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Makeover Shows and What They Signify

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By Deborah D’souza:

When I was younger I used to enjoy makeover shows, especially UK’s hit shows starring Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (T&S). As a young girl I thought they were awesome feisty women and the clothes were just gorgeous. It all looked like a bit of fun, like an adventure series set in a shopping mall. Recently I caught one of their newer episodes and I realized much more than I initially did about the show- what it signifies and what it does.

We’re told that the goal is happiness. Makeover shows recently have claimed therapeutic powers. T&S believe that making an effort with your look makes you happy, that looking beautiful according to society’s warped standards makes you happy. The answer to emotional issues relating to relationship problems/a recent divorce/body anxiety etc.? A nice skirt to suit your body type.

So does dressing up make you happy or is it only happy people who dress up? Mindboggling-ly, it’s both, according to the hosts. T&S believe they’re capable of assessing a person’s happiness by seeing how they dress. This is based on the assumption that only women who are desperately unhappy aren’t too worried about the way they look. (Do they actually believe that? I’m not sure but for the sake of this article we’ll assume they know no better.) It’s like dressing yourself in yellow everyday and telling yourself repeatedly that you’re an egg. T&S believe you will automatically turn into an egg.

This kind of opinion about what makes and defines a woman’s happiness is not only inherently flawed and incorrect on a social and psychological level; it’s also creating a neurosis and hyper awareness amongst women about how they’re being perceived by others. At the end of the day we aren’t dressing up because we enjoy fashion, we’re dressing up to convince people that we’re confident, happy and that we love ourselves cause we’ve been taught that frumpiness will attract pity.

Often one hears the words like ‘womanly, feminine and soft’ thrown around on these shows. They are attributes all of the people on the show, who are being saved from their dowdy wardrobes, have to aspire to. Amongst them the word ‘womanly’ and its uses and contexts always make me uncomfortable. Womanly is to be female. Every woman is womanly. It’s a natural result of being a woman. Womanly shouldn’t be defined at all, and most definitely not by cosmetics, fitting clothes, hair dye, hairless bodies or unending awareness and consciousness of how one appears. The lady in the baggy sweats is womanly. The woman in the couture gown is womanly.

I’m all for women owning their sexuality. I’m all for women being comfortable with their sexuality. I, however, do not support women being told what their sexuality is and how they could attain it through the right purchases. This buys into the patriarchal belief that women aren’t sexual beings but in fact sexual objects. As sexual objects, looking good is where their value is derived from and without that they simply aren’t — here’s that god-awful word again — womanly. Makeover shows teach women that looking good is of utmost importance and that what they are in their natural state is not good enough. Ever. It hammers in the thought that women are flawed beings who need to correct themselves constantly and keep striving to improve themselves superficially.

Instead of going around and helping these women deal with their very real issues, the depression and anxiety they experience as being part of the society and dealing with it’s harsh views, they tell these women to suck it up and put on a performance. The message to women everywhere is that there’s no time for you to be lazing around in jeans and comfortable sandals, it’s time for you to look beautiful or you’ll miss out in life and no one will respect you. There’s a good chance that you’ll be miserable even after you buy that sundress but at least you’ll be doing your job and looking sexy. And misinformed people will assume you’re happy and confident too. You can go home and cry when you’re by yourself, but the important thing is looking smashing all the time.

Makeover shows are seemingly innocent. They haven’t invented the sexist beliefs, they are merely suggesting ways for women to play by the rules of society and reap the rewards. They encourage women to make an effort so that they will receive acceptance and a vague promise of romantic love. But what does that signify for the feminist movement and women everywhere who are struggling to be accepted not for their bodies but for their minds? An absolute betrayal.

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    Apprceitaoin for this information is over 9000-thank you!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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