There are communities that want us to believe that we are an intransigent society - where beauty is best defined with the shade of our skin and the weight of our body, and love needs the society’s stamp of approval to be recognised as Legal and Real. There are businesses that have thrived by influencing those who didn’t fit into these definitions. We know of women and couples around us, who have been chained to insecurities and if you take a closer look, the building blocks of these chains are discrimination and propaganda. 

But if history is any guide, the strength of a determined mass has always had the power and influence to move mountains. From Gandhi’s Salt march to the Berlin Wall protests of 1989, to the recent George Floyd protests that began in May 2020; the voice of the mass has proven to inspire, educate and gradually lead to strong transitions in the building system of societies all around the world. 

At WeddingWire India, we believe Love is Love, and there are no rules and definitions that can bind two hearts together. So we kicked open the pandora’s box of prejudices to address some unconscious bias that has been lurking in our foundations. As we delved into deeper conversations with our readers, struggles of dusky women trying to find a groom, the challenges of queer individuals to find love without being judged by their peers or their family, and the growing need to advocate self love and body positivity came into the surface. The responsibility of inspiring a change now rests on our shoulders - we, the Gen X (Xennials) and the Gen Z are still living in a society, where women with dusky skin and increased body weight, LGBTQIA+ community, and lovers from different religion and cultural backgrounds are underrepresented and discriminated.

Tying together inspiring stories of couples and individuals who stood against all odds and embraced their authentic self, we bring to you the stories of couples and individuals who stood against the society bias and claimed their happiness. 

Self Love & Body Acceptance 

Image Courtesy - Varshita Thatavarthi

We have watched brides-to-be fast for days, and fall in the clutches of aspirational fashion and get obsessed with losing the extra pounds to fit into unrealistically sized designer samples. When Celebrity Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee posted images of Model, Varshita Thatavarthi, the designer’s admirers and long list of social media followers had a jaw drop moment! And it was just the beginning of many more to come. She was not the usual poster child of glamour struck and skinny models seen on every magazine cover. She was a carb loving, confident in her own skin model with natural curves who needed no external validations. She was one of us! Or was she? Because it would take loving our curvy bodies to be like her. 

Also Read: Sabyasachi's Celebration of Women 

When fashion sells a fantasy, most of us fall for it. But Body Positive Blogger Aashna Bhagwani, has shrugged off social media haters, bullies and trolls in the process of loving her natural body. 

Image Courtesy - Aashna Bhagwani (Shot by Shashank Issar)

Excerpts from the interview:

I always had a keen interest in fashion and growing up I studied fashion designing and marketing. This is when social media and Instagram was just picking up. I always searched for different ways to dress myself but found it difficult because I was overweight. This is when it struck me that maybe I could be that person. I realised a lot of girls who are plus size would be going through the same obstacles as I did and hence, I began posting my pictures on Instagram and promoting body positivity. The entire idea behind it was that women irrespective of their size, colour, shape and background should be able to enjoy fashion as much as I do.”

A recent bride herself, Bhagwani reveals the truth of FAD diets and shares, “Be kind to yourself before your wedding and only listen to the people who you trust. Do not put pressure on yourself to lose weight right before the wedding. FAD diets can cause more damage. When it comes to dress hunting, don't have too many unreal expectations which can lead to disappointments. There are many options available for you to choose, as long as you have an open mind.”

Image Courtesy - Aashna Bhagwani (Shot by Shashank Issar)

If you are planning to go on a liquid diet before your wedding to be ‘happy’ and skinny, here’s a piece of advice from Bhagwani that needs your immediate attention. “Confidence is a beautiful journey and doesn’t come overnight. The first and the most important thing is to set boundaries. People can have a strong impact on how you feel about yourself so it's important to surround yourself with people who motivate you and do not bring you down because of your weight. Self love takes time to grow. I have seen a lot of women who can easily pinpoint flaws about themselves, but it’s very important to pinpoint the beautiful things about yourself as well!"

Watch her Beautiful Journey - 

Beauty is not in the colour of your skin! 

