Ah, America. Land of the free, home of the body-shamers — er, brave. At BlogHer’s International Women’s Day virtual event, Priyanka Chopra Jonas chatted with SHE Media’s Video VP Reshma Gopaldas about the everyday sexism she’s faced as an acclaimed actress (and just as a woman in this world), and noted that her childhood growing up in India with her parents was actually relatively free of some of the body-shaming she later began to recognize as commonplace throughout Hollywood. Teen girls in the US are subject to all kinds of insane mixed messaging, generally guided by the idea that their bodies should be treated as live grenades that may set off any passing, sentient man (see: school dress codes, attire-based victim blaming, etc.). But Chopra Jonas notes that she didn’t grow up feeling that way about her body, and first noted the phenomenon when she moved to the US to live with her aunts as a young teen.
Chopra Jonas opens up both about her childhood and her later industry experiences with sexism in new memoir Unfinished, an introspective look at where she’s been and where it’s taken her. When Gopaldas asks her how it felt to receive mixed messaging growing up — one minute being told to cover up, the next being asked to don a bikini and heels for a pageant — she admits she was a little behind the learning curve on that particular cocktail.
“The way I was raised, I could wear shorts, I could wear bathing suits when I went to the beach, I just wouldn’t wear bathing suits with heels. That just doesn’t make sense anywhere,” she says. “I was raised in a very open-minded family. When I was living with my aunts in the US, they didn’t seem to agree with my parents about me wearing shorts and really tight clothes and showing off my cleavage at 15…but I think society does throw mixed messages at women. And it’s confusing to understand what is right, what is wrong, what we’ve been told to do, what we should do, and what we can do.”
Chopra Jonas actually remembers her mother encouraging her to pursue the pageant that required a bikini-and-heels combo, saying: “What’s wrong with you? You wear a bathing suit for 15 hours when you’re at the beach!”
Chopra Jonas’ affection for her mom is clear in the story, and she describes remembering that she does feel comfortable in a bathing suit, and seeing how the messaging of the pageant had made her start to feel self-conscious. She says both her parents raised her to be “empowered from when I was a kid,” and that confidence shows through as the actress blooms in her film career, coming off new Netflix release White Tiger into shooting rom-com Text For You alongside Outlander‘s Sam Heughan and Céline Dion and working on a new buddy comedy project with Mindy Kaling.
You should expect to be seeing a lot more of Chopra Jonas: The Quantico star has already wrapped new Amazon series Citadel and says she wouldn’t mind starring on other popular American shows like co-star Heughan’s Outlander.
“I would love to guest-star on multiple shows, I just haven’t done it yet,” she says, and at least she and Heughan would have the background in COVID-19-era filming to pull it off. “Sam and I eventually were like, ‘Listen, we’re going to have to kiss in this movie so let’s just hug at least it’s fine,'” she says of filming Text For You, also offering up that — if she had to — she would go against Heughan in a karaoke battle over co-star Dion.
“I’d pick Sam because I could at least be better than him,” she says “Actually, I don’t know. I haven’t heard Sam sing. I’m just not a karaoke person, I don’t like karaoke. I get really nervous. I’m always the one who stands behind all my friends.”
Aha! So there is something that gets Ms. Priyanka shaking in her boots — and the wife of a Jonas Brother, no less. That’s the thing about inner confidence: it means you’re just as comfortable admitting your flaws as you are promoting your strengths. At age 15, Chopra Jonas had the gift of knowing there was nothing shameful about her body; today, she knows it’s okay to not have the best karaoke chops. This, my friends, is empowerment.
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