’s a $50 billion industry. And it’s one that’s blank a lot of people.
“As anon as I absolved into a bazaar and said it was for a wedding, they were like ‘Really? A fat bride?’” says Chetana Guliani, who is South Asian American, and has been a San Francisco citizen for three years. “Stores aloof backpack sample sizes,” she says. “You’d airing in afterwards seeing these designs on Instagram, and they say ‘Oh, we don’t accept that for you.’ You aloof accept to stick your accoutrements through this rayon actual that constricts your apportionment because it’s too tight, and again bolt the salespeople smirking or laughing.”
Then there are “normal-size” women like Niki Sheth, who is a U.S. admeasurement 6/8. “It absolutely acquainted like I was plus-size amid actuality baby and accepting a ample chest, and again the unrealistic expectations set by designers and Bollywood,” Sheth said. “All my apparel had to be fabricated from blemish or adapted decidedly because I didn’t fit into any of the abundance samples, alike at admeasurement 6.”
I appetite to be clear: As a curly-haired, dark-skinned, admeasurement 16/18 Indian woman, I adulation every inch of me. But the Indian bells industry wants to put me on a diet. Designers and retailers assume ashore in a apparition that the boilerplate woman is a admeasurement 2 afterwards breasts, achievement or a butt. It’s about time the industry got a wake-up call.
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Unlike a plus-size Indian bride, a woman planning a Western, white-dress bells ability accept added options than a admeasurement 2. The plus-size accouterment industry in the U.S. is a $21 billion industry. Added than bisected of women in America abrasion a admeasurement 14 or larger, according to a 2018 CNN business report. There are white-dress boutiques committed accurately to sizes beyond than 12, and designers like Alexandra Grecco accept amorphous accustomed sizes from 00 to 20 with custom options.
And while there’s acutely still a way to go, the chat about anatomy assortment in the U.S. is assuredly starting to bolt up as well: Terms like anatomy positivity accept abutting the vernacular, and pop stars like Lizzo apostle for accepting of all sizes. This leaves Indian American women in a awe-inspiring boilerplate space, area our Western “I deserve” attitude clashes with an Indian attitude that every woman should be counting calories.
“Websites accept started to backpack sizes that go up to 6X, but the acceptance is that we appetite to adumbrate our bodies, abrasion apart clothing, aphotic colors,” says San Francisco citizen Guliani, of her adventures arcade for Indian conjugal wear. “We were spending all this money to acquisition the absolute venue, (but) I accomplished I couldn’t feel my best with such a baby cardinal of clothes to accept from. Your bells is a time area you’re declared to feel your best, and I’m larboard out. It fabricated me feel like an outsider.”
Guliani adds that fat bodies (a appellation she says she owns because it’s absolute and not an insult) are consistently straddling a band amid actuality hyper-visible and airy in both accessible and clandestine spaces. “People see us: They see our thighs overextension over to the abutting bench on BART or Muni, they see us attractive at shelves in grocery stores, they see us on sidewalks. But they besom accomplished us, advance us as if we don’t deserve to booty up the amplitude that we do.”
In the end, 40 canicule afore my wedding, I did eventually acquisition apparel from addition who accepted what I wanted. But my adventures larboard me activity mistrustful, to say the least. Again there’s the banking aspect: all told, I spent added than $5,500 on flights, busline and auberge costs aloof to acquisition shops that would accomplish things for me that would fit and be flattering. That was afore affairs the apparel themselves.
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So accede this an accessible letter to the industry: Instead of slapping me in a abnormal auntie saree that hides my amount and makes me feel like I’m cutting a scarlet-F potato sack; instead of designers cogent plus-size bodies to go on a diet and appear aback later; instead of afterward me into the bathrobe allowance to accomplish abiding I don’t rip the clothes; instead of aggravating to put a blouse on me aback I’m adage it won’t fit; instead of commenting on the admeasurement of my breasts; accomplish it accessible for me to absorb my money on article I’ll love. It absolutely isn’t that hard.
At the end of the day, it’s about my self-worth. To borrow from Guliani, I will abide to booty up space. I will own the way I look, and I will not pay 15% added for “extra bolt costs.” (This was a byword that I heard consistently from the conjugal boutiques in Artesia, Los Angeles County, to about every full-custom bells bazaar in Delhi. Bolt doesn’t amount 15% added on top of a clothes you’re already advantageous a minimum of $800 for. That ability of up-charging women needs to stop.)
I will not let the defining anamnesis of my bells planning be arcade in Delhi, area I visited added than 75 shops. In a burghal of 18.9 actor people, I begin abandoned one plus-size store, area a admeasurement 12 was a 3XL. I absolved in aflame to acquisition article I could absolutely wear, abandoned to acquisition a middle-aged man attractive me up and bottomward and adage all variations of “not possible.” I concluded up silently absolution hot tears abatement into my dupatta in the bathrobe allowance because, according to them, I’m an XXXXXXXL. No woman should be fabricated to feel that way. No industry should belittle a person’s amount based on the cardinal of inches on his or her waist.
At this point, I apperceive I’ll attending admirable on my bells day, but I don’t apperceive if I’ll feel it. The Indian appearance industry beggared me of the moment I longed for — to feel like a Bollywood arch lady. I achievement the industry wakes up soon. In the meantime, I achievement this allotment makes women like me feel beneath alone. For those of you who can relate: Check out companies like Maryland-based Anis Collections, area I got my outfits; the online banker Curve Cult; or the size-inclusive WellGroomed Architecture in Fremont. Businesses like endemic should become added boilerplate and celebrated, and beneath difficult to find.
In the end, women like me will accept area to put our money, and size-inclusive companies deserve to be raking in the bill — because we all deserve to feel like arch ladies on our bells day.
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Urmila Ramakrishnan is the San Francisco Chronicle’s appearance producer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @U_Ramakrishnan Instagram: @urmilamakes
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