'Love Is Blind' star Deepti Vempati didn't talk about her eating disorder with family growing up: 'I used to live this double life'
It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Deepti Vempati is a few years out from gaining overnight fame as one of Netflix's breakout stars from Season 2 of the dating show Love Is Blind. She still calls the experience "the biggest test of my life."
While the risk that is joining a reality television show with a premise to fall in love and get engaged to a stranger before even seeing them face-to-face is evident, Vempati tells Yahoo Life that the challenge wasn't in finding a happily ever after with a partner (she ended up walking away from short-term fiancé Abhishek "Shake" Chatterjee at the altar). Instead, she was faced with the task of finding love within herself in a way that drastically changed her life and even her family.
"It was a tough thing to go on the show, especially coming from the culture that I came from where you tend to keep your intimate thoughts to yourself," she says of being born in Hyderabad, India, and raised within a South Asian household even after moving to Bloomington, Ill. "So talking about everything that you're going through, your past life, your emotions, really putting your body out there and being vulnerable, that was extremely hard. But I realized I needed to do it."
Keeping things to herself, especially when it came to hardships and struggles, was something Vempati says she became good at as a young girl. "I used to live this double life, being this perfect version of myself with my family, and then who I truly was and what I was going through," she says.
What she was going through was a difficult relationship with her body that ultimately led to an eating disorder. Unfortunately, she didn't see her family members as safe spaces during that time, so she struggled in silence.
"We don't really talk about sensitive things or intimate things. So it was hard for me to go to my family and be like, 'Hey, I'm not feeling good about myself,'" she recalls. "Even with exercise and eating, I feel like I didn't develop a good relationship with any of those things. I didn't know how to handle it because of the fact that we weren't able to talk about it in our household."
The little discussion they did have about beauty standards made Vempati feel even worse, as she dealt with insecurities about her skin tone because of colorism in India. "If you're fair-skinned, that means that you're more beautiful. I naturally had darker skin and I liked being outside," she explains. "It was like, 'This is what you need to do to become fair, you need to stay out of the sun, you need to do these types of creams.'"
The dichotomy between her two cultures in Bloomington — living in a South Asian home while attending a primarily white school — highlighted Vempati's insecurities and contributed to unhealthy behaviors that she says aligned with bulimia and anorexia. It wasn't until her sister found out about Vempati's eating disorder that she was made to confront it.
She did so by turning to self-care practices.
"Even though I didn't get professional help, I think a lot of the tools that I use, like journaling and meditation and exercise really helped pull me out of it. And when I started to see how I felt when I did those things, I think that's when I realized, 'OK, this is the journey that I need to go on, and to make myself feel better and to love myself more,'" she says.
Things in Vempati's life started to change — one of which was her appearance, as her appreciation for movement and food evolved. Although she discussed the resulting weight loss on the show, she explains that the journey had to do with so much more.
"I had worked on myself so much up until that point for Love Is Blind. It wasn't just looking physically fit because even at my most physical fit, I had lots of body dysmorphia and negative thoughts about myself," she says. "But I was at a place where I had built myself up to be this confident, strong person and I needed to be able to put myself out there vulnerably to see more growth in myself."
The experience itself allowed Vempati to explore that vulnerability. But it also challenged her to use the tools she had developed to stay strong amid body-shaming from both the internet and her partner on the show that she saw as it aired. "Are you going to let the opinions of other people kind of dictate how you feel about yourself? Or are you going to have that self confidence within yourself to shine?" she recalls thinking.
Most importantly, she had the support of family and friends who were learning of her struggles for the very first time.
"Honestly, it has helped my conversations with my family so much. And it really impacted them when I wrote my book and wrote about all the eating disorders and all of the things that I went through mentally, and it really made them sad that I couldn't come to them," she says. "They've seen the show, they've read the book and we're able to have more honest conversations where nothing is off the table. We're able to talk about intimacy, we're able to talk about body image issues."
Vempati has also witnessed her mom in particular gaining an awareness of and empathy toward body insecurities that she hadn't had the opportunity to explore before.
"It has changed the way my mom communicates with me in certain aspects. Instead of being very direct with me, she'll be very careful of how she words things. I think that's made such a good impact and has made our relationship so much better," Vempati says. "It's amazing for somebody coming from that culture and being so deeply rooted in it to come here and to change the way they talk and the way they look at these hard conversations. It's been a way for her to also put her walls down and so it's really, really helped us."
Now, through more conversations about body image, colorism and representation — one of which she'll be having at The BodCon 2023 on Sunday, March 5 — Vempati hopes to empower more people by being authentically herself.
"I'm hoping to just show up authentically and to keep sharing my life so that people can see that you can look like me — you can be curvier, you can have darker skin, you can be whoever and embrace your uniqueness," she says. "I just am feeling so much more confident and strong with who I am. And that's not just just because of the way I look. It's how I feel when I look at myself."
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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