There is something so simple about Sobia Ameen’s warm laughter. And she laughs a lot. Whether it’s remembering how she was bullied at school for the color of her skin or how her friend’s date spoke about it following the release of Masaba Gupta’s new campaign which stages his happy self. “My friend said she was so proud,” Sobia says when we met the architect from Dhaka turned “experimental” baker.
“I studied architecture in Sydney and left halfway through my masters because I was suffering from depression and couldn’t do it anymore. It was too long. I haven’t taken a break and it’s a very stressful subject, ”says Sobia, who returned to her country four and a half years ago. Candor is another of Sobia’s character traits that is so refreshing. Oh, and his mind! “I don’t remember anything but I can beat someone!” she laughs as she talks about the karate lessons she once took.
With Masaba’s campaign, Sobia has lent her voice to a movement that is critically important – accepting and loving yourself exactly for who you are.
Congratulations on this superb campaign with Maison Masaba! What was the response?
I think it was upsetting. I thought it was unreal when I first received the offer, but I didn’t expect all of my idols to notice it.
Anoushka Shankar, Anaita Shroff (Adajania) … there’s more!
We don’t love each other enough. You’ve always loved each other, haven’t you?
Maybe I don’t love myself enough (Laughs), but I’ve come a very long way from where I started. As a kid, I have always been bullied for the color of my skin. Even though I was physically very active … swimming … and I also played everything … football, but I was still on the heavier side. I was struggling with my thyroid and my insulin. It’s a very common test now, but as a teenager it wasn’t, especially not here. Even if you master these things, like I do now … knock on wood, I have no health issues … but I don’t think you have to look like everyone else to be accepted.
The society I grew up in is very critical of your appearance, in particular, I am not light skinned. I used to be even darker when I was a teenager because I spent a lot of time in the sun and by the pool. I was training with the national champions, the only woman in my school to do that.
Have you ever felt bad about yourself?
All the time. “You should lose weight because you are a woman!” Why shouldn’t a guy lose it too? The first time I went to do threading, the lady who worked there smiled at me and said I was so beautiful, but what would make me more beautiful is if I was fair. I just looked at her! What?! It was like a big shock to me because my family, at least my mother’s side, never commented on my skin. My mother was also strong about it. She never let anyone else comment on it. She is dark skinned and has faced this all her life.
At school there were people who were darker than me and called me ‘Kaali‘and what not. I don’t understand the concept of this! (Laughs out loud) It stems from their own insecurities and I understand it now. Even on social media people write a lot of horrible things to me, but when I check their profile it’s someone who doesn’t have a picture or it’s a fake account.
How did you handle this?
When I used to it, I was so much younger. I had no limits that I would set. Now I think I have grown so much, I am proud of every milestone I have taken. Every year I look back if I would have done this differently and sometimes I think maybe, because I grew up and learned from it. Now, I wouldn’t try to explain it to anyone. I don’t care enough! (Laughs) In my head, I’m not the prettiest person there is. I can be anything in their head. As long as they don’t come and hurt me, I don’t care.
This campaign with Masaba is also a step in that direction, isn’t it? ‘It’s me and I’m proud of myself’ …
Yes and it’s really an expression of that because especially here in Bangladesh I feel like I’m this poster of inclusiveness instead of being a real change to represent different body shapes. I’m not talking about plus size. They could be people much smaller than me or who have other deformities. The plus size thing is now being applauded, but even there we have to accept people regardless of their gender, race, or whatever else people may think of as flaws.
Who are your icons?
Growing up there were a lot of African American women because I watched them the most. I admired Oprah (Winfrey) and Maya Angelou and Ella Fitzgerald. They changed this world for them. Suddenly I was exposed to the Indian fashion industry and Bollywood. For me it was unreal because I kept watching Masaba and there I was doing his campaign. I think Sabyasachi (Mukherjee) also when he defended the models, it was something to applaud …
What’s your message to all the girls reading this?
I think stop apologizing for who you are. As women, we are taught from an early age to be ashamed and to apologize. I hope everyone learns to love themselves and be happy about themselves.
What else do you want to explore?
I recently took over Bharatanatyam from November and I see the big difference in my body. When i started hapiye kanna kati kortam the next day and i would go for a massage after every class because i couldn’t walk and now i do 30 toe hops and i’m still alive and it’s just a warm up, right? I wish I would have done this when I was a kid because it’s so much easier for your body to adjust. I am 28 years old and everything is fine after 25 years for your body (laughs). I really like it and it’s beautiful to see people doing it. I want to master it myself. I always wanted to know how to sing. I feel like I’m besura and have had several learning cases, but it just doesn’t happen! (Laughs) The best I can do is sing to my dogs.
Reading now: I only read short stories written by Urdu writers, in translations, Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told. I also enjoy all the Bangla stuff and love Rabindranath Thakur. My favorite poem is Khachar Pakhi and my favorite book is the most basic, Shesher Kobita (Laughs).
Favorite Bengali Actors: Uttam Kumar (Laughs). I find Parambrata Chattopadhyay amazing and have been a fan of Konkana Sensharma since I was a child because of Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. It’s one of my favorite movies. Their relationship (Meenakshi played by Konkana and Raja played by Rahul Bose) was so pure, melancholy and charming. I love Rahul Bose. Also, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty. He has a beautiful voice.
Souvenirs from Calcutta: When I went to Calcutta for the first time, my father took us to the Coffee House (College Street). I still have a book that I bought there … Thakumar Jhuli. I love spicy food and raasta’r pani puri gula It is so good! The secret is that I don’t really like sweets. I just did it! I started to cook to de-stress.