Malvika Iyer lost both her arms and damaged both legs in a blast when she was 13. Photo credit: RA Photography
"Even if you are differently abled, you’re still a person with the same interests in fashion and accessories. Everyone wants to look good." – Malvika Iyer
Malvika Iyer was just 13 years old when an unfathomable tragedy struck her. She was playing outside her home in Bikaner, Rajasthan, when she found a hand grenade, common enough in the armament depot area she lived in. Thinking it was one of the many spent or empty grenades in the area, she picked it up.
The next thing she knew was that she had lost both her arms in the blast and severely damaged both her legs. This was in 2002.
One and a half years of being bedridden and numerous surgeries later, Malvika decided that she was not about to give up. She moved to Chennai and wrote her class X exams privately, and ended up amongst the toppers the state of Tamil Nadu, with 100 per cent in Maths and Science. Soon, her name, photos, achievements and story of her tragedy were all over the papers.
When the media thronged to her home to interview her, Malvika felt the acute need to dress well. “I was getting attention and I wanted to look good,” she recalls.
“I used to be a very fashion-conscious child and, before my accident, had designed and stitched my own clothes,” she adds. A regular teen like any other, Malvika wanted to look trendy and ‘with it’. “Just marks were not enough for me,” she smiles. But the hurdles were many.
“I had to wear tops with full sleeves to hide the sockets of my prosthetic arms. There was not much choice and the socket was so wide that most clothes didn’t fit,” she adds. Half-sleeved shirts would attract a lot of attention. Since her legs were disfigured, wearing skirts was also a problem.
“I became aware of the importance of beauty, of stereotyping, body image and so on,” says Malvika, now a social worker and TEDx speaker.
Despite her physical constraints, Malvika loved fashion and was labelled 'fashionista' by her fellow students at St Stephen's College, Delhi. Photo credit: RA Photography
Going to St Stephen’s College in Delhi for graduation changed her life. Delhi offered her the opportunity to experiment with lycra, colours and designs… so much so that she earned the sobriquet of ‘fashionista’ in the college. She went on to become a Ph.D scholar with a thesis on disability inclusion.
Even today, though she has switched to high-tech bionic arms, her clothes are modified 90 per cent to suit her needs. A staunch proponent of Yves Saint Laurent’s quote, “I have always believed that fashion was not only to make women more beautiful, but also to reassure them, give them confidence,” Malvika is an advocate for inclusion of the differently abled in society – and she believes that fashion must become inclusive too.
“There should be a clothing line for the differently abled! It is not necessary to have a perfect body,” she says, citing the example of acid-attack survivors who held a fashion show a few months ago.
Malvika was showstopper at a fashion show that celebrated 'accessible clothing'.
Her “most amazing” fashion moment was when she was chosen as a model for accessible clothing in India as part of an initiative of Ability Foundation-NIFT. “The differently abled don’t walk the ramp wearing gowns but that changed at this fashion show. They had designed two gowns for me and one of them was the showstopper,” she says. Malvika’s attitude more than compensates for her missing limbs. “Now the differently abled are walking the ramp internationally and this should happen in India too.”
The 26-year-old blogger, poet and activist is very active on social media and receives encouraging responses. “Even ‘normal’ people get disheartened easily. When they see my photos they tell me, ‘You have lost both hands yet you post pics’. I am happy that my photos and posts motivate others to keep going and not give up easily,” she adds.
“Fashion is a luxury for most but it is also an essential tool to raise one’s confidence levels,” she emphasises. Her matchless style makes her whole.
Ritu Goyal Harish is a journalist, photographer, music lover, full-time mommy and activist in disguise. She runs two travel start-ups, one in India, www.easeindiatravel.com, and one in Bhutan.Read all her posts on herFashion101 Blog.