Sobia Ameen is a multi-talented individual, encompassing roles as a content creator, model, architect, and baker. While she embraces labels like “plus size,” “body positive,” and “bubbly,” Sobia wants people to recognise the depth of her identity beyond these tags. She belongs to a growing community of creators striving not just to find a place at the table but to construct an entirely new one. Her work reflects a diverse identity, a refusal to be pigeonholed, and an authentic voice that remains unshaken by criticism. Throughout her journey as a creator and influencer, she fearlessly embraces mistakes and aims to grow on her own terms, documenting her path day by day.
Currently residing in Dhaka, the city where she was born and raised, Sobia frequently travels to India for work. Mentally, she often feels connected to Juhu, gazing out at the sea, as she has always been drawn to cities surrounded by water. In the future, she envisions living in a city with access to the ocean or the sea.
As an architect, Sobia holds a degree in architectural studies. Interestingly, her family has a strong architectural background, with three out of four members, including herself, being architects. Initially, she had an interest in fine arts like her mother, and briefly attended art school in Sydney. However, she found the faculty’s approach too abstract for her liking. After exploring landscape architecture for a year, she eventually settled into architectural studies as her major. Although she started her masters in architectural studies, she faced significant mental challenges, leading her to leave the programme halfway. Despite this, Sobia has no regrets, as her experiences have led her to a life she couldn’t have imagined in her wildest dreams.
ON GROWING UP
Among all the incidents that Sobia talks about, one in particular strikes a chord. “I was a state-ranked swimmer,” she recalls, “on a stringent diet and an incredibly punishing practice routine. My coaches were as puzzled by my not losing weight as I was.” It took a trip out of the country and extensive medical tests to come to the realisation that she had severe insulin resistance, followed by a PCOS diagnosis a few years later. This defined a lot of Sobia’s journey. The constant misrepresentation and typecasting of her as unhealthy has been a bias that she has rallied against. Reiterations of this experience have followed her throughout her life—whether it was a male model trying to pass unsolicited comments on her health at a shoot or the constant trolling that she contends with on social media.
“Growing up in Bangladesh, I deeply connected with my Bangla heritage, immersing myself in Satyajit Ray movies and Rabindra Sangeet, which became integral to my identity. This connection wasn’t solely due to living in Bangladesh; it stemmed from a complex reality. My mother, raised in Rawalpindi, spoke only Urdu and English. I didn’t speak Urdu like my mother and her side of the family did, which sometimes led to feelings of othering due to the recent war between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Bangladesh is a young country that gained its independence only a few decades ago. While my parents were already adults during the war, my father was adamant that my mother tongue had to be Bangla, as it was the language he fought for during the war. Although I do speak Bangla, the presence of various languages around me made it challenging to identify with one language during my early years. The bullying experience later became a gift, helping me accept others and their cultures without hesitation.”
“Growing up in a diverse family with half-Gujarati and half-Chinese cousins, and tracing our history across South Asia, gave me a unique perspective. When I started working with Indian brands, I had a cultural context, language proficiency, and an identity that helped me connect with people easily. My work now revolves around reconciling my pan-South Asian identity, incorporating elements like parandis into my looks and engaging with the Indian ecosystem.”
“In my modelling and influencing career, I primarily collaborate with Indian brands. It all began with House of Masaba, which was a significant breakthrough, propelling me into the Indian market. Some of the Indian brands I’ve worked with include Asian Paints India (Architectural), LoveChild by Masaba, Estée Lauder India, Kiehls India, Tira Beauty, Ikkivi, Papa Don’t Preach, Torani, and The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata.”
ON PERCEIVING HERSELF
Bucking against the traditional belief that anyone who is on the internet and happens to be plus size has to, by definition, be chronically body-positive and optimistic, Sobia is very reflective when it comes to her own struggle with body perception. “It took me a long time to come to terms with how badly I spoke about myself. I’m lucky to be surrounded by friends and collaborators who have helped me speak more kindly to myself. I’m in a constant process of unlearning both, things I heard at home and things I thought about myself. I’m coming to a point of neutrality about my body—like anything else it needs constant work and reiteration. But it’s my body and no one but I, can claim ownership over it.”
