A plus size model, actress, TV show host and TV producer speaks on the reasons women feel fat in Russia and how to struggle against it.
Striking, smart, energetic, thinking, funny, ambitious, kind-hearted, emotional, leggy, good-minded, willowy, deep, stately. Katya is all of these and much more. In 2015, she came to Russia to take part in a local version of the “Strictly Come Dancing” TV show. Where she was reminded about one more epithet — fat. Luckily, Katya Zharkova has no problems with the self-esteem. Every day she proves that happiness is not weighted by pounds. She is an example for thousands of young women: she doesn’t try to beat her genetics, but to master it properly.
Katya Zharkova, 34
From Smolensk, Russia
Lives in Washington D.C., USA
Model, actress, TV show host, TV producer
About the “Strictly Come Dancing”
- In a dance world, I am fat. It is hard to realize for a psychologically mature and successful woman that people do think so. You became who you are because you were yourself. That’s why you got to the show. But the dance world won’t accept you anyway.
- I couldn’t come through one thing that my partner Vitaliy Surma told me once. “I was in fact very scared when I put you on my knee for the first time.” (Katya laughs) There was such move in our first dance.
- I used to go in for dance when I was a child. I was much thinner than I am now, but the jury of a contest said I was plumpy. I remember that moment very well. I came home and told my mom “I won’t dance ever again”. Because they were judging not my performance but me. It was all the same when I became an adult, as well as on the show. After my second performance a woman came to me and said: “Katya, you shouldn’t wear white. It makes you look fuller”. I was looking at her thinking “Okay then, I know I am overweight, you people have been telling it to me for all my life. So I can’t wear the dress I like?” By the way, this woman was Maxim Kozhevnikov’s wife. Later this exact jury threw me out of the show.
- The first thing my partner told me was to lose 22 pounds. “It will help us perform better”. Initially, I laughed: me? 22 pounds? Hell yeah! I would have lost them long ago with my pace of living. It is not my decision to be fat! But later I realized that his words hurt me a lot.
- Stereotypes are hard to break: people think for some reason that plus size models are overweight because they eat a lot and don’t move. I’ve been striving to prove otherwise for all of my life.
- Having lived in Russia for two months and a half, I had a feeling that I am huge. This is all about Russian mindset. You should look like everybody else. In fact, everybody else is like me in Russia.
About physical appearance
- Beauty is relative. Everyone perceives me in their own way. I look different, I can be beautiful on a picture, but they can make me look unlikeable. I can tell it for sure, it happens when a person sees me like that.
- I strive to work with photographers who don’t use Photoshop heavily. It works fine when you need to eliminate some temporary faults. Like a pimple that comes with every period. Periods are natural, but breaking-out is not a reason to cancel a shooting. Here I don’t mind using Photoshop. But when it altering you completely and makes an illusion you look like a princess, the retouch doesn’t help you feel confident.
- A man reacts on the energetic state of a woman. It doesn’t matter if you are fat or slender. Being with you should be comfy and exciting. I always strive to have a smart and cultural company. I have never been interested in people who care about my bottom’s size. Spending time with such people is a form of masochism.
- At home, I am surrounded by sports equipment: pilates ball, ab wheel. I always do exercises for abs when I watch a movie.
- I have two arms and both legs, and it is stupid not to use them. My father works with athletes, including Paralympians. They never give up, they keep moving no matter what. I am a big fan of Olesya Vladykina (a swimmer and a two-time Paralympic champion). When I see her I cannot help but go to the gym.
- I like fit guys, I like looking at an athletic strong man, who can easily do a chin-up. And I’m asking myself a frank question: do the men feel the same when they see a fit girl? Who can do a chin-up or a push-up. Who is strong in spirit. Because when you go in for sports you are confident and you don’t have any time for unwanted thinking.
- I don’t drink coke or sodas. I practice separate nutrition. In the morning, I eat a yogurt, oatmeal with chia seeds, flax seeds, and maca powder. I try to eat food that gives me energy. I am not that young, chips make me feel bad. Rice, salads, oatmeal, yogurt and avocado make the core of my diet. Lately, I am also in love with kale.
- Good diet and some exercises are the formula of a healthy skin. Yoga helps a lot. The Down Dog asana improves blood circulation and does better than a facial cleansing. I drink a lot of water, really, 3 to 4 liters, I drink like a fish (Katya laughs). I take vitamin E, biotin,and spirulina.
- People think that if you are plus size, you promote ill-being. This is wrong. Food should bring joy, but a controlled one. There are so much more: sex, sports, going out with friends. I strive to promote healthy diet and active lifestyle. That is the only way to be beautiful.
About stereotypes and how to overcome them
- I always put goals. I prove that if you dream about something it can come true. I wanted to be on a Cosmopolitan cover — and I was there. Now I want to take part in the American Ninja Warrior show. That motivates me to go to the gym even more. It looks like for all of my life I will have to prove that if you are overweight it doesn’t mean you are lazy! (laughs) I don’t know whom and why. But if people don’t believe that, I should break that stereotype.
- Girls often write me letters, leave comments below my Instagram posts: “Thank you for the photo, you made my day!” This is the evidence that there are a lot of girls like me.
- Being a model, a public figure means great responsibility. I want girls to follow my example. I strive to be a better version of Katya Zharkova. The girl, who wasn’t born to be a model.
Photo: Masha Budtova
Make up: Sonya Chaykovskaya
Style: Nastya Sukhanova