Growing up in Limerick, Divya Ravikumar often felt like an outsider. “Being the only non-white person in the room can be intimidating. I feel I have to push myself forward as a result because I’m a woman and I’m not white. It means I have to speak up a little bit more.”
As someone who works in health promotion and is a qualified dietitian, she has felt further pressure to be thin. “I am surrounded by a norm I’ll never be. I am not a thin, tall, white woman. I am a short, curvaceous, brown woman. I am beautiful and deserve to be represented.” Having suffered from depression, Divya is keen to point out that she hasn’t got life all figured out yet. “What I have been trying to do is show myself a bit more compassion.”
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is in everybody. I paint and do a lot of portraitures. For me when I see beauty, it’s often when I put something down on paper. It might be something that, conventionally, people don’t view as pretty or someone considered ugly by the media, but when I work on an art piece, I feel like I can see beauty in anything. Beauty is so linked with kindness and other attributes completely outside of what you see. So I think beauty is something you see in everybody.
When have you felt your most beautiful or confident?
I had some pictures professionally taken recently and that made me feel beautiful. I had chosen to do it. I put myself out there and got so much say in what the shoot was like. It was empowering and I felt really confident. Away from the visual side of things, I’m in health promotion at the moment, I’m doing a masters and working part-time as a research assistant. I want to do a PhD in September. I’m really confident in terms of the work I do so I’m really happy, professionally and that makes me feel confident.
Photography by Barry McCall.
Do you feel pressure to conform to conventional beauty?
Yes, absolutely. It’s fine to say that you’re beautiful the way you are and campaigns like this are a great start in terms of inclusivity, but for me, until you see more of that on film and TV, until that becomes the norm, people will feel that pressure. You’re still separated if you’re plus-size or petite, that’s not in the mainstream yet. From that point of view, it’s going to be hard not to feel pressure to conform until that happens. I don’t feel represented in the media. I want to but I don’t. I feel we’ve highlighted a problem, but haven’t dealt with it. There are very few people in mainstream media who look like me, even my height and my weight. It’s difficult not to feel like I have to conform.
Do you believe beauty is limitless?
Yes, I do because you never stop seeing things that are beautiful. There are no limits to seeing it. I think our own beauty is limitless too because I think people get more and more beautiful in different situations or when they embrace different aspects of themselves.
How has your relationship with your mother impacted how you view your beauty?
My mum is incredibly beautiful and I look very like her. She doesn’t value beauty at all. Her thing is internal beauty, not external. People should be kind, they should be nice, they should make you laugh, they should be valuable to have around. She is incredibly smart and that is something she values and sees as beautiful. She’s had that part to play in developing my personality and helping me to understand that beauty is not just external, while also at the same time herself being externally beautiful.
As leading advocates for real beauty with a rich history diversifying the images of women portrayed in commercial media, Dove’s latest campaign is an empowering call to shatter unrealistic beauty standards. IMAGE recruited a group of women from different walks of life as part of Dove's project #ShowUs which is doing the important work of filling the gaps between how beauty has been depicted for generations. With the goal of true inclusivity in mind, we can finally begin to expand society’s definition of beauty.