A recent post on body-shaming by popular Bollywood actress, Sonam Kapoor was the final push for TV news reporter Kajal Iyer to finally come out and talk about this elephant in the broadcast newsroom that no one talks about. Body-shaming and objectification is as much a part of the serious news channels as it is of the film and TV serial industry. And it took the reporter, anchor and current Deputy Bureau Chief of Times Now, Kajal Iyer almost a decade to be able to write about it.
“I was deemed too thin,” she writes on her blog.
“I was in for a shock when I was told, never officially, that I would be taken more seriously by viewers, if I filled out a bit more and also if I changed several other things about myself… The editors who let these things reach me unofficially, were speaking from experience, they were well-meaning even,” Kajal writes.
“There are others I know who have been asked to lose weight, taken off air for not maintaining that all encompassing term ‘on-air hygiene’. ‘On air hygiene’ dictates whether your hair can be wavy or straight, how young or old should you look, the ideal weight, in some cases even the ideal shade of brown you can be.”
There were all kinds of ‘suggestions’ given to her (including from some people outside of work telling her to wear a padded bra) and Kajal says she took it all in, and tried to change herself, including putting on weight she didn’t need to.
“Frankly I was too new and in the initial days I just took all of this as advice I should follow to make a mark. I would crib to my peers but didn’t know if there was anything to be done to change it. Mostly I tried to change myself,” she tells SheThePeople.TV.
But why did it take her so long to actually talk about it out in the open when it concerns many others like her? “This post has been marinating in my head for a long time, some 2-3 years. But I think had I written it any time earlier it would have been a more emotional piece. I am now a bit removed from that situation and it is not that much of an emotionally charged topic for me. So now, is the best time to have spoken about it. People who know me wouldn’t be very surprised by the content in this as I have discussed this ad naseum in private conversations,” she tells SheThePeople.TV.
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Now, at a much senior position and not one to care about any ‘suggestions’ anymore, Kajal has also matured and can analyse the difference between a decade ago and now. “Earlier when I would go on air, I would stutter and fumble a lot because I was always worried that someone would have some issue about how I was turned out and that would be the end of everything. This became a vicious cycle because my lack of confidence would mean I was put on air less and each time I was put on air, I was scared that this would be it.”
It took a good boss, who mentored her beyond the on-air grooming needs and who also pushed back on Kajal’s behalf, which helped. But of course there are also certain demands that go with the territory of live TV. ”My current editors too, in fact only talk of grooming issues, if you are doing something very inappropriate on air. If you get a story, you are the face of that story even if you are having a bad hair day. So yes, there is change and I hope conversations like this will bring more change,” she tells us.
It’s not just about news organisations and their search for talent that appeals to their target audiences, after all. Kajal says, “But this is a cultural issue too. I have even had officials or sources also judge me.”
So whose fault is it anyway? Is it the patriarchy inside the office telling you to be a certain way to look serious or is it the audience’s expectations of watching a petite young woman reading news?
“It is a mix of both. See I said in my piece that the suggestions I was given were well meaning even, because they spoke from experience gathered from feedback of viewers etc. I know of an incident where an anchor was doing a location live and a man on the street recognised her, walked up to her and said wow, you look even fatter in person.”
“This is a public profession and it seems everyone has a view on how we should look, what we should say and how we should dress. And this no doubt influences editors when they make decisions. That said some people within the industry have a perfectionist approach and have their own biases. So while the viewer may not be expecting a beauty, industry members may overcompensate because of their own biases…”
“I would also like to mention that even younger male reporters face scrutiny about their looks. It is of a lesser degree but exists though I don’t think older men face it as much,” she says.
“Who is to blame is therefore a pretty complicated question.”
Picture credit- Idiva