Maggi, negro, nigga, jhingalala...
These are just some of the names my 'friends' had for me when we were kids. Let's just say, my childhood wasn't anything like others'. My dark complexion and afro hair always made me stand out, which led to the constant ridiculing of my looks. And because of this, I started hating myself. I cursed the day I was born, the dark colour of my skin disturbed me, and my curls became my sworn enemy.
Like every other girl who is insecure about her looks, I tried all the products available in the market. But sadly, they all failed, leaving me with the same dark skin and frizzy hair. I never had many friends and the ones I did never let go of the chance to mock me and poke my hair with pencils, forcing me to stay inside the house most of the time.
I used to be skinny, but the lack of any physical activity and the fact that I was at home all the time to escape my 'friends' meant that I put on weight. I touched 80 kgs by the time I hit 18.
As I grew older, things got worse. I disliked myself even more and being around people became an embarrassment. To escape the way I looked, I went to the extent of cutting my hair short and dressing like a typical boy, hiding my breast bulge behind loose T-shirts.
After a decade or so of hating myself, I joined my first design college without much hope in life.
But things took a turn for the better when a few of my seniors asked me if I would pose for them. I was reluctant, giving some excuse or the other every time the topic was raised. But they kept asking and eventually I relented and posed for their photos. Those photos changed my life forever because it changed the way I saw myself.
I was awestruck to realise that I could look this good and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my dark skin and curly hair.
After design college, I joined a Visual Fine Arts University where things were about to change for me. In my first year, I met a guy and I fell in love with him.
We went out for a few months before he shocked me by saying that he thinks his parents won't accept me because of my looks. I was obviously shattered but I gave him the middle finger and moved on with my life.
But by then, I was hooked to clicking photographs. And then, one day I came across an artist who was portraying her self portraits and that left me amazed. I started following her work and soon enough I also got the urge to take self portraits. This was the beginning of my 365 self portraits, where I clicked myself every single day with something different to share with others.
Gradually, people started liking my work. They loved my approach and a bubble of positivity started surrounding me.
But sadly, good things don't last long. One night, a man sexually abused me. I was devastated, both physically and emotionally. But I decided to stay true to what I had started. I continued with my 365-day project and I realised that the saying 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' holds true.
My self portrait project taught me to love myself for the first time.
I felt stronger about myself and my skin colour and the curly, unruly hair is my pride now. It taught me to accept the way I was born. After my project, between 2010 to 2011, I started working on myself and lost all the weight I had gained during my adolescent years. This further boosted my confidence.
I continued with my self portraits and one day, an accomplished Mumbai-based commercial photographer noticed me. He called me up and gave me the opportunity to come down to Mumbai and check out the industry.
During my summer break in college, I interned with him before finally shifting base to Mumbai.
Eventually, I started out on my own with Shovonakar Visuals. I'll forever be thankful and indebted to my parents for giving life to me and for the wonderful features that make me stand out. And to my camera, I've just got one thing to say: you make me stronger each day.
Photography literally changed my life.
All images have been used with the photographer's permission and cannot be reproduced.