Sobia is also conscious of how badly she let other people treat her. “I think it’s a very South Asian thing to be extremely comfortable with commenting on someone else’s body irrespective of age, or how well you know them. I have grown up with it and I see it even today and it’s genuinely exhausting. One of the things that triggers me to this day is watching someone humiliate someone younger in public. It’s dehumanising and I wish we would be more cognisant of how powerful words can be. I see this in other women too—we normalise being terrible to people about their bodies and this leads to women (or those who are more feminine), not being able to recognise signs of abuse, of hurt. If we were taught how to be kinder to ourselves, we would be better at recognising unkindness from other people.”
ON FINDING FASHION
“When I began my career as an architect in Dhaka, I started showcasing my style and incorporating it into my work wear. I wanted to express the stories I had gathered through various fabrics and weaves. Drawing inspiration from my architectural background, I find great passion in fashion, as it allows me to craft structures, shapes, and textures in my daily life. Fashion has become my creative outlet, enabling me to narrate my own story. Initially, sharing images of myself wearing beautiful saris wasn’t driven by any political agenda or promoting body positivity; I simply cherished the historical significance and context behind the fabrics, and they made me feel confident and beautiful. Fashion has truly become an engaging and artistic discipline for me as an architect, and it has allowed me to blend elements like suits, semi-formals, and saris seamlessly in the professional context of Bangladesh.”
ON THE POWER OF ASKING
So how does a young woman, who has lived with self-doubt and self-esteem issues stemming from growing up in a non-normative body and complicated interactions with family, end up working with the coolest brands from South Asia?
“I reached out to all the brands I loved and said, ‘I love you, please work with me!’” Sobia laughs. “It took me a while to overcome my own imposter syndrome, and I’m still working through it. But I put myself out there and became better at taking the risk of rejection. Being open to collaboration, and trusting yourself to see it through is the key.”
ON REPRESENTATION, TOKENISM, AND BEING A ‘PART OF THE INDUSTRY’
Sobia feels incredibly fortunate to have worked with amazing people and brands who have shown inclusivity and made her feel comfortable during shoots. She recalls a special experience with fashion photographer Shaheen Peer at Belgadia Palace, near Kolkata. Despite not having met before, Shaheen flew down to Kolkata and travelled with her to Belgadia for a sari shoot. Sobia opened up about her insecurity regarding her back, and with Shaheen’s gentle guidance, they created something beautiful together.
Sobia believes that the best part of her journey has been collaborating with such exceptional people and brands. However, she acknowledges that there is still a long way to go in the industry. She aspires to be seen as a model who happens to be plus size, not merely a ‘plus-size’ model. One incident that deeply resonated with her was when model Varshita Thatavarthi did an incredible bridal campaign for Sabyasachi. People began congratulating Sobia, mistaking her for Varshita. This highlighted the issue of being treated as replaceable tokens in the industry. Sobia reflects on the need for genuine representation and the importance of recognising each individual’s uniqueness.
In her view, true change in championing representation requires respecting creatives in the industry and avoiding using fat people as tokens in campaigns. This shift in mindset is crucial to promote genuine diversity and inclusion in the world of modelling and fashion.
“It’s important for me to work with brands that make me feel included, not just as a creator, but as a consumer. The Estée Lauder campaign that I recently worked on is a great example of this. It was a landmark moment for me because I remember watching my mother use their products and being baffled because none of the products looked like they could work on people like me. I’m glad to see that their range has become truly inclusive. The campaign was especially meaningful because now someone who looks like me, will see my face, and know that she can be a consumer that the brand genuinely cares about.”
“I try to follow this principle with all the brands I work with. A simple example of inclusivity is being able to scroll down to my size on a brand’s website, rather than having to click on the ‘customise’ button. I know that smaller brands have to work extra hard to make inclusivity a part of their strategy, but it’s crucial because as a creator, I can help consumers who look like me imagine themselves in the clothes, accessories, and goods that these brands make.”
