'MasterChef' Star Savindri Perera Speaking About Body Dysmorphia Is Especially Significant For South Asians Who Haven't Felt Seen Or Heard

"I know seeing other South Asian women like Sav talking about their experiences with issues like body dysmorphia inspires more people in the community to participate in conversation and break down stigma around body image," says Varsha Yajman.

MasterChef Australia star Savindri Perera

MasterChef Australia star Savindri Perera. Image Source: Channel 10

TW: Body dysmorphia/eating disorders. While MasterChef Australia is undeniably about the cooking, one of the greatest beauties of the show is its ability to extend the conversation beyond the kitchen to culture and identity. Food naturally connects us with others and ourselves, and in the context of MasterChef, the discourse around representation is never too far off – especially when it comes to talking about diversity on reality TV. 

Since appearing on MasterChef this season, Savindri Perera (aka Sav) has been very open about herself and life beyond the kitchen. Now, the 30-year-old has shared another aspect of her personal life. Taking to Instagram stories, Perera revealed that one of the challenges she had to face prior to appearing on national television was related to body image. 

“One of the hardest battles I had to overcome before competing was severe body dysmorphia,” she shared with her over 71k Instagram followers. 

Perera said she struggled to view her appearance in a positive light “after a lifetime of being made to feel ugly for being fat”. Despite this, she pushed through during the filming of the cooking show, waking up every morning and showing up “because my desire to compete is bigger than my hatred for my appearance”.

Perera has previously spoken about grieving her mother’s death prior to appearing on the show, understandably choosing to wait to audition for MasterChef until she was emotionally ready. But she has now said that other reservations about going on national TV were linked to the problematic beauty standards she’s seen in the media up until now.

“But there was also a part of me that was scared because I’m not skinny and pretty like TV personalities usually are. It is sometimes really really hard for me to watch myself purely because of the intense fatphobia I have towards myself,” she wrote. 

The cook said that she has had therapy for “years”, but there are still times when the comments from online critics and trolls have an impact on her. 

Whilst she has struggled to see women who look like herself on television, Perera said she’s chosen to speak up about this and share her own personal experiences in the hope that it will help others feel seen and less alone.

“I want to talk about this openly because my experience is not unique,” she wrote. 

Perera opening up about this raises two incredibly important points. Firstly, the Australian TV landscape – while improving – still has a way to go in terms of better representing diverse cultures and body types. Secondly, the conversation around body image in South Asian communities is still lacking in some aspects. Colourism, which favours fairer skin tones over darker complexions, has long been ingrained in many South Asian communities. One only needs to look at Indian cinema’s history of casting fairer-skinned heroines, plus the capitalisation of skin-lightening products, as being testament to this.

Furthermore, food often plays a significant role in many South Asian cultures when it comes to celebrations, festivities and showing hospitality. Yet at the same time, many brown people, and often women, are shamed for “eating too much” or judged for how their body looks from a very young age – all the while conversations around health and wellness are few and far between. 

“As a South Asian woman who has struggled with an eating disorder, it’s clear to me that body image issues go unspoken in our communities despite its prevalence,” Varsha Yajman tells Draw Your Box. “We need education and conversation about body image issues to foster healthy mindsets around body image.” 

Varsha Yajman

Varsha Yajman

Yajman recalls receiving comments about her body since the age of eight, and starting to weigh herself on a set of scales by the time she was 12. Seeking support for mental health is often viewed as a taboo in many South Asian families, which made it even harder to talk about her later battle with an eating disorder.

Commending Perera’s decision to speak openly this week, Yajman says, “I know seeing other South Asian women like Sav talking about their experiences with issues like body dysmorphia inspires more people in the community to participate in conversation and break down stigma around body image”. 

More culturally tailored professional support, and solid statistics and research around the impact of body image issues on women of colour, is urgently needed. In the meantime, open conversation amongst our communities will help more South Asians feel less alone.

If you or anyone you know requires support, please contact the Butterfly Foundation at 1800 33 4673.