On 13 December 2021, Punjab’s Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu became the third Indian to be crowned as Miss Universe after actors Sushmita Sen and Lara Dutta Bhupathi. A representative of India on the global map, she has already been putting her position and status to good use by voicing her support for menstrual equity, gender equality and women empowerment.
But they say that power and fame has a flip side. The beauty pageant winner, who suffers from Celiac disease, has been incessantly body shamed and called fat across social media for gaining weight post her win. In an exclusive interaction with News18, Sandhu’s US-based stylist Anjali Phougat talks about the vicious trolling and spiteful judgment the 22-year-old has been subjected to.
“Harnaaz was brutally trolled. She’s allergic to gluten. She’s living in a different country away from her family for the first time. She has been travelling all over the globe without them. She doesn’t know the ingredients that are there in the food she eats when she travels. Due to the allergy, her weight fluctuates. But people shouldn’t shame her for that. When people are judged for their appearance, it can take a serious toll on their mental health,” she rues.
Talking about the comments netizens left on her social media for her weight gain, Phougat states, “I remember seeing comments like, ‘Are you pregnant?’ How can we shame and hurt a 22-year-old girl in this way? Body shaming is disgusting and offensive. Do we have no right to be ourselves and deal with physical issues and other issues in our personal life?”
The stylist, who has closely been working with Sandhu post her big win, lauds her for defying the unrealistic standards associated with beauty. She also praises the team of Miss Universe for their latest historic decision to include mothers and married women in the competition.
She says, “I do understand Miss Universe is a platform about beauty but something beautiful recently happened when they announced that they would now open the platform to pregnant and married women, which is great. Women shouldn’t be considered as mere sex objects. Size zero is a fake and wrong parameter to define beauty. No matter our height, body shape and skin colour, we shouldn’t be trolled for it. Everyone is beautiful in their own way and I truly believe that beauty lies in the eyes of a beholder.”
Apart from her body weight, Sandhu was again virtually bullied last week. At a recent event that took place in Boston, she was seen wearing a saree dress put together by Phougat. She was trolled for what many believed was an attempt to disrespect the Indian saree and some mocked and fashion policed her for making wrong sartorial choices.
Sharing her resentment on the episode, Phougat says, “We, as Indians, especially those who know nothing about fashion, should stop bullying, harassing and fashion policing other Indians. Harnaaz is surrounded by experts from the fashion and styling industry. Her styling team is phenomenal, be it in India or the USA.”
But she believes that this kind of trolling is a part of a larger problem. “A woman degrading another solely based on what she’s wearing and how she’s looking isn’t fair. I expect a lot better from women. People should stop judging each other for the clothes they wear. We’re so much more than what we wear and how we look,” she remarks.
The couturier asserts that a young girl wearing a saree the way she wants to should be the most trivial of problems for the world. She opines, “Harnaaz was wearing a saree which could have been draped as a dress too. People said such nasty things to her for not draping a saree in the right way! They demanded that it should only be draped the traditional way. But saree is such a versatile garment. As an Indian designer, I would urge all women to drape sarees in the way they want to. It always doesn’t need to be a six-yard material with a long pallu hanging. As long as we feel comfortable, we can wear it the way we want to.”
Phougat further continues, “Harnaaz was very bold and courageous to drape it in a different way. And it didn’t even reveal her shoulders. And just because she was all covered up from head to toe, I saw some people calling her ‘a kaam waali bai’. It was very insensitive of both the parties. It’s offensive to bully someone and things like this can take a toll on our mental health.”
She reveals that Sandhu is not one to keep a tab on trolls and their comments aimed to bring her down by deriding her. Cheering the Miss Universe for staying unfazed, Phogat says, “I’m very proud that Harnaaz is only focused on the bigger picture. She doesn’t have the time to go on social media and ready all those nasty comments. None of those people degrading her has accomplished what she has. Fashion should be fun. We shouldn’t be dead for experimenting.”
Phougat adds, “Harnaaz is not the one to change her look based on what people talk about her on social media. I understood basis her likes and dislikes that she’s a very simple girl. She’s a beauty with brains. She has never focused on just looking glamorous. Whenever I style her, the operative phrase in my head is that she is Punjab ki sherni and pride of India.”
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