Image Courtesy - Ayesha Patel 

If you scan through the list of Miss Universe pageant winners of all times, what stands apart is the careful selection of personality and handpicked beauties of various skin colours around the map. The two Indian women who were honoured with the esteemed title, Sushmita Sen in the year 1994 and Lara Dutta in the year 2000, are dusky skinned beauties with distinctive personalities. But when you look at the multi-billion dollar skin whitening/fairness cream cosmetics industry in India, you wonder where the unparalleled need of whitening your original skin stems from. The perils of the dusky skinned women and even men of this generation, is not limited to being left out from the general definition of beauty/handsome and attractive. Unfortunately the flip word of beauty is not only ‘ugly’ but ‘non potential’ and ‘an unfit match’ in various arranged marriage stories. Parents and relatives have an incessant need to whiten your skin tone because “kitni gori hai” is a supposed to be a compliment and “rang kaala hai” is categorised as a critical judgement confirming that the kid doesn’t quality to be part of the “good looking” list of the family. 

In a conversation with Ayesha Patel, Model and Blogger of Indian origin currently residing in America, we explore the length and breadth that this evil mindset has travelled to and also rejoice how self love and acceptance of our natural beauty is slowly taking over!

Image Courtesy - Ayesha Patel 

Excerpts from the interview:

Growing up, my mom and aunts told me not to play outside during the summer season. I would get lathered in sunscreen and other homemade pastes (in America). I had the entire Fair & Lovely line at home from face wash to masks to lotions. My family really thought my skin colour was a disease of some sort. Everyone would always tease me and call me “Kaali”. My sister had a lighter skin shade than I. I overheard comments like ‘the younger sister is so much prettier we feel bad for the older one, no one will marry her.’ Do Indians realise what that does to a teenager’s mental health? I was ridiculed and put down always just because of my skin colour, something I had no control over. I hated shopping because I would always get comments like you can’t wear yellow, red, white, etc because these colours don’t suit your skin colour. It took years for me to get over this mental hurdle and start loving myself,” Patel shares. 

Patel is now a Model and Blogger in Jersey City, America, and her Instagram feed is a celebration of her confidence and charisma. Looking back at the naive childhood days, she shares, “I really hated the way I looked. I considered myself ugly by default because my family and friends said the same. When I moved away from home and went to college, I got to know and befriend people from different cultures and races. For the first time ever, I saw girls with darker skin who embraced their colour and were utterly beautiful in their own skin. They expressed no desire to hide it behind a layer of foundation that was too light for their skin. I realised girls in America actually go tanning to achieve a skin colour similar to mine. Honestly, moving away from home and that toxic environment changed me. Now when aunties tell me I’m too dark and I should try some cream, I tell them I love my skin colour and I mean every word of it. It took years of healing but I am at the point where I love myself and other’s opinions about my looks don’t take precedence.” 

It’s been a transformation worthy of headlines for Patel, but what happens to the young girls held in the clutches of this cruelty right now? Addressing the point, Patel shares, “It is the responsibility of our generation to communicate this to our kids. Throw the concept of ‘Fair is Lovely’ out of their minds and replace it with Brown is Beautiful, Dusky is Dashing, Melanin is Marvellous, I can keep going but you get the point.”

Image Courtesy - Asmita Jain 

Driving the point closer to home, we also delve in a deep conversation with our reader, Asmita Jain, who runs a successful event company - One Select. Asmita underscores the impact of this bias on the Indian matrimony sector and tells us how the perils are not limited to an outdated definition of beauty. 

Excerpts from the interview:

Growing up, I had a really tough time because of societal bias. My elder sister (who has fair skin) is only a year older to me.  My skin colour was compared to hers all the time. We were even distinguished as ‘black and white’ by some people. The comparisons were heartbreaking for me. I used to act like a boy because I noticed that the boys who had similar skin tone were not teased as much as I was. But when I went to boarding school, my Physical Education teacher and my classmates appreciated me for being a good athlete. This boosted my confidence. I realised that I had to work hard on what I was good at, instead of focusing on the negativity. I started focusing on my strengths and garnered more and more appreciation,” Asmita shares.

