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How Sameera Reddy got her groove back

Somi Das | Updated on October 23, 2020 Published on October 23, 2020

Full circle: Sameera Reddy says social media enabled her to have honest conversations about self-image and body issues   -  IMAGE COURTESY: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Bollywood actor and model’s life has come a full circle after a transformative internal journey

* It wasn’t all love at first sight between her and her audience. “When I posted the underwater shoot with my 9-month pregnant baby bump, I got a lot of trolls hating on me. They came here looking for the old Sameera, the Bollywood actress. What they got was a real woman. So, I had a phase where I saw a major drop in followers, but I did not compromise on what I was putting out and continued to be authentic, my self-worth unaffected. As a result, I have been able to build a community where open discussions on these issues take place without any judgement.”

In a world where social media glorifies body transformation, one can either sign up for a punishing diet and exercise regimen in pursuit of self-esteem or look for life-affirming stories of people who find the courage to live their own lives. For the latter, look no further than Sameera Reddy.

She was the quintessential Bollywood actor and model celebrated for her sex appeal (remember the lass with long tresses in the Pankaj Udhas song Aur Ahista?), yet not many know that she was once an overweight teenager who was bullied, constantly compared with her more “beautiful” sisters, and made to feel inadequate.

Today she is a mother of two — 14-month-old Nyra and 5-year-old Hans — basking in the acceptance of the changes in her body that motherhood has brought about. Sharing her life unfiltered on social media — post-partum depression, wrinkles, cellulite, double chin and grey hair intact — there is no hiding from her fans. “Two babies later I look back and I’m so grateful for the unbelievable transformation. Not the physical but the mental one,” she writes in one of her social media posts.

“It seems my journey has come a full circle,” Reddy says in a conversation with BLink.

Weight has been the central motif in Reddy’s life. “I remember a magazine did a story on the gorgeous Reddy sisters. It had my mother, my sisters — Sushma and Meghna — and I wasn’t even mentioned... Constant comparison with my sisters affected my self-esteem to such a degree that I withdrew into my own shell. I started stuttering,” she recalls.

The angsty teenager would then transform her body, become a model, and go on to becoming a Bollywood actor just to prove to herself and the world that she could do it. “I never wanted to become an actress. It was the negative motivation that I got from the naysayers that pushed me to become one. My speech therapist told me if you want to overcome your stuttering, you have to expose yourself to situations where you need to talk. That was the reason I went for these auditions,” she says.

Though she saw a fair bit of success in Bollywood, soon the demands of the industry and the lifestyle it imposed on her made her reassess her priorities. She got married to businessman Akshai Varde in 2014, after dating him for two years.

It wasn’t until she had her son Hans that she started her journey towards Sameera 2.0, reclaiming agency over her life. Only this time the journey wasn’t external. “I told myself I was again the fat girl from my childhood. What happened to that sexy girl? I went from 72 kg to 105 kg. I gave birth, came back home and I was still a 105 kg.” Apart from an identity crisis and body image issues there was more. “I felt completely disconnected from my child. I held Hans in my hands, and asked my husband to take him away,” she says. Nobody had told Reddy back then that she was experiencing what affected many mothers — post-partum depression. “All the sexy industry mommas had created this bubble around me that motherhood is lovely. All you need are the right products and you are ready. But you are not ready,” Reddy says.

For two years she didn’t step out of her house. “Whenever I tried to put myself together, fight it, went to the park for a walk, I was judged for putting on weight after childbirth,” she says.

And yet, in 2018, after having lost the weight and putting herself back together, she refused a web series offer and decided to get pregnant for the second time. She had always wanted two children and this time she was adamant on getting the narrative right.

It was around then that she got on Facebook and Instagram and experienced shock. “All I saw were filtered, photoshopped images of people, top-angle shots to hide the double chin and more... Why are we faking it on social media and creating this pressure on each other? I wanted to start a real conversation around real bodies, real women and real lives.”

It wasn’t all love at first sight between her and her audience. “When I posted the underwater shoot with my 9-month pregnant baby bump, I got a lot of trolls hating on me. They came here looking for the old Sameera, the Bollywood actress. What they got was a real woman. So, I had a phase where I saw a major drop in followers, but I did not compromise on what I was putting out and continued to be authentic, my self-worth unaffected. As a result, I have been able to build a community where open discussions on these issues take place without any judgement.”

Reddy says social media has liberated her. Her videos are a mash-up of her “messy” life featuring her kids. But the best content on offer on her page is a cooking show called Messy bahu-sassy sasu that does with her mother-in-law, Manjri Varde. “I have been stuck with my mother-in-law in a 2BHK in Mumbai with nowhere to go. One day we just decided to make some rotla with left-over rice and record it. People loved it so much, that now it’s a regular feature.” The friendship and the comfort the duo share are palpable. “We are both very strong-willed women and we consciously decided to communicate our differences instead of sulking.” Recently, they featured in an ad together and they have got many more such offers.

In a social media post, sharing her “then” and “now” images, Reddy wrote: “I would go back and tell this tall awkward plump teenager that life is going to turn out just fine! I spent so much of my youth worried about appearances and validation from the world and it took 20 years to realise only you can make your life truly magical in any shape any phase any age.” That’s possibly why Sameera 2.0 is so loved by her audience. Her presence — with her unabashed zest for life, her readiness to strip away the hubris of celebrityhood and her courage to be vulnerable — is a breath of fresh air in a world obsessed with perfection.

Somi Das is a writer, journalist and art practitioner based in Delhi

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Published on October 23, 2020
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