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Kripa Joshi's comic character Miss Moti is tackling body issues

The creation of a Nepalese artist, Miss Moti discovers the truth about beauty and body image in fictional adventures, Bibek Bhandari writes
Self portrait print. Courtesy of the author, Kripa Joshi
Self portrait print. Courtesy of the author, Kripa Joshi

Pretty, plump and powerful, Miss Moti clearly stands out in the crowd.

Among the horde of slim and size-zero women, her weight is in juxtaposition to the perceived image of the perfect "feminine" figure. But, though she's just a fictional character, Miss Moti has become a superheroine in her own right and is the star of the Nepalese artist Kripa Joshi's comic series.

"The inspiration for this character came from my own struggles," says the 34-year-old Joshi, who grew up in Nepal believing she was overweight. "But Miss Moti's personality," she says, "comes from my mother."

Curvy and vivacious, Miss Moti is a free thinker and a determined woman with a can-do attitude. Through this character, Joshi wanted to explore the spectrum of body issues. Reflecting on her own self-conscious past, where she often compared herself to other girls, Joshi chronicles overcoming those thoughts, underscoring the fact that weight should not be a determinable factor to measure beauty.

Most recently, Miss Moti was in the spotlight at Comica: London International Comics Festival, in November. "Moti," when pronounced with a stronger emphasis on the letter "t", literally means "fat" in Nepali and Hindi, but when used with a softer "t" the word is transformed into "pearl". That, is Joshi's interpretation of Miss Moti.

"Though she looks fat from the outside, when you get to know her more - inside and out - she is like a pearl," says Joshi, who now works as an art technician at a secondary school in Richmond, a town in south-west London.

In 2007, Joshi was a graduate student in New York, where she was studying illustration at the School of Visual Arts, and created Miss Moti and Cotton Candy as part of her master's thesis.

Joshi was intrigued and inspired by the American cartoonist Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland; she liked "the play on fantasy versus reality" in the comic book based on Nemo's nightly dreams. But the artist also admits her dislike for McCay's text-heavy work, which is reflected in her own drawings.

Miss Moti comics are speechless - the visuals are either self-explanatory or she wants readers to have their own interpretations. Her fantasies, through dream sequences such as flying on a paper plane atop Mount Ama Dablam in Nepal, are a reflection of Miss Moti's aspirations regardless of her weight.

"We are too concerned about our weight," Joshi says as she shows her first image of Miss Moti: bikini-clad, wrapped in a towel, conscious to take a dip in a pool surrounded by slim women. In the background, however, is a group of animals also in the pool, including overweight hippos and thin storks.

"We compare our bodies with others and complain about our weight issues. Then we are unhappy about it," Joshi says.

She has self-published another work in the series, Miss Moti and the Big Apple, and has a third comic underway. She has sold more than 1,000 editions over the internet and in various book shops in both London and Nepal. Lately, Miss Moti has been a part of The Strumpet, a comic anthology with works by female artists only (Joshi has since become co-editor of the publication).

In her home country, Miss Moti has been featured in various local publications and Joshi was featured on a radio programme where she talked about body-image issues.

In the UK, where Miss Moti, along with her creator, are currently based, body weight seems to be a defining issue. In a 2011 study conducted by the University of the West of England's Centre for Appearance Research, of the 376 women participants, 50.4 per cent reported that they compare their bodies with people on television, and 70.9 per cent of the women have been on a diet to change their bodies.

While size issues are highlighted in the West, in many Asian cultures including Nepal, it is common for friends and family to often make weight- and size-related comments as a good gesture. Though not ill-intended, Joshi says those subtle and seemingly innocuous comments could affect adolescent psyche.

A 2010 study conducted at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi found that almost a quarter of 228 women students surveyed suffered from eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, afflictions associated with women anxious about their appearance and weight.

"The girls, it really matters to them. They would starve themselves for weeks just to look pretty in a dress," said Wadima Al Mazrui, then a student at the school.

Through her character, Joshi wants to debunk these issues that come with body weight.

"I wanted to create a plump female character who wasn't a pity figure," says Joshi. "I wanted someone who was vivacious and wasn't held back by her weight.

"I created her [Miss Moti] for myself, to deal with my demons. But I would like her to be able to represent everybody."

According to Joshi, Miss Moti is a realistic superhero with the "power of imagination and the ability to do things". In a comic Joshi sketched for a superhero anthology, the rotund woman emerges as the real hero while the slim and "unrealistic superwoman" is getting mugged. Miss Moti puts her weight into it, saving the other woman, and is seen carrying the mugged superwoman in her arms.

Even Miss Moti is sometimes weighed down by her size, but that's just temporary, says Joshi. In the comics, Miss Moti's insecurities are represented in the form of polka dots on the dress she is often seen in. As she lets go of her weight-related thoughts, the dots diminish from the dress or, like in Miss Moti and the Big Apple, they turn into flowers.

Apart from taking part in heroic deeds, Miss Moti likes to travel; she is fun and adventurous. Not only has she traversed from New York to Nepal, but she has also acted in a version of the musical Cats and, in Miss Moti and the Glass Onion - part of an anthology published by the School of Visual Arts - she interprets the entire Beatles' song line by line.

The character has also evolved; while her initial partner was her dog Kuku, Miss Moti now has a companion in her life. The man from Miss Moti and the Big Apple will feature in her forthcoming comics - both characters dream about each other and meet in their fantasyland.

"I consider him her soulmate," Joshi says.

As she gains global familiarity and becomes famous for her large size and personality, Miss Moti is treading forward with a message and a story - some that are personal to Joshi - that resonate with many women battling insecurities with their bodies.

"The things she does, the way she thinks, is something I wish I had done without being bogged down by my physical aspects," Joshi says.

An improbable and completely adorable character in the comic world, Miss Moti has surpassed the stereotypes. She has made a name for herself, and up to a certain extent, it's her weight that has helped her to do so.

"She is very confident, self-assured, and achieves what she wants," Joshi says about Miss Moti. "She is heavy but healthy and lives by her rules."

To see more of Miss Moti or to buy the comics, visit www.missmoti.com

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Updated: March 8, 2013 04:00 AM