But when girls of her age chalked out their wedding dreams and planned their D-day look, Asmita worried more about finding the right partner. “I was looking for someone who resonated with my personality and didn’t care about how much money was put on the table or how I looked. The first time I visited a guy’s house, my parents and relatives did not take my sister along because she is fair. They were scared that the family might get distracted by her looks.”

I was lucky to find the right partner. We clicked with each other instantly. He didn’t care about the colour of my skin. He had to convince his parents that an ‘unconventional’ bride was going to come home to a Jain family of Jaipur. But after a decade, I am where I have always wanted to be and I am a mother of a brilliant 5 year old girl.” Asmita rises to her daughter's defence and teaches her that we are what we make of ourselves. “I strongly believe that we will be happier if we focus on our qualities and do not let the world affect our growth. The sooner we appreciate ourselves, the sooner the world would reciprocate the same. Skin colour is not a "thing" and let's not make it one. Love yourself and respect yourself.”

Same Sex Love, is Love! 

Image Courtesy - Cyril Feuillebois & Keshav Suri

The date, September 6th, 2018, marks a historic change in India when Section 377, the archaic colonial law that criminalised same sex lovers was read down by the Indian Supreme Court. The date marked a new beginning for free love, bathed in the colours of the rainbow flag. Queer folks celebrated the onset of living as their authentic selves and many found the courage to follow their hearts. But 2 years later, same sex marriages are still not legal in our country and queer teenagers find it challenging to fit into peer groups even today. 

Image Courtesy - Cyril Feuillebois & Keshav Suri

Of the stories that have etched into our memory from India’s battle against Section 377 of IPC, Cyril Feuillebois & Keshav Suri’s wedding story is one to remember! Keshav Suri is the Executive Director of the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group and Co-Founder of Keshav Suri Foundation that fights for the basic rights of LGBTQIA+ community. The couple made it official on June 8th, 2018 in a civil ceremony at the local mairie in Paris. Upon returning to India, Suri became one of the 5 petitioners against Section 377 and spearheaded the movement and proceedings until they found justice in September. Commemorating the verdict, the couple planned a grand and intimate celebration in Goa.

Excerpts from the interview:

We had the support of our friends and family who stood by our decision. When the government’s decision came right after our French wedding, the verdict made our wedding ceremony symbolic and gave us more strength. It was a beautiful and intimate wedding ceremony with our closest friends and family in attendance who have witnessed our love story and have been there by our side through the journey,” Feuillebois shares. At the wedding ceremony in Goa, Suri won our hearts with the most touching vows as he said, “I love youonly lucky people get married to the same person twice in the same year. I never thought this would be possible. Our love was never an act of rebellion but it was about waking up every morning with the same person I could say ‘I love you' to, the purpose of my life is now complete." If this isn't pure love, we don't know what is! 

Read their Wedding Story - This Same Sex Wedding Story of Keshav Suri and Cyril Feuillebois

Image Courtesy - Akshay Tyagi

For Bollywood’s renowned Celebrity Stylist, Akshay Tyagi, and his partner, Ashish Mehta, love was always about finding a stable long term monogamous relationship.

Excerpts from the interview:

It was always an immediate sense of comfort, calmness, and security. We tend to add balance in each other’s lives quite well. We were unsure if and how it would last, but we were committed to growing and setting goals for our relationship habits to ensure it was respectful, kind and always loving,” Akshay shares. 

Tyagi talks about the joy of finding acceptance in family and shares the story of how he came out to his mother in 2018, after a year of dating Ashish. “During an Europe trip, Ashish and my mom met over dinner casually and I introduced him as “my friend” - the trip was always going to be the one where I finally told my mother that I have found someone special and he is a man. After a few days, when Ashish went back to Mumbai to resume work on his web series assignment, my mum and I were having a late lunch in Budapest and I revealed the truth to her. Her response was the best thing I have heard in my life. She said, ‘I’m happy as long as you’re happy, and you look happy right now.’ My mum shared it with my dad upon our return the following week, but we got a week to experience our new bond and give it the space and room for questions, face to face.

