Malayalam actress Gilu Joseph has hit the headlines after she posed for the cover of Grihalakshmi magazine while breastfeeding a child. The cover photo raked up a controversy as people debated over her bold move. While some praised it, many slammed her and calling it "indecent".
In an exclusive interview with International Business Times, India, the 27-year-old actress spoke about the controversy at length, defending her stand for the cause of breastfeeding, and a lot more.
Joseph not only responded to all the harsh comments but also cleared a lot of misconceptions that people are having in regard to the cause. Below are excerpts from the interview:
International Business Times: What was the first thought that came to your mind when you were asked to appear on the cover of Grihalakshmi breastfeeding a child?
Gilu: I didn't think much. I am an actress and it is my passion. They asked me if I would become the face of a breastfeeding campaign, and I said "yes". I knew there would be controversies and there would be a lot of negative comments but for me, there was nothing wrong, and so I did it.
IBT: The cover is widely being praised as well as criticized. The good comments obviously must be making you feel nice. But how do you cope with some of the nasty slut-shaming comments?
Gilu: I am completely the same person I was before the shoot. I have not changed as a person. Until this photoshoot happened, I was called a poet and an air hostess, and I was always praised for my work, but one fine morning my name changed into a "slut". Yes, people might call me names, but what I did made me feel proud. I know a lot of negativity is being spread, but it doesn't affect me.
IBT: An advocate in Kerala has filed a case against you and the magazine calling the cover indecent. What do you have to say about it?
Gilu: It is a campaign to support breastfeeding without shame and fear, and how else was it supposed to be shot then? The idea is to make mothers feel comfortable in breastfeeding their child in open when needed. I wanted to spread the message that it is a normal thing to do, and there is nothing sexual about this. The only thing I am asking is why do we have to relate anything and everything to sex? I really don't know what is indecent in this. Yes, you could have got offended and called it indecent if I had posed for any Kamasutra kind of shoot, but I had never expected people would say breastfeeding is indecent. All these sound like breastfeeding is a sin.
IBT: The advocate also stated that it gave a message suggesting all men in Kerala are perverts and they stare at women when they breastfeed.
Gilu: It was not all men in Kerala, and it was clearly mentioned: "All Kerala please don't stare we are breastfeeding". We didn't say "don't look at us", we said, "don't stare at us". There is a difference between looking and staring. Staring makes one feel uncomfortable. There is no mention of any men as such. Who labeled breast as just a sexual organ? It is also a body part and has flesh and blood. The whole purpose is to normalize breastfeeding.
IBT: Does the cover challenge the patriarchal mindset in India?
Gilu: Not at all. This campaign includes everybody, including men. It has nothing to do with patriarchy. This campaign is only to make mothers feel comfortable and confident about breastfeeding their child whenever and wherever needed.
IBT: Many found the use of sindoor on your forehead unnecessary. Also, they said portraying you as Hindu was uncalled for. How would you defend that?
Gilu: If one wants to see negativity, he or she can bring negativity in anything. I was born in a Christian family but I always wear bindi. Does that make me Hindu? The sindoor was basically used as the shoot was for a magazine titled – Grihalakshmi. Lakshmi is a Hindu goddess and Griha means home. So, it together means "Goddess at home". This magazine is primarily circulated among the families in Kerala. So how else would you show in the magazine that you are an Indian married woman? It is by the use of the sindoor.
IBT: How did your family react when you told them about this project?
Gilu: I don't expect everyone to understand, and I respect people who did not understand the cause of the shoot. Obviously their daughter showing part of her body might not look good to them, but more importantly, they don't want their child to get into controversies. Their main problem is the fact that people are abusing their daughter.
IBT: Another point of argument being made is you are not a mother of the child, and a new mother doesn't look that glamorous. It is being said that a real-life new mother breastfeeding her child would have made better sense. What are your thoughts on this?
Gilu: That is something the magazine decided, and not me. As far as I am concerned, I respect my body and I am in support of this campaign. I did not have any second thoughts on doing this. Also, even though many real-life mothers would support this campaign and the cause, they might not feel comfortable coming forward to appear on the cover like this. Moreover, we all have certain expectations from a magazine cover, and so maybe they were looking for a model who could represent them. I also know people are raising questions as I am unmarried, but it is not mandatory that only married women can support breastfeeding.
IBT: Do you regret taking up the project?
Gilu: Not at all.
IBT: Do you call yourself a feminist?
Gilu: I call myself a human being without any label. No label of religion, no label of gender, no label of politics, no label of nationality, no labels at all. I call myself a sensitive human being.
IBT: What do you want to say to all the people who are criticizing the cover and you.
Gilu: If you want to see more negativity, I can show you more negativity, but if you can see at least one good thing in this, please focus on that. And people who are just looking at the title and my expressions, and commenting, please go through the magazine, and see what is written inside.