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The Plastic World Of Toddlers And Tiaras; Of Fake Eyelashes and Fake Smiles

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By Tanima Banerjee:

It is indeed amazing when you see children of the age 5 or 6 actually playing heavy graphic games on latest high-tech gadgets or crying for an iPad on their birthday, and you immediately wonder, “I wasn’t like that when I was their age!” Even though I would love to hope this isn’t true, that childhood is not something which is lost, yet what we see happening around suggests a different, difficult to accept, dark, grim reality. Undeniably, times have changed.

There is something inherently wrong with the age where children of ages 5 or 6 are no longer seen playing cricket or football in the grounds in fresh, free air, or running behind ice cream carts, or playing dolls. In fact the irony is that children play ‘virtual games’ now. They don’t touch ice creams because they think they might get fat (yes, a 5 year old says that). Instead of playing with dolls, tiny little young girls are actually busy becoming dolls themselves.

The fact that children seem to be growing up in jet speed, becoming ‘little adults’, is not something for which children can be blamed for. Parents who guide their kids through their childhood and help them embrace it with all innocence and playfulness, are actually killing the experience for them. This is true for the show ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ on TLC, which is (shockingly) 3 seasons old now. It’s a make-over child beauty pageant show running on TV where parents make their daughters of 3-5 year age group compete with each other by dressing them up as 25 year old Miss USAs. What actually happens in this show is that each child prepares for her performance, attending hair and nail appointments, making finishing touches on gowns and suits, attending numerous coaching sessions or rehearsals. The girls are dressed up as Barbie dolls or Hollywood heroines, and made to wear makeup, false eyelashes, spray tans and fake hair. Then these little girls, who probably don’t even know what is being done to them and why, are judged on traits of beauty, personality and costumes. The idea comes across as terribly insane! It is ridiculous to transform these children into miniatures of grown up people for the sake of fame and money, and also boosting the self-esteem of not so much of the children, but the parents themselves. These innocent beings are unknowingly becoming pawns in the games their parents seem to play with them.

Recently there was news about a woman in USA actually getting Botox operation done on her 8 year old daughter to keep her skin young and fresh for long. It’s almost ridiculous to hear such things! Since when did 8 years old need Botox to look young? Aren’t they young in real? It’s absurd to the point of dark humor when parents actually sexualize their little children with plucking eyebrows and even adding fake sexual organs to make them look glamorous. We are surrounded by machines and plastics all the time now. Does that apply to living beings too, whose minds have not even fully developed? Is it even logical that the modern age would turn children into plastic dolls? What right does anyone, even if they are the parents, have to dehumanize these children for some beauty crown. At a tender age of 4 or 5, beauty in a child is his or her innocence. Though children always have a fascination to grow up like their parents or any role model they follow, but applying artificial methods to achieve that, is not only harmful to their bodies but also shameful on the name of humanity.

Though performing on stage does boost a child’s confidence in a competitive world. But the way the “pageant moms” dress up their kids in fake nails, fake tans, fake teeth and fake smiles is deeply disturbing. The reason children are used in such competitions is because they have no agency or say in such matters, and become merely puppets in their parents’ own hideous ambitions. A child on one of these pageants once said “All I want is to go eat a pizza”. It clearly demonstrates how the imposition of being beauty queens, standing in front of the mirror and think about your face, what make-up you should wear, what dresses you should wear to emulate the heroines in films, takes away the very experience of childhood. Making children strut on the stage in adult costumes and hard make-up is not funny as the show claims. It’s ruthlessly ravaging innocence, which once lost, can’t be retrieved. Also it tends to make the children value beauty above anything else, and believe in the superficialities of life instead of its real essence. It causes the children tremendous confusion, wondering why they are not okay without those things.

This is not the proper way for parents to show their love for children, and definitely not a lesson they would want them to learn. They are only inflicting their ambitions on these kids who are made to compete with each other on grounds which require no talent. In fact if it is doing anything, it is killing the inner talent of a naïve child. They restrict children from eating food with calories. They bind them to do things that a child actually does for their own victory in dressing the child as a beauty queen. There is a need for adults to value childhood before anything else. Children need to live life to the fullest. Parents need to allow these toddlers to dream, not chase an unreal fantasy world. It is probably the greatest social duty of a parent to build a happy present and future for their kids, and not push them into a meaningless world of superficialities.

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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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