“No woman should go through what I had to go through,” said Bollywood actress and rising activist Sameera Reddy, when asked what gave birth to her #Imperfectlyperfect campaign, a movement that aims to help new mums battle the glory and pitfalls of parenting.
But the mother of two — who has made it her life mission to convince women that parenting is a perennial work-in-progress and that embracing your perceived flaws is a sign of strength — doesn’t say those words to evoke pity. Her matter-of-fact tone and warts-and-mole approach to parenting is a refreshing voice among Bollywood mothers who often paint a glossy image of being new mothers.
In the course of raising her two children — five-year-old boy Hans Varde and nine-month-old daughter Nyra — and battling post-partum depression, excess weight gain and medical complications during pregnancy, Reddy has emerged as this “fearless mother”.
The 39-year-old former actress, whose credits include films that released in the later part of 2000 with titles like ‘Musafir’, ‘Race’ and ‘Tezz’, is now the champion of keeping it raw and real among a growing army of new mothers.
“Pregnancy in my mind was this beautiful, ethereal phase where I was supposed to be well-dressed and glamorous in my heels and stepping out of my car. All of this threw me into a deep depressive state,” revealed Reddy.
Excerpts from our exclusive interview with Reddy who gave birth to a movement that Indian mothers are latching on to with ferocity and fervour …
Firstly, what triggered your #Imperfectlyperfect campaign?
I was always conditioned to adhere as a woman. I was paranoid about my looks, my body, my figure and my skin and if there was one thing out of place, I would go into a place of deep self-loathing and depressive state. If one tabloid said something about me or about what I wore, it would play on my mind for hours. It was a toxic state to be in and I was shocked that I managed to keep it together for so long. The thing is that when I got pregnant, I had something called prolactinoma, a condition where your body thinks that you are lactating without even being pregnant. I had high levels of that particular hormone and I began having tablets to get pregnant. I finally got pregnant, but then I had placenta previa and that was the start of a lot of weight gain.
How bad was that dark space?
I was 105 kg then... I was getting comments that you are not that Bollywood mother who is bouncing back. I was under the pressure to do the same. But I couldn’t because I had fallen into this deep, dark space. My husband couldn’t connect with me as I couldn’t connect with myself. I felt this dichotomy between what I represented and what I ended up being.
Finally, after a year of not even looking into the mirror and crying in the bathroom, it took me one year to realise that I was in post-partum depression, something that I had never heard of in my life until then. My mother-in-law, my husband, my sister and my mother were my force behind me. They pushed me out of it. I took homeopathy and counselling.
Altogether, it took me three years of hiding from the world before I could find myself again. This gave birth to an extremely fearless mother. I had gone from one end of the spectrum right to the other. I came to a point where I have no fear about saying that I have put on weight. I have no shame and I feel liberated now. So, when I got pregnant the second time, I felt I had to give back. I didn’t think anybody will be really interested. But I kept at it. I was surprised how fake the whole situation was and all I could think of is that there are so many women who are going through the same exact situation that I am going through. How come they are not represented? I had no idea about the response that I will get and I started very small and it turned into this movement. I am extremely proud of myself and others who have shared their stories.
Do you think it’s your honesty that has clicked with millions of Indian women?
What clicked with the women is that I made them realise that it’s OK and you are not alone. This feeling of feeling small seems to be the disease of today. There are fashion bloggers showing you designer bags that you can’t afford or make-up bloggers showing you hundreds of beauty products that you can’t afford. It is exhausting. I have no filter and I don’t mean that in a bad or aggressive way. I want to come across as someone who has no clue how to do make up, but I still try to hide that double chin by showing how to contour it. I know how to make light of my situation. How about we fight that feeling of feeling small and not project a feeling of fake happiness? Peel those layers off to feel good in your own space and try not comparing yourself to others.
So now, you have become the champion of keeping it real...
At an awards function, I was surprised how I admitted that when my boy Hans came into my life, I felt not connection with him. When I saw that video again, I wanted to cry at that time because I couldn’t believe that I said those words aloud. It was a release of some kind to say it aloud. There is so much guilt in us. Everybody looks at me and say that I am now a super mom. But I just say that I am now greedy for my time. I am not going to crib about being a mother because it’s unfair to the body who has given me this baby and it is unfair to the husband who used to call me sexy even when I had a waist that he couldn’t put his arms around. The idea is that you can’t be selfish and you need to work on your fears, instead of dwelling on it.
This brings us to the question: ‘Can women have it all’?
Today, I am chubbier than I was and I am earning less than what I used to earn. Nor am I attending those film parties, but I cannot tell you how happy I am. Yes, you can have it all, but who defines ‘all’. It’s you who has to define what ‘all’ means to you. Right now, my ‘all’ in my life is waking up 10 times in the night if my daughter needs me. Right now, my ‘all’ is that feeling of warmth when my son gets me a glass of water in the morning because he thinks he is helping me out. My ‘having-it-all’ is having a husband in my life who pitches in equally. If you can decide what having it all means in your life, then you can have it all right now. My idea of ‘all’ can be different from yours. The reality is that I cannot fly out wherever I want or do whatever I want, but I feel I am in my ‘have-it-all’ phase.
Do you think women should judge each other a little less?
I even have this hashtag called #SupportDontJudge. It actually started with Kareena [Kapoor Khan]. Her son is in the same school as my son and one day I heard some mothers taunting and talking about it’s always a nanny that keeps coming. That’s when it struck me — who’s to say that I am a better mother because I pick my child up from school? Who is to say that having a nanny because you are working isn’t ideal? I can’t judge you. You have your own conditioning and why am I wasting my beautiful time to judge you? Who makes these rules anyway?
“I went from 78 kg to 105 kg in my first pregnancy. Even when I was at my skinniest I was 72 kg and that’s my skinny weight. Now after my second pregnancy, I am now 89 kg and I have been stuck there since the birth of my daughter. I weighed 92 during my 9th month. I like calling these numbers out. I am not going to feel bad about it. Once you call out these numbers, you will feel fantastic. The truth remains that how you feel about your body will reflect on your relationship with your husband and how you wear your clothes. I know I will get to 75 kg someday. But till then, I don’t give a [expletive] and I will work it. Why should I stay miserable till then?.”
Sameera Reddy’s life philosophy:
“We don’t have all the answers and I take each day as it comes. I wish I knew it all, but I don’t. I am not a fan of labels either. When I put up a throwback maternity shoot where I was in my ninth month of pregnancy, I saw some mean comments come my way. Some were trying to school me that it’s wrong for a pregnant woman to show her belly. But I want to tell them that this is my celebration of my body which is creating something so beautiful from rawness. Why should I sit there and hide my bump? I am not saying bare it all, all I am asking is the freedom to show my bump.”