New Delhi: February is the month of love. It’s not just about expressing your love for others but also a time to focus on self-care and self-love. As the world marks February 14 as the day of love, team Banega Swasth India speaks with Actor Huma Qureshi to highlight the importance of self-care for women and why there is a need for them to focus on themselves and take out time from their daily routine – be it handling work pressure, responsibilities at home or meeting society’s expectations. Here’s what the actor said on this #SelfLoveFirst special:
NDTV: How important is self-care and loving yourself, especially for women?
Huma Qureshi: I think a lot. You know, in our society we always talk about how it is the women’s job, almost responsibility to be the caregiver, to be the nurturer, to be always giving and everyone always want to see women in that particular light. So, her self-care, her needs are always the last priority. When a flight is about to take off, you have to wear your own mask and seat belt before helping others. And I think that thought has to sort of permeate down to society and to each and every girl and each and every woman. Sacrifice is not the only thing that one should be taught. One should be taught self-care, one should be taught filling your own well before others. And, I think, that is the key.
NDTV: Talking about body shamming, it is something many women face in their day-to-day life, tell us how should one deal with this?
Huma Qureshi: For my recent movie Double XL, I had to gain 20 kilos, it wasn’t difficult. It was a lot of fun putting on that weight. I think it was the thought of doing the reverse of everything else that we’ve been trying to do our whole life. So, for three months I just ate, I put on 20 kgs. When you do fittings for the film, it was about like, oh, don’t give her this to wear because it’s making her look really lean. All this was very liberating, in fact therapeutic process almost. I have used the film therapy for myself because I feel over the years, there’s so many things that people say to you, you read about yourself, body shamming happens to everyone out there. It doesn’t matter what size you are. You could be 10 or as fat or as tall or as short at some point in your life. At some point, every single person has been body shamed or their body has been objectified in some way. So, for me it was like all those years of that pent up anger, almost like frustration. I was like, I’m going to do this character and I’m going to be like, ‘No, I’m not a fat girl, this is a fat girl, this is a character I play, and this is not my identity as a person’. And I feel that differentiation for me was very therapeutic. Moreover, in most of our films, when we cast characters, which are plus size men or women, they’re always as the object and the butt of the joke. They are never the main protagonist or the hero of the piece. So, it’s always like the fat girl is always chasing the hero. She’s always the one that’s taking all the jokes. She’s the hero’s, best friend. She’s never the main lead. And for us it was like what about those girls? What about those guys? Do they not deserve their own love story? Do they not deserve their own happily ever after? And why? Because we live in a country where we have all shapes and sizes and they all marry and they all have great lives, but we never represent them truly. And the love the film has got on the platform, on the streaming service has been so overwhelming. There’s no one size and that’s beautiful.
Also Read: Self Care: Five Tips For Your Everyday Life
NDTV: You really have broken the stereotype about size zero for women nowadays. There is fad diets, intermittent fasting, so much out there in the market, what do you have to say about that?
Huma Qureshi: I’m not a therapist or a dietician or a gym trainer. I feel like so many times when you go to promote a film or do interviews, people want to know what is the one ritual I follow, or they just want to know about my diet charts. I’m like, you know, this is not about that. Just because something works for me does not mean it will work for everybody. And as an actor, I have to be responsible towards my fans or to people in general. You have to do something that works for your body. The idea is that we should inculcate healthy habits in people, whether it’s exercise, nutrition, sleep, taking care of your mental health, taking care of yourself or your spiritual needs. It’s not one size that fits all. Everybody does not wear the same size of shoes. Then how can there be one diet for everybody? You know, everybody is different. Every human being is different, but we want everyone to be cookie cutter. For women especially, it’s so disrespectful. And it’s devaluing because you are telling them that you don’t look like everybody else. So, there’s something wrong with you. And all this leads to so many bad things like anxiety and anorexia. And everybody nowadays wants to feel like they want to look like one another. So, everybody goes out for surgeries. By doing all this we will create an unhealthy culture where you want everyone to look like plastic and the same way, that’s not beautiful. And you’re taking away the one thing that differentiates people, which is their personalities.
NDTV: How important is it for women to prioritise their health and mental health? What are the ways in which they can take care of their health?
