“Courage” and “Self-Love” are the two important tools through which one can make their dreams come true. This is exactly what Akhshaya Navaneethan did. She replaced self-pity with self-love and made her dreams come true. A plus-size model, anchor, actor and motivational speaker, Akhshaya has done it all and is surely an inspiration for all of us. She has also unabashedly defied all the norms and has decided to live her life on her own terms, and with this zeal, she stormed the fashion industry and is known for her tremendous work!
Here are snippets from our conversation with Akhshaya Navaneethan –
Let’s dive deep into the ocean of your past and explore your childhood and early teenage years.
The ocean of my past is quite deep and different from what one might have hoped for as I was body-shamed by my teachers, which happened on two different occasions. The first incident was when my dance teacher refused to make me the lead because of my heavy weight and used my talent and passion as a “mere prop”. This shattered my confidence, but I still went on with my life thinking that the worst was behind me but little did I know that the same discrimination would be waiting at my doorstep, which happened when I entered my teenage life; where a Hindi teacher openly body shamed me by asking, “Why are you so fat?” This made me angry, and at the same time I was in shock that my teacher, who a woman herself did not even try to understand my situation and “weighed my worth based on my weight.” Thus while growing up, these incidents took a toll on me so much so that I began to loathe myself.
Can you describe in detail an incident that changed your life and which made you look at things from a different perspective?
An incident that shook me to the core and showed me the path of courage and confidence happened at a time when failure was at my doorstep. This incident took place in 12th grade when I failed my math examination and had to reappear for the same. It was a dark phase in my life as I was trapped in the midst of fear, anxiety and low self-esteem to the extent where I failed to believe in myself. My ears had to endure “the so-called constant concern” of many who advised my parents that marriage is the only way out by stating that “she was neither pretty nor intelligent”. I was taken aback by this and decided to take control of my life and for this, I replaced my self-pity behaviour with self-love and courage. To my surprise, my life in-turn responded by bringing new opportunities to my doorstep! This discovery that self-love is the key to survival altered my life and gave me the courage to extend the “much-awaited warmth and support” towards myself.
What’s your definition of beauty?
In my opinion, beauty is synonymous with one’s inner-self which highlights one’s true character and thus, beauty emanates from one’s actions and has nothing to do with the outer appearance, which will fade away with time.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue modelling as a career? How difficult was it to carve your path in the fashion industry as a plus-size model?
The journey towards finding my path in the fashion industry came into existence when I walked the path of self-exploration. This became a reality when I compelled myself to create a new path outside my comfort zone, and the first step was to gain immense exposure. With this new fervour, I decided to knock on the doors of different fashion shows, which in turn helped me understand the industry’s workings as I closely observed the hustle-bustle that went into the making of a successful show. This positive experience was accompanied by judgmental looks thrown at me, such as “why is she here?” and “she does not belong here” because of my weight. But I did not let it shatter my confidence and instead became more inspired to do something in the world of modelling and thus, decided to take the game ahead. I took the first step by making an addition on my Instagram bio as a plus-size model, even before getting any projects. This bio was the symbol of my new confidence! Since then, I have decided to believe in this motto, “Look at my talent and work and not my body”, and propagated the fact that individuals should be given equal opportunities irrespective of anything. This is how I stormed the world of fashion. After entering the industry, I did a few fashion shows and was a part of the YouTube channel named Say Swag which provided me with a chance of making styling videos on how a plus-size model should dress. This channel became an easy route for connecting with a lot of women out there. This is how I started my journey as a model.
Can you tell us more about the first project that you bagged as a model?
My dream of becoming a model became a reality in 2017 when an amazing opportunity came to my doorstep. I was given a chance to work as a host and a plus-size model for a show which was based on the concept of “diversity”. The show was successful, and soon I was recognized by many! This show definitely opened doors for many new exciting opportunities, and since then, there has been no looking back!
How exciting was it to walk at the Lakmé Fashion week?
Lakmé Fashion Week was a dream come true and was surely one of the best experiences of my journey as a model. Before the ramp walk, I was filled with excitement and hope, thinking about slaying my performance with confidence, but when I stepped on the stage, my reality painted a different picture as I was extremely nervous, which made my entire world upside-down. However, I pulled myself together and decided to make the most of the present moment. I closed my eyes and envisioned my first reaction at the time of selection which was filled with confidence and excitement. Upon remembering the incident, when I opened my eyes, everything around me changed; it was as if my soul was instilled with a new positive energy which made me walk the ramp with new confidence.
How does it feel to be the first South Indian plus-size model that walked the ramp for aLL Primero?
