Nothing flattering about this imitation

Everyone has a role model. Someone who they just want to be like. But what happens when you take that admiration too far? A 13-year-old girl whom I’ll simply call Ishika knows. She was imitating her favorite celebrity, Ariana Grande, and ended up with an eating disorder.

It was last summer, when Ishika and her friends spent most of their time flipping through teen magazines, and watching YouTube videos on how to mimic celebrities.

Ishika admired Grande for more than just her talent. From the entertainer’s blue eyes, to her dyed blonde hair and light skin, she thought Grande was “perfect.”

Now Ishika knew she couldn’t change her natural brown skin tone, or her dark eyes — and she was pretty sure that her mother would never let her dye her hair. So she decided to change her body.

CP24 reporter Pooja Handa
‘I am constantly scrutinized for what I wear,’ says CP24 reporter Pooja Handa. (Courtesy Pooja Handa)

Not a good choice. But the pressure on young women to conform to certain standards of attractiveness is intense — to put it mildly. Consider this, from a journalist who also happens to be very much in the public eye: CP24 reporter Pooja Handa.

“I am constantly scrutinized for what I wear,” she said in an interview. “How I do my hair and whether or not I look fat on TV,” is what seems to matter to some people, “rather than what I’m saying or who I’m interviewing.”

In a world of hair extensions, fake eyelashes, fake nails, whitened teeth and highlights, Handa thinks it’s very easy to get sucked in to all of it.

“I’ve made a conscious choice not to participate in these enhancements. I think the makeup I wear is already such an enhancement. To go any further than that would be a misrepresentation of the real me,” Handa said

When I spoke with Ishika, she was slightly nervous. But while she didn’t make much eye contact, she was very honest.

“Most famous people are thin. I guess it’s better that way. My friends and I made a pact to drop a few pounds by following a strict diet,” Ishika said.

She told me the group had planned to eat small portions twice a day and if anyone offered them food, they would lie, and say they had “just ate.” However, as much as you try to hide your problems from your parents, they often figure it out.

Ishika’s mother knew something was wrong when the lunches she had packed for her daughter would come back home untouched. She also noticed that her daughter had lost weight compared to the previous summer — and that Ishika was having frequent dizzy spells. She had a feeling that media and friends might be influencing Ishika in a negative way.

For teens who battle each day with self-image — up to and including eating disorders — Handa recommends seeking professional help or talking to a friend, teacher or family member. But Handa thinks that a lot of issues can be avoided if girls and young women start with just accepting who they are.

“Loving yourself is the only way to a path of happiness, however you may define that — and that translates into your family, professional and love life.  Everything stems from that place,” Handa said.

Ishika eventually realized that she had a weight loss addiction. She agreed to monitor her meals and enroll in a Bollywood dance class with her cousin, where they could stay fit the healthy way.

It is a long road ahead for Ishika, but her mother is glad she has the love and support from family.

“I hope one day her inner superstar comes out,” her mom said.