By Lee Han-na, Lee Min-young
Societal perception of the role of women in India is going through noticeable changes, but outmoded gender biases and traditional gender roles still exist, especially in rural areas, where women are expected to grow into good stay-at-home mothers, rather than pursuing their own career goals outside the home.
Given that India is widely known as a conservative and patriarchal society, it is a huge leap for Indian society that young girls are increasingly pursuing careers such as modelling, a profession that usually involves sensual posing, and sometimes being scantily dressed, depending on the brands they are representing.
During an interview with the Korea Times, Sushmita Gupta, 23, a fashion model from India who came to compete in the Asia Model Festival being held here in Seoul, said modelling is a profession that young Indian girls covet. "It is glamour that attracts young, beautiful girls into the industry." She said.
At first, Gupta's parents were against the idea of her becoming a model, work that she says is coveted, but often not considered a proper profession in India. Despite this, she won their support after assuring them she would have a plan B – which was, for her, becoming an architect. "I started modelling when I was in the 10th grade, but after graduating college where I majored architecture, I worked as an architect, and did modelling as a freelance job. Indian parents want their children to have a stable job. So for me, it was only last year when I started my career as a full-time professional model," she said.
Yaseera Verma, 18, another Indian contestant in the model competition, said she wanted to become a flight attendant but her parents were fiercely against the idea saying it was nothing more than being a waitress on a plane. Her parents had her go to college where she is in her first year studying film production. "My parents allowed me to do modelling because after my modelling career ends, which lasts for about 5 years as the industry always looks for fresh faces, I could easily get a job in film production."
Indian women are educated, and many of them are employed, they said.
Yaseera said Indians no longer believe women must stay at home and serve their family members. She said child marriage, which drew a slew of criticism from the international community, is in the long gone past, noting it was widely practiced before India's independence in 1947.
Despite such a change, Sushmita said there is an awareness gap about models between residents of urban and rural areas. In rural areas, Sushmita said, parents wouldn't approve if their daughters said they were going to pursue modeling. "Even walking around wearing shorts is not allowed in a rural neighborhood. People will scold you. It's that conservative. But not in the city."
Asked about challenges in pursuing a modeling career, the Indian models said it is true that some girls do experience sexual harassment from time to time, which is a deep-rooted problem that the show biz industry has to fix, but in general, the fashion world is rapidly changing in terms of respect for women. "During modeling training, where girls often have to expose their bodies, they now put girls in a separate place so that men can't watch the girls, so the female models can feel more comfortable." Verma said.
Verma has experienced some unpleasant encounters where men have approached her saying they would give her work in exchange for "compromising" favors, which could happen to girls new to the industry like her, but she has responded with a firm "no" every time. "Beautiful women could face such unpleasant offerings but it is only self-love and confidence that can protect them from people with bad intentions." Verma said.
They have both had their share of stories about what they have gone through throughout their careers in modelling, but one thing they were very sure about was that if girls want to step into the modeling industry in India, the most important thing is confidence and self-esteem. "It is a safe place here if you believe in yourself and stay strong. It is confidence that will make you shine and become a successful model." Gupta said.