Riya Sen Speaks About Being Hyper-Sexualised At 16 And How It Impacted Her. It’s Sick How Insensitive And Perverse We Can Get
As a 90s kid, Riya Sen has been an important part of my childhood. Whenever Falguni Pathak’s Yaad Piya Ki Aane Lagi played on television, my sisters and I had to do the hook step, like it was some sort of obligation. Jab Samne Tum and Kahin Kahin Se Har Chehra are just some of the songs featuring Riya Sen that I listen to even today and invariably, the nostalgia hits all the right spots. I remember her role in Jhankaar Beats and Silsilay – both movies way ahead of its time. She seemed to have not aged a day and no doubt she is gorgeous. But as a child, I never saw Riya Sen as “sexy”; to me, she was just really pretty. Yet today, a Google search will bring you a list of search results, most of them reducing her to her body.
This isn’t something that Bollywood started indulging in recently. In fact, Riya Sen revealed that in her early modelling and acting days, she was beginning to get sexualised by media when she was still in school. “I was in school when the tag of ‘sexy’ started coming way. There was so much pressure to always look perfect, a certain way,” Riya Sen explained.
She said that she didn’t feel comfortable in the roles that she was playing in Bollywood and how she was just presented as sexy and glamourized. This, she believes is why she couldn’t deliver her best in her Bollywood films. “I realised some of the films I did, after a few hits that I had, they weren’t working for me because I wasn’t comfortable in the roles I was playing. That’s why probably people thought I was a bad actress and I don’t blame them,” she was quoted by Hindustan Times. She further said that during that time it was all “about being sexy” and that she didn’t fit in.
While today, female-centric movies aren’t super rare, back then all movies were served from the male gaze. The entry of the female lead would often be shown with the camera moving from her legs to her breasts, perversely scanning every bit of her body. Actresses largely played either cute or bold roles – mainly there to increase the glam quotient and pull in the crowds – barely ever to move the story line forward.
And while Riya Sen didn’t speak critically about being sexualised at 16, it is a sad reality that young models and actors go through. It’s legal to indulge in sexual activity at 16 but that’s still an age when teens are still processing the changes in sexuality, relationships and body image. “Exposure to sexualising messages contributes to girls defining their self-worth and popularity in terms of sexual attractiveness, with negative impact on self-esteem. Excessive focus on appearance and a narrow definition of attractiveness has been found to contribute to the development of abnormal eating behaviours and lack of positive body image. Negative self-image is associated with depression, impaired sexual development in adolescence and poor self-protective behaviours in adolescent relationships,” wrote Professor Louise Newman in her project Too hot to handle: The psychological impact of sexualisation in the media.’
Riya Sen found her place in Bengali cinema where she felt she was seen as more than just a body. “I tapped into my potential in Bengali films, which I don’t think directors in Bollywood were able to understand. I played what they wanted,” Riya explained. She also finds that she is happy in the OTT space.
Lisa Ray too had revealed that being sexualised at 16 had affected her mental wellbeing. “I hate to be labelled and put into boxes but I had to deal with it since a young age because I was a sex symbol at the age of 16. It was completely unanticipated. To suddenly become this figure for an entire nation and on top of that, to look much older, that has haunted me my entire life up until now,” Ray told IANS. “…I am most comfortable in my skin now than ever before. Ironically, I think I am most attractive at 47 rather than when I was 16 years old. Of course, I had a great body but I had so distorted view of my body that I felt so ugly and insecure all the time,” she further added.
Even Nysa Devgan’s is often sexualised when she puts up pictures in a swimsuit. In fact, media keeps pestering Kajol and Ajay Devgn asking them about when she’ll make her debut. They keep telling them she is in school and they need to back off. Why is there so much insensitivity towards minors?
ALSO READ: Lisa Ray Talked About Being Sexualised At 16, Eating Disorders And Body Image Issues. And It’ll Make You Want To Read Her Book
Hyper-sexualisation is anyway wrong and yet a major part of Bollywood and our culture where women are looked at as just bodies. But doing that to a minor when she hasn’t even matured mentally to know what’s right and wrong is just pathetic.