I am thrilled and grateful to be a part of aLL Primero, but at the same time, I am despondent over being tagged as the first South Indian plus-sized model because many talented women in the South should have been given a chance themselves to explore something new, either by participating in fashion shows or any other events related to it. I truly hope that one day many talented souls from the South will storm the fashion industry.
You unabashedly defied the supposed “societal norms“ by shaving your head to extend your love and support towards cancer patients. How did it make you feel? What kind of projects did you bag after going bald? What was your family’s reaction?
I firmly believe in the saying “practice what you preach” and have implemented the same in my life with the most prominent episode being going bald and donating hair for cancer patients. I decided to do something for them because I have personally experienced the pain of losing a loved one to cancer. I wanted to bring a smile on their faces and went bald which was the best decision of my life because it was as if I was reborn as a different soul.
Following this episode, my life took a completely different turn as the world started giving back to me the same energy of change in the form of finance, fame and opportunities, and an important hint that I should focus more on my journey. I got many exciting projects in terms of work, such as working with the Playboy magazine photographer, L Ramachandran, on the series called “Cosmic Divine”. The photo-shoot went viral, and people started to recognize my work. My bald look was praised by everyone. However, everyone, except for my parents were not happy as “my act of baldness” was completely against the principles followed by my family. But still, I did it because it was for me,,, and it was my way of doing something for the universe.
Can you describe about one aspect of your life which made you strong as an individual?
My rebellious nature is one of the most important attributes that has helped me become a strong individual as it has given me the power to alter the saying from “I can’t” to “I can”, which has now become my new motto. This has given me the strength to do things at my own pace and the courage to not being swayed by any outside interference. It has also taught me to own my journey and to be solely concerned with my own outlook.
“Always stand up for yourself as no one else is going to do that”Says Akhshaya Navneethan
Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I have a lot of projects lined up, and I am ecstatic about them. First is a photo-shoot with a blogger who has launched a brand for plus-size models in Chennai. The second is again a shoot with some designers, and the last is in the realm of acting, where I am a protagonist in a web-series which will mostly go on floors in March!
In today’s world, self-love and confidence are the most important motivating factors which help us in achieving our goals but many of us out there struggle to extend this basic warmth towards our own selves. What advice would you like to give regarding this? And how do you muster the courage to be true to your own self?
Self-love and confidence are the two important tools which emanates from one’s inner-self. The only way through which we can help our growth is to solely focus on our own journey and not to get distracted by what others are doing or saying as they can never live our journey. We should learn to celebrate our uniqueness because only then will courage knock at our doorstep, which will help us own our journey and live with confidence, and with this, self-love will automatically become a reality. So, stop looking at others and start looking at yourself with a more conscious lens!
What’s your view on society’s role in categorizing and labelling men and women according to certain beauty standards and then compelling them to follow a particular trail of beauty?
There exist two types of groups: one which includes individuals who make their way without paying heed to any distraction, and the other includes people who are swayed by what others have to say. These distractions are in the form of the “so-called societal norms” imposed by the society which undoubtedly, plays an important role in influencing one’s decision, and the only way to escape from this cycle of influence is to be courageous enough to not get influenced by the societal norms and to learn to be accountable for yourself. Be so strong that you make your own path unabashedly, where you solely focus on your own self. Society has its tool to control us, but we can surely bring about a change with our own boldness.
What do you think are the ways through which the stereotypical patriarchal social conditioning created by the society about women – right from the way they look to the clothes they wear and the life they choose – be altered? How can we, as women, help each other find our path and come out of the so-called “ideal woman” standards created by society?
The only way the stereotypical conditioning can be altered is by questioning everything and unabashedly talking about it. Since the start of our journey, we have been taught different ways about how an ideal girl should behave and later on, we have been given the “kind guidance” of how an ideal woman should behave. This kind of conditioning has undoubtedly, compelled us to see things from the societal lens, but the important fact is that we can come out of this cycle which can happen in two stages: first, by questioning the norms and second, by unlearning those norms. This can become a reality only when we focus on ourselves better and by becoming independent. The entire process cannot happen overnight, and we will have to take one step at a time! This is how we can live unabashedly and can help each other become more strong and bold.
Any piece of advice that you would like to give to our readers?
A piece of advice that I would like to give to all the readers is to never give up, to always motivate yourself and to always remember that self-love is the only way through which one can live their journey at its best because no one else is going to do that as it is only you who can bring about a change. So, always remember to put yourself first and always learn to stand up for yourself because only then will you be able to grab the opportunity that life has to offer.