Growing up in Orissa, Anwesh Kumar Sahoo never thought much about beauty. Even when he did have conversations about beauty in his home, it was always about feminine beauty. Things changed in 2016 when he won the Mr. Gay India pageant. Winning the title thrust him into a world where appearance became a focal point, exposing him to the backlash, particularly regarding his skin color. But Anwesh knew that the problem was not with his skin color, it was with people’s mentality. In a conversation with us, Anwesh shares his journey of becoming a passionate spokesperson for queer rights in India, the importance of allyship, and the pertinent role social media plays in people’s lives today.

I felt that it was my responsibility to change the popular perception of people around how a good-looking man should be.

The criticism Anwesh received for his skin color, rooted in the stereotypical notion of beauty being associated with fair skin prompted him to question and challenge prevailing beauty standards. As an Oriya boy with a brown complexion, he realized the lack of representation for individuals like himself in mainstream Indian media. The backlash, while perplexing to Anwesh, became a catalyst for him to reshape representations of men, diverging from the conventional fair-skinned archetype.

Through his vibrant and avant-garde artworks, Anwesh transforms the creative process into a coping strategy for his past pain and trauma and a poignant commentary on societal beauty expectations. Anwesh strives to address and celebrate the diverse facets of life through his art, presenting a counter-narrative to prevailing beauty standards. Anwesh's mission is clear: to represent brown men as the gorgeous individuals they are, contributing his part to reshaping societal perceptions of beauty.

Encouraging those grappling with self-representation, Anwesh emphasizes the importance of choosing one's narrative. He talks about how, in the absence of others taking the lead, one can become their reference point—an approach he adopted.

Through my work, I want people to know that there can be successful stories of queerness.

Reflecting on the challenges encountered since his initial foray into the public sphere, Anwesh talks about how he grappled with the complexities of sharing personal aspects on the burgeoning Indian internet scene from 2016-2017. The rapid evolution of online platforms brought forth a diverse audience with varying interpretations, leading to frequent misunderstandings and misrepresentations of his messages. Particularly in the context of advocacy for queer causes in a challenging landscape like India, Anwesh faced the repercussions of a larger audience not always supportive of his endeavors.

To navigate this terrain, Anwesh emphasizes the importance of selectively engaging with information and underscores the significance of maintaining a clear boundary between the content he consumes and what he consciously avoids. He also advises aspiring advocates to prioritize mental, emotional, physical, and financial well-being. He discourages blindly following trends, emphasizing the creation of a healthy offline experience in real life.

Anwesh acknowledges the responsibility he bears as a representation of the queer community. Leveraging platforms like Instagram and YouTube, he strategically utilizes visual mediums to reach a broader audience, promoting empowering content by queer individuals and challenging societal norms along the way.

When someone is reaching out to you, it makes a lot of difference.

Reflecting on impactful moments of allyship, Anwesh highlights two significant instances. During his school days in Odisha, he faced derogatory remarks as a gay individual, but a supportive friend consistently stood by his side. Upon relocating to Noida during his teenage years, another friend, a girl, consistently stood up for him, providing a profound sense of support. Anwesh emphasizes the profound impact of having even one person take a stand for you, especially when they may not fully comprehend queerness but support and believe in you nonetheless.

In recent years, Anwesh has expressed gratitude for allyship from prominent brands he has collaborated with. Recognizing the financial empowerment of queer individuals as a catalyst for change, he acknowledges the support of brands that have become patrons, enabling him to sustain his artistic work. Despite potential backlash and challenges faced by brands dealing with hate, Anwesh values those who continue to collaborate and support him, seeing it as a form of allyship that has played a crucial role in his journey.

Anwesh Kumar Sahoo's pragmatic journey is marked by self-discovery, activism, and artistic expression. Through his work and advocacy, Anwesh strives to challenge societal norms, redefine beauty standards, and inspire the queer community to embrace their identities with pride.

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