“Beauty comes in millions of shapes and sizes and as said, ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’. Standardizing it is a lame game. Being a victim of such a game, I can say how badly it affects one’s self-esteem and in the long run, it just takes away the joy of living in the present.” – Shovona Karmakar, on the standardization of beauty through fairness creams.
A Troubled Past
Remember how you would get excited to wear coloured (or casual) clothes to school on your birthday? And how you would pick your best friend to help you distribute sweets to everyone in class? Such was never the case with Shovona Karmakar. She did not have that best friend.
Her dark skin and curly hair were the only things about Shovona that others identified her with. Constant bullying, mocking and racial comments like “you are a Negro” at the hands of peers for the way she looks were part of Shovona’s daily life in school. Absence of true friends made her survival miserable during school years. Although she always had the support of her parents- An African mother and a Bengali father, the way everyone else treated her always took the better of her.
“I was always embarrassed. I went to the extent of cutting my hair short and dressing like a typical boy, exclusively in baggy t-shirts hiding my breast bulge and trousers accompanied with shoes in the hope of looking like others.”
She survived school and went ahead with higher level education. Despite her parents’ expectations of becoming a doctor or engineer from her, Shovona took up photography. Her passion led her forward. She met a boy whom she fell for, only to be abandoned because, as she states, “my looks wouldn’t be acceptable by his parents”. Her life took another drastic turn when she was molested by an old man during her later college years. However, it was too late before she realized about speaking about it. “In case he is reading my story I just wish he gets the message that he was not able to knock me out.. instead, he made me fearless,” says she.
A Promising Future
Shovona is now a full fledged photographer and is based in Mumbai. She has her own website which contains a lot of portraits of herself. That’s her badass way of accepting herself and showing the world what self-reliability looks like. “The aspect of making something not so good looking into something worth a long stare mesmerized me every time,” says she as she speaks with Being Indian.
Excerpts from her interview:
On the incident that boosted her confidence for the first time
“A few of my seniors planned to photograph me and, as always, I tried to give them an excuse to be away from the camera. Well, they didn’t take it and photographed me anyway. The images that turned out just changed my view about myself, I was awestruck on finding that I could look good and there is nothing wrong with my dark skin and curly hair.”
On the beginning of photography
“I started my 365 self-portraits where I clicked myself every single day with something different to share with others, gradually people liked my work, loved my approach and a bubble of positivity started surrounding me. Photography literally changed my life. It helped me cope up with a difficult situation of my life and helped me convert complexity to simplicity.”
Shovona had taken inspiration from Anna Gray, a photographer who was in her second year of framing her portraits every single day.
The most special moment from her 365-portraits schedule
“If I look back, each day remains special to me… but if I need to be precise, it was a picture of mine with kids. That was a moment, I still remember, where there remained a language barrier and yet the camera made them understand that I am there to photograph them. It made me realize that art is a universal language; it’s purely a form of expression understood by all in some or the other way.”
This project also changed things for the better for Shovona when a Mumbai based commercial photographer showed interest in her work. She interned under him and eventually started SHOVONAkar Visuals.
On finding solace in photography
“The very idea of me creating visuals from their raw form to end product gave me the peace I was looking for since long. I really found myself engrossed in the process and my dream of creating visuals was becoming a reality.”
To all the people who are insecure because of their appearance
“Whether you believe in God or not is your own belief, but the way you are born has a reason, hence, cherish it. Every human is unique, therefore, YOU are UNIQUE. The way to deal with a situation of getting bullied is to stand against it. First respect yourself and love yourself the most and then seek help of your parents and friends, in case things go beyond your control.”
Shovona went on a roller coaster ride before finally settling at the high point that she is on. She was not only called out for her facial appearance but her bodily appearance too after which she also lost weight. Although difficult, she took every negative remark in a positive stride and turned the tables for her good. She is an established photographer, a thing she wanted to pursue, and that speaks volumes about the bold woman that she is.