Image Courtesy - Akshay Tyagi

A same sex love story, is as precious as any other love story in the world, but the joy of bringing your partner home and being a part of each other’s family is denied to many same sex partners even today. Tyagi underscores inclusivity, respect, and unbiased love as the greatest joy their families have given them. “The first time either of us spent time at our parents’ for a meal together are the most memorable moments. No drama, no awkwardness, no flared emotions, everything was just normal. It felt peaceful. We have both been very fortunate to have parents who have been so accepting and loving from the beginning.”

Talking about the distinctive changes that came in his industry after Section 377 was read down, Tyagi shares, “There’s been a larger sense of expression and talented people are unafraid to be daring and out there. The talent is diverse and proud and shines brighter now - no longer feeling like they have to be on the sidelines or wary of their self expression. It is so much more accepting and normalises the environment for anyone new or yet to embrace their place on the spectrum to witness the possibility of a future without being in the shadows.” Speaking of long road ahead to make the LGBTQIA+ community free to love and live in India,  Tyagi shares, "Indian society is quite largely conservative and the mass population is sadly not being educated about the human rights everyone is privy to - and in specific LGBTQIA+ is a complex system when paired with religion, caste, and class - the three aspects of Indian society that continue to take centre stage.”

Intercultural Love & Weddings 

Image Courtesy - Castles and Coasters

As the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism and a home land to people following Islam and Christianity as their religions, India has always been the land of diversity. Regardless of the political and cultural tensions that have often divided our land, we live under the same sky, within the same boundaries as countrymen. Our children attend the same schools, visit the same malls, eat at the same restaurants and watch movies together at the same theatres. Falling in love with a man or woman from a different culture or even religion, should be considered as normal as the day to day activities that everyone participates in, together. But love and marriages have had their limitations for too long. Many families in different parts of the country have built the tallest walls made of castes, religions, cultures, gotras and doshas between lovers. So, when couples come to us with inspiring cross cultural wedding stories, our hearts leap with joy. 

Aakanksha Patel recently spoke to us about her intercultural wedding with her colleague, Mikhail J Verma. Aakanksha belongs to a Gujarati family and her wonderful husband is of Christian origin.

Excerpts from the interview:

When asked about the general inhibitions when it comes to bringing both families on the same page, she gleefully shares, "To be honest, Mikhail made me a part of his family even before we started dating. We were friends for 3 years before anything really sparked between us and as we grew closer as friends, he would invite me for family gatherings and his family has always been very open minded and welcoming. I felt like a part of the family from the very beginning and vice versa. Mikhail met my folks when we started dating. He was also welcomed with open arms from the very beginning."

Image Courtesy - Castles and Coasters

Love guided their paths as the families met each other halfway and planned beautiful Christian as well Hindu wedding ceremonies to unify their bond. "As a little girl I always dreamt of a white wedding to a man with light eyes. Turns out, I was actually only predicting my future. We were both thrilled to have ceremonies from both religions – in fact, I think we had so many ceremonies by the end of it all that our friends joke that we got married 5 times. We planned a Roce and Nuptials ceremony from Mikhail’s side along with a Sangeet, Mehendi, Haldi and Pheras from my side,"Aakanksha shares. 

Speaking of the challenges that couples and families often face when love marriages are planned between couples from different cultural backgrounds, she shares, "The only challenge we faced was the veg and non-veg food that had to be served at the parties which also did not become a bigger issue because Mikhail’s mum is one of the most talented cooks in the world."

Read their Wedding story - A Breathtaking Intercultural Intimate Wedding in Mangalore

Love knows no religion, gender, skin colour and body size, it only knows of trust and care, commitment and the joy that the companionship can bring to one another. As Tyagi rightly advices, "Be unapologetic and Be Whoever you want to be. Don’t let the fear cripple you or hinder your journey. Find innovative ways to get to a place of comfort and exploration with wisdom. And don’t rush the process. Take your time until you know it’s right." 

#LoveisLove and we at WeddingWire India revel in the beauty of all our ‘in-love’ couples. Write to us at social@weddingwire.in, if you have an inspiring story to share.