Most businesses happen after months, or even years of careful planning - keyword being most; but for business graduate and fashion entrepreneur Ratna Devi Manokaran, the idea came to her when she was travelling across Southeast Asia.
In some ways, her first fashion business, Adevi Clothing, was born out of a need. After six years of working in a call centre, Ratna took the leap and opened her first pop-up store in a bazaar organised by Fat is Fab, a local community organisation aimed at empowering plus-size women.
“It was run by plus-size women who were looking for plus-size vendors and it was the perfect opportunity for me.”
Soon after, Ratna met her current business partner, Rani, on Instagram. The two currently manage The Curve Cult, a fashion business for plus-size women that is based in Singapore.
“We were the only two Indian women who were doing plus-size fashion, who also happened to share the same goals,” Ratna adds.
The Curve Cult is quickly expanding, and Ratna attributes this to her ever-supportive customers. “They continue to put their trust in us, and that really keeps us going.”
Ratna hopes to have a physical store in Malaysia within the next 10 years, and with business booming, she envisions a second store in Singapore.
“We see ourselves manufacturing more swimwear, more activewear - because if you look at the fashion industry today, that is a market that is completely untouched when it comes to plus-size fashion.”
“Fat friends kept me going, so The Curve Cult isn’t just a business. To us, it is important for us to be that little support system that helps plus-size women find their place in society.”
Although Ratna’s journey to success sounds like rainbows and unicorns, the road to get here was clouded by discrimination, bullying, low self-esteem, and isolation.
Ratna recalls experiencing 'fatphobia' when she was as young as 10 years old. “I remember people just feeling like it was their civic responsibility to point out my weight gain, or tell me that I needed to lose weight. I was 10, and I did not understand. As a child, all I felt was “but this is my body, what’s wrong with it?”
She took aerobics classes when she was 11, where she was the youngest in the room. By 15, she was slaving away at the gym.
“Nobody is in a position to make comments about another person’s body, especially if you’re an outsider, especially if you’re making these comments to kids. Kids don’t understand, and they grow up confused. Ten-year-olds shouldn’t worry about losing weight, they shouldn’t be worried about anything at all, well perhaps about submitting their homework, but that is all! People should allow children to be themselves.”
You must know that your worth doesn’t lie in your appearance, and your value is not based on what other people see in you.
Ratna spent much of her time on things that would contribute to weight loss, such as planning her meals and counting calories. “I was doing all of those things because I felt like those were the only things I needed to do. There was always this thought in the back of my mind - if you’re not losing weight, why are you doing it?”
The 'fatphobia' that she experienced as a child has yet to come to an end. Some time ago, Ratna was strolling about in KLCC when someone took out their phone to take a picture of her.
“I have a group chat where I speak to my friends who are also plus-sized women and they say that they’ve experienced the same thing. It is demeaning. It dehumanises us and makes us feel like we don’t deserve to exist. We can’t even go out to have a drink without being looked like we’re freaks - all because we are fat.”
Ratna says her journey to self-acceptance involved redefining the word fat. “Fat is just a word, but there are so many negative connotations that have been associated with it. People are afraid of being fat because fat is viewed as unattractive. Fat is viewed as dumb and silly. Fat is viewed as lazy. I had to understand that being ‘fat’ didn’t necessarily mean that I immediately became all these ‘definitions’ that people have packed into the word.”
After coming to terms with the word ‘fat’, Ratna says she had to de-condition herself to be a ‘good’ fat. “I felt like I needed to justify being fat. I was vegetarian and working out three hours a day. I felt this desire to explain that ‘I’m fat, but I’m doing these things’. I was doing it just so people would accept me and cut me some slack for being fat. I was subscribed to this idea that I needed to be a ‘good’ fatty.”
“Doing all these things - was I happy? No. I was miserable. Do I need to continue doing it? No, I don’t do it for anyone else, I do it for me. Now, if I want to eat something, I’m eating it because I like eating it. If I want to eat a bowl of salad, it’s because I like eating that salad. If I go out on a walk, it’s because I want to just connect with nature and be outdoors, not because I want to prove something to someone.”
It’s okay to be yourself, and it’s okay to be and live your choices.
With the growing number of people imposing their fake concern when fat people post pictures of themselves online - Ratna thinks that people shouldn’t say anything if they don’t have anything constructive to say.
“Oftentimes, this 'concern' about our health stems from questions like why is this fat person happy? Why are we not trying to lose weight? Why are we not forcing ourselves to drink some detox tea and being miserable? I think that’s what upsets people. Why are we happy and fat at the same time? The idea of being fat and happy has become mutually exclusive and they have this preconceived notion that fat people are constantly unhappy with themselves.”
Ratna learnt about body positivity five years ago and that changed her life. Having spent so many years of her life trying to ‘fix’ herself to fit society’s ideas of what she should look like, Ratna wishes that someone had told her that it was okay to be different, that she didn’t have to conform to what people expected of her.
As a society, she thinks it is crucial for us to destigmatise and remove the negative connotations that are stapled onto the word ‘fat’.
To individuals that are struggling to accept themselves for the way they look, Ratna says “just find one person that believes in you, that supports you, and hold on to that person, and remember that no matter what people tell you about yourself, you have to know that you are not that thing. You must know that your worth doesn’t lie in your appearance, and your value is not based on what other people see in you.”
Asked if there is one thing she could say to her 15-year-old self who spent all of her time attempting to fit into the cookie-cutter expectations that society had set upon her, a teary-eyed Ratna responds with “I would tell her that you are good, and you don’t have to be someone you’re not. It’s okay to be yourself, and it’s okay to be and live your choices, you don’t have to do anything that somebody else wants you to do.”
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