The date is November 2019. As a result of bidding for a charity photoshoot, I become front and centre of the lens… lights, camera, action!
The camera clicks away… I have been dressed in a man’s coat and later choose to wear a saree I wore for my sister’s wedding. In front of the camera is not a new experience. It is one I have enjoyed often, but this? This feels different. I don’t feel natural entering the walkway to the studio with the one and only photographer, Maki Galimbert, who has photographed for Vanity Fair, Esquire, RollingStone and the likes of the Dalai Lama. What could I possible be nervous about? I am in Milan, and of course, it’s raining because the last hair style I am looking for is frizzy! Geez… then there is my body… My body, the one that has undergone so much… The Look… what am I doing here and why? There seemed so much more riding on this. I am not sure I can do the Circle (Italia) justice. But for empowerment and women everywhere, here I am. Maki begins to make me feel relaxed … he simply talks gently about my trip. I remind myself, the control is mine, as is the power.
Maybe I ought to dial it back a bit and provide you with an explanation. The circle, founded by singer-songwriter and activist Annie Lennox, is a unique organisation which brings a global femiests together to fight for a fairer world for women and girls. I joined the Circle in the UK circa 2018 with total belief in the cause and why not? Why wouldn’t I want to bring a fairer world to women and girls everywhere? Surely, it’s my duty, but in doing so, does that mean I have to always be the strong one with the voice? This time I could feel my vulnerability in abundance.
Over the previous year at the time, my body had undergone various transformations, from recovery of a very serious injury that had left me with little ability to walk to taking control of my health though nutrition, exercise, and mindset. I boarded the plan to Milan, feeling on top of the world thinking this is it – I want to show confidence and strength to women everywhere. You can do it despite setbacks, despite many telling me directly or otherwise “to give up,” “this is my lot,” “how much can I change”. I had built a team around me complete with physio, trainer and dieticians/mindset coaches because I knew I had grit and resilience to move mountains, but it is so much easier and quicker if there is a team doing it with me and possibly finding a better route to the first final destination (we are always striving to be better). I am also a firm believer that we all need cheerleaders! Of course, these are all minor problems I faced in comparison to women and girls globally who were facing a lack of working wage, poor work conditions, and lack of education, through the judicial and community level response, they address issues of gender-based violence, human trafficking, early and forced marriages, corruption and discrimination in employment, inheritance , education and health services.
So, in the studio, I look around Maki’s collection of photos he has taken or collected over time. There is a sense of history, compassion, and a man whose eye captures the essence of someone’s being. I feel better but not relaxed. Maki had already chosen the man’s coat for me. I placed it on, and we were off shooting…. I relax and lighten up. After the shoot I am bold and ask for a favour – to be shot in the saree. He is kind and obliges…… and this is where I feel powerful. The saree is not an alien outfit to me but it’s not my natural skin despite being of Indian origin. The is a scaredness and spirituality within the saree and with my physical strength more on display, I feel alive and powerful. For the first time in a long time, I feel like me, and maybe that is my message… the saree didn’t make me feel strong, the change in body didn’t either. It was the voices I surrounded myself with, the team who were my advocates shouting and cheering “ you got this,” “your situation is going to change.” It’s a combination of belief, consistent change and moving the dial just that one percent. So, to women and girls everywhere, I see you, and my advocacy for you will always continue.