Huma Qureshi: I think everybody should do therapy. I feel like maybe we don’t put enough value on that because we like to just put everything under the carpet and feel like that everything around us is all okay. Even our mother’s need therapy, for years they have devoted themselves to everyone else around them, but how often do we realise that they also have mental health, health needs. Nobody’s talking about what they really want. They also may have unfulfilled dreams and ambitions and so many other things. And sometimes it manifests in anger or depression, and all this is never diagnosed. I feel so sad about it. So, I am a big endorser that everybody should do therapy. I do therapy….It can be in many forms – spiritual practice, meditation, journaling or whatever else that you want to follow. Exercise is a very important part of therapy and self-care. When I started my mental health journey, I realised that the days I get up and move my body or do some form of exercise or just sweating it out, I would feel better. I think anybody, if you feel around you is going through something, just encourage them to go for a walk or be around nature. I think that really makes a huge difference in their mental health and how they feel about themselves and the world.
NDTV: India is among the most depressed countries in the world and the cases are continuously going up. Do you think this burden is increasing because there is lack of sensitivity and awareness in our nation?
Huma Qureshi: I think so. And there’s also like this whole culture of like being, ‘Oh! If you’re going to seek or ask for help for mental health, then there’s something wrong with you. There’s a lot of stigma still attached for mental health. And the more we talk about it, that stigma will go away. And that is the key. Just because somebody is talking to a therapist or reaching out for help, we should not treat them differently. Have compassion for the person as it takes a lot to reach out and cry out and ask for help. Sometimes people don’t do that because of this fear of stigma, what people will think about them. And I feel if somebody is being brave enough to speak about it, we have to acknowledge it. We have to be empathetic towards it. We have to help that person.
NDTV: Talking about gender equality, how far are we from achieving that goal?
Huma Qureshi: When we talk about gender equality, as a nation, we are way behind. I feel the only way we will actually be able to achieve this goal, when men and women will stand together and demand for the things to change – from pay disparity to more ethical practices at work and gender equality, it has to start with raising your own voice against it. So many of my colleagues also women, you know, are demanding better parts, are working on better films, are leading films. I fortunately have reached a phase where perhaps I get paid the most on a film that I’m doing that I’m headlining or that I’m leading. But even then, the budgets of those are not the same as what a male counterpart of mine may get. And for no other reason, just because that he’s a guy. Also globally, an international level organisation says that there’s a pay disparity of almost 20%. I also feel that it is the guy’s responsibility to speak about these issues. The differentiation among men or women or any gender starts from a young age. Why is anything to do with the kitchen is always associated with women and anything related to cars is always associated with boys. We need to tell our sons and boys about the disparity, we need them to be educated and aware. The idea is constant education. Like, if you don’t tell people what your needs are, you know, they will never understand. And all this starts at home, a man can also give you water or he can get water for himself. That’s the change. They don’t need to be served. You know, that mindset has to change. Yes, boys and girls are different and you know, they are physiological differences, but what we are asking for is a kind of cerebral equality. Equal opportunity, equal respect, equal money, equal work, that’s very basic. The conversation for all this has to start from a young age and comprehensive education is a must. I mean, we talk to the kids about consent, use of condoms, safe sex, but don’t you think it’ll be better if we start teaching the kids about the equality. Like we educate our girls, we should educate our boys and of course the families.
NDTV: You have done a lot of social and on-ground work, even the work you did during COVID, what motivates you to do these things?
Huma Qureshi: I think it’s very selfish. I do it for myself. When COVID happened and we were just sitting at home, I felt so helpless in my life, there was so much pain in the outside world. So, the thought of doing something for others just occurred. Sometimes these things give you such a humbling experience in life from which you also learn a lot. So, in that moment, I helped in setting up the hospital in Delhi that would help save the children, the local government was so helpful. That ward is still running, they keep on sending me pictures of kids being born there and it’s a joyful experience. It’s selfish. I don’t even think I’m doing it for anybody. I’m doing it for myself because it feels like, ‘Oh my God! I actually did something. I can actually make a difference to somebody’s life. I feel really grateful that I’ve got some opportunity to really pay back to society.
NDTV: What do you think, we as a nation should do to ensure we move ahead as a healthy country, where no one is left behind?
Huma Qureshi: We are a very poor country. We still have a large number of people, who are below the poverty line. It’s sad…The government should really sort out healthcare and ensure there are more policies and healthcare is available to the lowest common denominator. That should be our number one priority. During COVID, I realised how difficult it is for everyone with lesser means to access and get treatment. I remember, for one of my house help’s father, we were desperately trying to get them some medicines or get them a hospital bed, and there were just no beds available. So, it really moved me. How do we ensure that nobody goes without medical help when they need it. I would like to urge everybody, not just the government, to step forward and figure out a way in which we can do these partnerships and assist the government in trying to make sure healthcare is available to every single person in this country.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.