Most little girls dream of being a princess with a glittering crown and a long, flowy gown. Mlavika Thapa was like any other girl but realized early on that that dream might not come true. “I was always a chubby child and I underwent all the bullying and teasing that came along with it,” she says.
“As a girl I would shop in the adult or boys’ section and hated that there weren’t pretty clothes for plump girls who also wanted dress well.”
Watching beauty pageants together was a family tradition at the Thapa household. “I would marvel at how these women would just own the stage. I was drawn to their elegance and sense of purpose,” she says, adding, “Eventually, I realized there wasn’t an equal representation of all shapes and sizes, that a person like me might not be a beauty queen.”
By her late teens, Malvika had started to embrace her image in a positive manner. “I think being comfortable in one’s own skin takes a lot of time and everybody is in their own journey of coming to that point. I’m grateful the support system at home helped me realise it sooner rather than later.”
Malvika admits that like every teenager, she went through a phase of fitness fads and crash diets, and the person who talked her out of it was her sister Aishwarya.
“The world is full of different shapes, sizes and colours — not just one type. When people are bullying or body shaming, they need to look within themselves. I believe the meanness really comes from a place of insecurity.”
However, while she was in college, Malvika began to notice a gradual acceptance of heavier body types with the opening of plus-sized stores.
“While in college, I would keep applying for auditions, though not many wanted plus-sized models. I did not have a portfolio, but my sister would take my photos on a DSLR our dad got us. In July 2018, I participated in the Lakme Fashion Week All Plus Size auditions in Mumbai and that experience really changed me.”
Malvika and her sister started a YouTube channel called Here and Know in October 2018. “Somewhere in me a childhood dream was coming to life. Even though I was doing a job I enjoyed, my interest in fashion remained and I wanted to be a voice that encouraged anyone who felt marginalised or discriminated against in any way.” They started presenting various facets of Chennai where they lived at that time, and gradually moving on to discuss various issues from board game cafes to the pride march.
While scrolling through social media, she found applications calling for Maven’s Plus Size South India pageant and registered. Initial auditions saw 80 of the participants who were shortlisted go to Delhi for the final round. “The finalists had a three-day grooming session before the finale. They put us through the grind with various classes to instruct us in poise, etiquette and other classes. It wasn’t easy to be in four-inch heels throughout the day, but I don’t think we minded because we learnt a lot.”
However, Malvika says her biggest takeaways from the sessions were a re-focus on the basic values taught in childhood.
“I think somewhere we just get so caught up with life, we let go off basic values like being punctual, thankful and good old-fashioned hard work. These are what hold you up in good stead.”
Malvika admits that by the final round, for her and the other participants, it was no longer about winning. “We knew we had been given a platform to showcase who we really are and had already come further than we thought we would and had gained so much in the process.”
Malvika who was crowned Maven’s Plus Size Miss South India and Miss Extrovert, says winning has only reinforced her belief that while one should not give up on a dream, one should not wait for circumstances to align in their favour. “I am glad I created a base for myself with our YouTube channel before waiting for success to endorse me.”
“I am not saying being slim is bad, neither am I promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Fitness is important. I promote body positivity, confidence and how self love is important because that when you start loving yourself is when you actually start being happy.”
Malvika says one of her main aims now is to encourage fashion designers to come up with clothes for all shapes and sizes.