This article first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to www.harpers bazaar.com.sg and follow @harpers bazaarsg on Instagram and harpers bazaarsingapore on Facebook. The July issue is out on newsstands.
It is easy to look at a blindingly beautiful star such as Priyanka Chopra Jonas and think: “When has someone like that ever struggled to be accepted?”
But it turns out the Bollywood-Hollywood double threat has quietly amassed her share of battle scars in the fight for greater inclusivity and diversity – the topic du jour in fashion and entertainment these days.
Her career may be in ascendance and she may be one half of Tinseltown’s newest power couple since marrying singer Nick Jonas, but the 37-year-old reveals she still encounters bias in her professional and personal life.
“It’s a factor every day,” she says.
Discreetly, she does not elaborate. But, as she sits in her dressing room at our cover shoot in Los Angeles – swathed in a fluffy grey robe and with her chihuahua-mix rescue Diana burrowed in her lap, it is clear she has given this some thought.
Asked if the much-touted moves towards greater diversity and inclusion in the media are more than just a trend, she is impressively pragmatic.
“Look,” she says. “Buzzy is good. It’s great that people are talking about inclusivity because there’s an accountability. When someone doesn’t do it, you can say, ‘Why aren’t you doing it?’
“So, if it is a trend, let’s use it in a way in which it actually becomes a reality. Because only when the noise is loud enough is there change.”
The same goes for acceptance of different body shapes and sizes.
“I would like to see the most amazing fashion labels catering to women of all sizes,” she says. “There’s this thing called ‘sample size’ and I don’t know who that size is for. A woman’s body changes, especially because of having kids or just from being in your 30s, and then your 40s and 50s.”
She adds that society still has a very specific idea of what beauty should look like and how it should sustain over the years. “And how someone who’s 50 should look like a 25-year-old. Those skewed ideologies still exist and I wish the fashion and beauty industries would really be aware of it.”
I always end up wearing really large diamonds because my Indian heritage insists on big gemstones. But I’m an amalgamation of the world. I have East and West in me and I can wear a sari with as much elan as I do a gown or a little dress.
ACTRESS PRIYANKA CHOPRA, on how her heritage helped shape her personal style
She concedes: “Of course, there’s conversation around it and we see some amazing representation of beautiful women who are full and curvaceous. But again, it’s not ‘normal’ and it’s just a pat on the back when someone does it.”
The Quantico (2015 to 2018) and Baywatch (2017) actress is doing her bit to nudge industry norms in the right direction.
Last year, she launched the “Skinclusion” campaign with skincare brand Obagi to celebrate different skin tones.
She says: “When I grew up, I didn’t see anybody who looked like me on a magazine cover in the United States.
“Now, my kids or my friends’ kids or my nieces are going to grow up seeing girls like themselves and the more that happens, the more we normalise a cosmopolitan world that is full of all kinds of people.”
The actress is very much lighting the path towards that world.
Since appearing in the terrorism series Quantico and becoming Mrs Nick Jonas, she is, for many in the West, their first real taste of anything South Asian, especially after her widely documented Indian nuptials last December.
“For a lot of people, I’m an introduction to what India is,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this is what happens at an Indian wedding.'”
She relishes her role as de facto cultural ambassador, though.
“I love cross-pollination and I want to be able to educate people about this incredible culture I grew up in.”
“Like, my husband is all about it,” she says of the 27-year-old Jonas Brothers star and actor, who has taken to playing Bollywood tunes as his “hype music” before he goes on stage.
This is why she and Jonas are producing an upcoming Amazon reality series in which couples of different faiths and ethnicities “come and, instead of a boring rehearsal dinner, have a sangeet”, a lively Indian pre-wedding reception.
“It’s important for us to make our children curious and tolerant and to have conversations about including every kind of person, regardless of their geography or physicality or sexuality,” says the star, who is in talks to appear with Keanu Reeves in the fourth Matrix film slated for release next year.
An avowed feminist, Chopra Jonas plans to fuse her philanthropic efforts with those of her husband, and continue using her celebrity to promote education and women’s rights through her work with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) and the Global Citizen poverty-eradication initiative.
She believes that her heritage and peripatetic childhood as the daughter of two army doctors not just gave her a uniquely cosmopolitan world view, but also shaped her personal style.
“I always end up wearing really large diamonds because my Indian heritage insists on big gemstones,” she quips. “But I’m an amalgamation of the world. I have East and West in me and I can wear a sari with as much elan as I do a gown or a little dress.”
“My heritage has given me the confidence to experiment and wear different things. I’d wear an amazing kurta from Sabyasachi (Mukherjee) with jeans,” she says, referring to the Indian fashion and jewellery designer.
When it comes to signature red-carpet looks such as her show-stopping caged Dior gown at the Met Gala last year, she inhabits a slightly different headspace.
“I’m moody. I guess this is the actress in me,” she says. “I choose a character I want to be and create scenarios for my stylist, hair and make-up and wardrobe. Then, they present a bunch of things to me, we all have some rose and do a fun fitting and ideate.”
For her everyday style, Chopra Jonas prefers to “be comfortable yet put together”.
“But at home, I’m a sweats ninja – that’s what my husband calls me,” she says with a chuckle.
Whatever she puts on, the non-negotiable accessory is confidence. Which, she insists, is something “you’re not born with; anyone can learn”.
“I was an extremely insecure kid and had low self-esteem till I was 20,” she says. “But over time, especially because I started working in the entertainment business at 18, I quickly adapted to knowing this is something I can create.”
And the trick to that? “Finding your strengths instead of focusing on your weaknesses,” she says.
“Everyone has flaws. I have a million of them and, being a public person, I get told about all of them.”
But she has learnt how not to be so hard on herself, work through her insecurities and learn, ultimately, that “you’re your own best friend”.
“Because the longest relationship you’re going to have with anyone is with yourself,” she points out.
“And we forget that all the time.”