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Are You Comfortable In Your Own Skin?

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By Nishtha Relan:

The other day one of my cousins pointed out how my thighs had gained a layer of flab, and I told her I had just had a surgery, and the medications and motionless rest required after that had, maybe, resulted in weight-gain. She later made a snide remark on how I was ‘fitter’ when I used to diet. In hindsight, I realize that the little detail about an immaterial weight gain has sunk in so deep in my mind that I am trying to eat less. I am looking at myself through the glasses of stereotypes.

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As it happens, what we often do before we upload a picture on Facebook or any other cyber social network is to ‘edit’ our pictures with the help of easily available editing software. It isn’t just the cool effects we add, but also the blemishes, pimples and flab that we carefully erase. And then we nod at the jokes comparing our pretty profile pictures and the horrendous images on the driving licenses. How have we turned habitual of self criticism and dissatisfaction, so much so that we are ready to alter how we look just to prove that we are acceptably good-looking? Why do we need to appear good anyway?

The general answers to these questions would be an inherent need to feel good about ourselves, that fitter is healthier, for our own benefit, and that it is easier to succeed in life when you have confidence, which aims to justify the ‘look good, feel good‘ factor. Not that any of it is wrong, or that I advocate shabbiness and careless gulping down of carbohydrates, but there happens to be a deeper understanding for why we are so hell bent on making our skin fairer with the best wrinkle cream and giving up awesome food to lose those kilos. We, without meaning to, conform to the established socio-gender stereotypes when we see and judge people, including ourselves, on the basis of height and weight measurements. The matrimonial section of newspapers blatantly tells all about the popular demand of fair, slim, beautiful, domesticated brides and the rich prospective husbands. Let us not turn into the very products of physical perfection and outward appearances which the modern society thus endorses. The mental capability to recognize talent and intelligence is important too.

Again, it is the freedom from certain set notions of body than a critique of physical well-being and maintenance which I advocate. The difference between ‘slim‘ and ‘fit’ should be kept in mind before we let it overtake our senses and leave us at a loss. When the bullies picked on us in school, we had no answers to give in defense of our bushy hair, plump waistlines and hairy legs. But now, surely, we have gathered that they matter only as long as we let them. We are, certainly, more than all the models of physical beauty that patriarchy has ingrained in our minds for hundreds of years. We have the mental capability to change the corrupt, stagnant world of injustice and fraudulent. We have the amazing qualities of friendship, success, the opportunity of living life with all its colours, flavours, and proportions. Why reduce it to how we look like to the people who hardly do anything for us, other than criticizing us at the smallest opportunity? The groups of friends are as diverse as humanity, why don’t we become a part of that too?

We could simply aim for an accomplished, satisfactory day rather than one pent acting puppets to the dictated rules. We could eat our fill and work it out, we could get tanned and live a little, we could tell an under-confident chap that he is awesome despite being lanky, and we could maybe accept ourselves enough to not become suicidal if we cannot match up to somebody else’s expectations. We can define our own selves. And then, wouldn’t our wit prove worthier than all the requirements of fairness, slimness, firmness and all the muscle?

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  1. Neha Jha

    Awesome! I’m glad to see this. I’ve a lot of flab & every now & then somebody comes and lectures me about it, That’s something I don’t usually like, but, I’ve stopped caring. There’s nothing that can be done about it as people’s minds have been clogged with ‘Chikni chamelis’…

    1. Raj

      Wow even in this rather gender-neutral topic you found a way to blame patriarchy! What is it with people these days?
      You yourself wrote “The matrimonial section of newspapers blatantly tells all about the popular demand of fair, slim, beautiful, domesticated brides and the rich prospective husbands.” This is very offensive to both men and women. Here we see the man being dehumanized and objectified as a wallet and all that matter is how much he earns. How exactly is this patriarchy? Who is marrying these men? Other men?

      Now coming to the overall article I think people should be allowed to grow fat, if they choose to. But I also feel that other people have the right to discriminate against them if they wish to. The Government, however, should not. But people and private entities can and should discriminate if they wish to. What can you do about it? You can either grow fit and become more acceptable socially or choose to disregard social norms and weigh whatever you want…or stay somewhere in between.

      I do not think being fat is a good thing but I respect the other person’s lifestyle choices as long as they don’t harm me. Regarding people running after fit men and women, I think that is inherently genetic and nothing to do with “patriarchy”. Clear and taut skin, sharp features, muscles etc. are traits that signify health and youth which are very important while considering breeding potential. Of course this is not important in the modern society as we have evolved beyond mere existence for the sake of breeding.

    2. Raj

      @Neha : While some of them would be lecturing you to hurt you, I am pretty sure many of them mean well. I often lecture my friends about the ills of smoking, doing drugs, drinking and obesity even if their behaviors don’t harm me. Simply put, all these behaviors are unhealthy and I believe they should be avoided. But that’s as far as I can go, since it is ultimately up to them top choose how they live their lives.
      You should definitely get yourself checked out and see if you are overweight or obese. These are technical terms which objective criteria (and not something vague like “lot of flab”). Of course the other extreme behavior of becoming anorexic is undesirable too but today obesity is much more common among the urban population than is anorexia

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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