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Body Image- Not Just The Stronghold Of Females, Men Care Too

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By Tanima Banerjee:

‘Anorexia’, ‘Bulimia’, ‘Diet control’, the ‘Perfect Body’; these are terms one usually understood to be concerns of women. We constantly hear of girls working out or on crash diets to fit themselves into those skin-tight jeans and body fitting dresses. It is an accepted fact that women are more worried than their male counterparts about their appearances, especially their bodies. But little do people realize that men are equally conscious of their body image like the women, if not more. Body image is the way you perceive, think and feel about your body. Poor body image is a huge male problem today, with around half of all men feeling unhappy with their body shape or size.

In age where everything is grounded on competition, can appearance be far behind. Getting the perfectly toned ideal body, the chiseled muscles, the six pack abs; the David-like figure is a dream almost every man wants to realize. It’s estimated that about 45 per cent of Western men are unhappy with their bodies to some degree. The increasing concern with the appearance of their body has forced men to invest millions of dollars in gyms and exercise machines. Statistics show that in America, around $4 Billion is being spent by men on exercise equipment and health club membership. Even though men don’t talk about their fetish for the ideal body image, the interest in enhancing their physical image has gripped men of today in an obsessive way. This is rooted in the fear to be judged according to appearance.

“Men are still taught as boys that the body is something that is designed to be a perfectly performing machine, not something to be cared for and nurtured,” said Michael Addis, professor of psychology at Clark University and author of “Invisible Men.” “But men base self-esteem on body image and weight.” He reported to have observed a changing trend in men regarding their consciousness of their physique in college. He has seen more of them spend time in the gym, focus on their appearance and monitor body mass nowadays. It can be clearly observed all around that the desire to get that superman body has obviously increased, leading to millions of men getting prey to eating disorders, fad dieting and dependence of exercise.

Research shows that today’s college men are reporting greater levels of body dissatisfaction. Males associate their attractiveness with increased muscle definition, and are concerned about body shape (as opposed to weight) and increasing their muscle mass. There is a great emphasis on looking good, being well-groomed and in good shape. This is reiterated through movies, sitcoms, advertisements and magazines. Most of the actors we see nowadays on cover pages of fashion or film magazines exhibit that perfect body which is tall, lean, agile and fit. The idea behind the growing obsession is to look healthy and confident, as a good, fit body replicates masculine prowess, as well as boosts their self-confidence while appearing in public.

Some psychologists and trend watchers said the male muscle obsession only grew during the last few years. As the economy struggled, men were sent looking for aspects of their lives they could define and control. Body image is, at times, the only thing. “Men can’t control how much money they make or their employment situation, but they can control how they look. It can create this obsessiveness,” said Sarah Toland, senior health editor for Men’s Journal.

The problem here lies not in the desire to be healthy and fit, but with the fatal consequences it could bear if the desire turns into an unceasing obsession. The idea coming across while trying to look as well-proportioned and fit like models and actors like Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, John Abraham and Hrithik Roshan to name a few, has made people get far too conscious and even embarrassed about their body structure. The engagement with obsessive feelings of inadequacy, unattractiveness, and failure has led to propagating eating disorders and disordered exercising behaviors. Low self-esteem, anxiety and depression is the result in case their body doesn’t match up to that fit look. Not only could this obsession lead to several internal health problems, it could end up making him neglect the bigger issues of his life beyond the looks.
If one loses confidence in him, and fails to realize that being healthy is more important than being the muscle-man, it could be extremely fatal. One should not strive too hard, going against nature, to embody, quite literally, the Adonis figure. One should know the limits of his body, and eat well and lead a healthy lifestyle. One must not be depressed for how he looks, and accept himself for who is. There is a need to understand that masculinity does not lie in muscle power. It premises itself on how he respects others, as well as himself. If one can’t treat his body according to its actual needs, how can one treat anyone else well? This is not to say that working out for a fit-looking body is a dispensable thing. But one needs to make sure it doesn’t cross the thin line towards obsession. One should appreciate his body, ideal or not, and not punish his body for what it can’t bear. One must understand that no matter howsoever he looks; if he is healthy, happy and confident, his talent and social behavior could over-rule the fact of not being able to be the modern day David, and that is all that matters.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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