“When it comes to consumerism, a simple way to evaluate inclusivity is to ask yourself, ‘Is this brand just pandering to me, or is it trying to make me a part of a larger narrative? Am I a part of this brand’s story, or just someone they want to grudgingly get more sales out of?’”
ON FAST FASHION
“Growing up in Bangladesh, I witnessed the true cost of fast fashion all around me. Our entire economy relies on fast fashion, which leads to exploitation and pollution. I see it emerging in Mumbai too, whenever I’m here for work. I don’t want to say ‘don’t buy fast fashion’ because that’s not fair—I bought fast fashion too. For the longest time, it was my only real option because other brands didn’t make clothes in my size. It’s incredibly exciting to see more options emerging in the market and that tide turning in real-time, but everyone involved—brands and consumers—needs to do more.”
“Brands need to take their consumers seriously. Women are economic powerhouses, and someone who is willing and capable of spending money on good quality clothes and accessories is not going to be happy with being told to shut up and be grateful for a tiny sliver of choices from an entire catalogue.”
“Consumers should branch out and try more beautiful things! A friend of mine who works in the industry told me that they make plus-size clothing in limited colours and conservative cuts because that’s what sells. I wish people embraced colours, drapes, and the joy of expressing themselves with their choices instead of just finding things that drown their bodies out.”
ON BRANDS SHE LOVES
The list is extensive, diverse, and often full of surprises. “I try to keep an open mind about brands and they often come through. I remember wearing a dress from Bhaane, I didn’t even know they made it in my size and it made me feel beautiful. Advait’s colours, cuts, and prints are always a delight. I also love Turn Black for essentials that I can dress up or down. The brands I loved working with are House of Masaba, a collaboration that made me feel like a creative, not just a ‘plus-size model’, Papa Don’t Preach, and Doh Tak Keh.”
When pressed further for brands she loves to wear and buy from (on request of multiple people who said “I want to raid her closet!”), here’s a few of the very many she lists: Chokhi Chorri, Sarto Studio, House of Mae, Moh India, Shop Drawn, A Humming Way, Rias Jaipur, Aroka, Studio Verandah, Nor Black Nor White, and Mamicha.
ON BEING AN INFLUENCER—AND INFLUENCING
“Being on social media was not an easy step. Aside from my body, family and loved ones told me that I didn’t need to be doing this—and that’s fair. I don’t need to be doing any of this, but I love doing it. I love making sure that amazing brands reach consumers and that consumers can see themselves in these brands. Influencers form an essential bridge that helps small brands reach the markets they need to. The kind of reach, relevance, and sales we have is unparalleled because people can relate to us unlike the large consumer campaigns that existed before. By bringing our personalities and ideas to the table, we become incredibly powerful because we are not just manufactured campaigns for the masses. We help other people see themselves as something more than what they have been allowed to until now.”
“However, I have to say that I dislike the fact that so many influencers limit themselves to just being “body positive.” Am I body positive? Sure, but body positivity isn’t all that I am. I have been posting on social media since I was a teenager and my entire life has been chronicled in all my various interests, whims, and fancies over the internet, especially on Instagram. That’s what makes it honest, real, and special. Limiting yourself just because that’s what your audience wants is a disservice to both your audience and to yourself. I wish people would allow themselves to look at themselves as multitudes.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SOBIA?
“In the last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to work with incredible brands, designers, artists, creatives, and photographers. The biggest lesson I have learned is to allow myself to take bigger risks. When I started on this journey, I didn’t know where it would lead me, but I allowed myself to try new things and have new experiences. This has probably taught me more than anything else in my life. Moving forward, I want to continue doing what I love. Whether it is as the baker Sobia or the creative Sobia, I want to continue being myself on the internet. I also hope to keep working with brands that align with my ethos and values, and I want to expand my reach globally.”
“Brands worldwide are realising that their consumers are not a monolith, and people like me can help represent the diverse markets they hope to serve. The next few years promise to be exciting for many reasons, but especially because I have learned to allow myself the joy of trying new things and not limiting myself to just one profession or interest. I can’t wait to keep discovering things that I can fall in love with.”
Source: Harpers Bazaar