What is beauty? In our country, what is considered ‘beautiful’ is often dictated by what’s seen on giant billboards, by advertisements that sell products to prescribed gender roles that are predefined and poke at our deepest insecurities – and most importantly, by our society whose minds have been shaped to accept it all, no questions asked. Thankfully, the advent of social media has forced us to open boxes and minds that were closed off for far too long, empowering and showcasing those who go beyond the lines previously closing them in.
We see this change, slowly, in the world of art and fashion. When Anjali Lama, India’s first transgender model to walk the ramp at an Indian fashion show made headlines, it further proved that perhaps the industry was opening up to those beyond the status quo. Our perception of what is ‘allowed’ and deemed normal, streamlines our thinking as well as our individuality — but there are those few Indians who are unapologetically themselves, creating their own space and distinct brand.
Holding delicate pastel flowers against his dual-shaded skin that’s adorned in corresponding hand-painted leaves and flowers, tousled locks of hair flowing free – Shantanu Gosavi catches your eye and is hard to forget in portraits shot by one of our favourite photographers Arka Patra in ‘Portraits of Men’. Gosavi has Vitiligo (Leucoderma) that is, to put it simply, a skin condition that causes the loss of skin colour, causing a patched complexion. In the beginning, Gosavi says that it was something that he was self-conscious about as it took time to accept this new change to his appearance, but his friends and family never made him feel that it was something different. “Rather, it was easier to accept it because of them,” he tells us. Thinking back to his initial reaction and feelings to when the first patches appeared, he says, “I have a blurred memory, when it first popped up (after a wound on my knee healed) I remember my parents saying ‘oh, it’s just a white patch, nothing to worry about’.”
A graduate in Textile Design from NIFT Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Gosavi is currently training in Kathak in Ahmedabad and also work as a freelance textile designer, photographer and model. He enjoys the spotlight, he muses, “Life with a skin like mine is fun if you embrace all the attention. I guess that’s the only difference it makes. I like how people turn to look at me, sometimes they stare for a long time so I wink at them.”
For many people, having an apparent, visual and external condition such as Vitiligo comes with its insecurities. We aren’t the most accepting society, and judging people by their appearance, making snide comments and giving ‘advice’ comes as naturally to us as breathing. It’s heartening and inspiring even to see Gosavi exuding confidence in front of the lens, one we wish we could emulate as well. “It’s a natural talent I suppose! Jokes apart, I guess that’s because the photographers make the environment very comfortable,” he says.
Recalling his first tryst with modelling he shares, “Modelling wasn’t something I always wanted to do but also who would want to leave the opportunity if given? The first ever shoot I did was for my college senior’s assignment (Fashion Communication Student) in 2015. She wanted a model who would look like a hippie, and with all that hair I’ve got she chose me. The first professional shoot I did was for the brand Arvind Ltd. It was my first studio shoot in the year 2016.”
In a largely beauty-driven industry, and society in general, where does a model like Gosavi find himself on the spectrum of standards and expectations set for male and female models? “The beauty standards and expectations for commercial models are different and they keep changing with every trend cycle too. I don’t consider myself in the spectrum at all, I am very new and these people are very good at what they do, however, I have been termed as an unconventional model or an art model, if that helps,” he comments.
Unconventional he may be in comparison to the models you find walking down the ramp, it is this unconventionality and unique artistic expression that is being championed with the rise of the digital age and a new wave of independent artists, agencies, labels and models. Social media has created a space for new aesthetics, various identities, models and people of all genders to be in the public eye and maybe even change what society has perceived as beautiful and ‘acceptable’ in the past. Gosavi agrees with the sentiment and says it’s an exciting phenomenon to witness. “The work these unconventional models and artists are doing is amazing, I don’t know whether they are affecting the standards set mainstream media, but I surely feel this is the future, maybe.”
The underlying echo of confidence and acceptance through all of Gosavi’s work so far has rung clear to people across the board. Soon we may finally be transitioning into an environment where weight, gender, complexion and age are no longer bearings on beauty. Though there is a way to go before India kicks its bad habits and obsession with European stands of beauty with skin-whitening products, among other things, we’re seeing a gradual shift in the climate, one that has been long overdue.
Stay updated on Shantanu’s work by following him on Instagram.
Feature image courtesy of Arka Patra, see more of his work here.
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