The world's 'Most Beautiful Woman' is at the center of a growing controversy over fame, motherhood and baby fat.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, a former Miss World and one of India's most beloved Bollywood stars, is getting slammed for taking too long to lose her post-pregnancy baby weight. "SHOCKING! Fat Aishwarya Rai!" and "Aishwarya's Baby Fat Woes!" are just two examples of the headlines that have triggered an international debate over India's perception of women and fame.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Miss World in 1994, has long been an icon of beauty and source of great pride for her country. In the U.S., she has charmed the likes of Oprah, David Letterman and Julia Roberts. She has high profile cosmetic contracts with L'Oreal, among others. Add to all of this her high-profile wedding in 2007 to the Indian actor Abhishek Bachchan, the son of the highly revered actor Amitabh Bachchan, and the result is a woman who has been an undisputed national treasure. Until now.
In November 2011, she gave birth to a little girl named Aaradhya. Recently, she started stepping out in public again. Pictures show a woman who has clearly gained weight, but does not appear unhealthy or abnormal for a new mother. But online criticism of her body was swift, harsh and carried an undeniably snarky tone.
The boiling point appears to have come with the release of a report by "Bollywood CIA" posted on Youtube. The video, titled "SHOCKING! Fat Aishwarya Rai!" shows before and after pictures of the star set to the sound of an elephant trumpeting in the background. The commentary snidely describes her as "rather plump" and includes the following:
"Instead of losing some of her flab after her delivery the Bachchan Bahu has gained 5 or 6 kilos…we think it is time she hire a good trainer to help her sweat it out in the gym."
Supporters and detractors are weighing in.
On Twitter @Ajaz_kahn commented on her figure by tweeting, 'Wouldn't have recognized her…is that really her in the taxi…too many kebabs.' Others have been less subtle.
'Sharonnkatha' wrote, "The woman is in the PUBLIC eye! Her baby is 7 months old and she looks like she gave birth yesterday! Not to mention she has a double chin! Sorry, many of us have had kids and WORKED hard to lose it. Motherhood doesn't give you license to be overweight.
The idea that her role as a public figure makes her weight gain unacceptable has led many to question India's obsession with beauty and perception of women. It has put Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at the center of a discussion on the standards India sets for all women.
Others have come to her support. In response to the video 'MaiAnDul' wrote, "She is NOT fat. She is beautiful." 'DianaWestwood' wrote, "There is way too much emphasis on the way women look. Who would want to be judged the most beautiful and have to live with all the scrutiny? There is never this much emphasis on the way men look. It is time for things to be different."
Professor Rachel Dwyer, the professor of Indian Culture and Cinema at SOAS, University of London, sees the criticism as a western import.
"I think this baby weight thing is a western obsession with pulling stars down," she wrote in an email exchange on the topic. "Women who lose weight are congratulated and those who don't are seen as letting themselves go. I've not heard of it in India before."
Professor Dwyer points out that as she got older it took longer for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to find suitable roles, a challenge well documented for women in the film, theater and fashion around the world. She cited Karishma Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit as two older women who are trying to make a comeback into Bollywood now that their children are a little older.
"Women are now meant to keep themselves looking beautiful throughout their lives, not just when they are young," she said. "Women have a tough struggle."
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is not shying away from her weight. She is expected to walk the red carpet in Cannes. Reports are she is bringing her new daughter with her, as she has done for all of her work related trips since becoming a mother.
The Times of India is covering her upcoming appearance. Reporter Akshata Shetty notes, "There is a lot of buzz about what Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will wear considering her post-pregnancy weight."
Whatever her decision, she has already made the choice that she, at least, is fine to be on the red carpet just as she is, for all the world to see.