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The Cosmetic Industry Wants You To Feel Terrible About Yourself

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By Sonakshi Samtani:

There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

t1@dd240b10-f458-4349-a058-62d1394f9852When was the last time you looked into the mirror and pointed out that extra pound of fat which you were so desperate to lose, just so you could step out more confidently? Not really long back, was it?

According to a Psychology Today survey conducted back in 1997, Indian women were far more satisfied with their weight and appearance as compared to their American counterparts. However, the current situation is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past decade, Indian women have become overtly conscious of their weight and appearance, excessively scrutinizing and pressurizing themselves to meet the superficial and unrealistic standards of beauty set by the National and the International media.

Due to the booming communication technology and entertainment industry, we are flooded with thousands of pictures on a regular basis, telling us what is beautiful and desirable. However, they project us with such a narrow and superficial definition of beauty which most women fail to identify themselves with it. Nonetheless, we are conditioned to consciously or unconsciously compare ourselves to those images we see everywhere.

We are so obsessed with trying to attain that flawless skin and tiny waist, that we ignore the fact that most of those images are photo-shopped or digitally enhanced. Moreover, our favorite models and actors undergo numerous corrective surgeries, spend hours in the make-up room and follow meager diets and strenuous workout regimes to look that way, most of which are not feasible for us.

The Indian cosmetic industry’s revenue is projected to be around Rs 812.7 billion by the end of 2014, consequent of women trying to look radiant and perfect all the time. Self-help magazines and internet portals are full of fad diets and weight loss tips which are anything but beneficial. Models and actors themselves have fallen prey to this vicious phenomenon and are victims of various eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa) and anxiety disorders (depression, stress) to such an extent that many of them lose their lives finding themselves unable to meet the perfectionist standards of beauty.

It is hard to imagine a world where idealized female imagery is not plastered everywhere. What we fail to recognize is the constant objectification of women in such scenario, ranging from ads to commercial cinema. Sadly, most women vehemently comply with this; a glaring example is Bollywood’s commercial cinema where most female actors hold no qualms in portraying ‘candy floss’ or ‘eye-candy’ roles in male centric movies.

What you can do is look up to women like Vidya Balan who puts substance before appearance, refuses to comply with the superficial norms of beauty and has carved out a distinct position for herself. Look at women beyond the entertainment industry, like Indira Nooyi, who has achieved great heights with her hard work, women who are everyday heroes – our mothers and every woman who stands up for herself. Women need to realize that they are more than just a number which determines their weight; there are more important things like inter-personal relationships, achievements and strength of character which actually matter. They need to stop objectifying themselves.

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  1. Raj

    What is wrong with physical beauty? It takes a lot of hard work and time to cultivate it. It is in the same boat as intellectual ability. Why should one be better than the other? Just as Nobel Prizes celebrate intellectual achievements. beauty pageants and body-building contests celebrate achievements in physical beauty.They both celebrate the best humanity has to offer in their respective areas.

    While you complain that the media that it forces unrealistic standards of beauty on women (and much lesser extent, men), but does it not do the same to men, by celebrating only the most successful, most powerful and most wealthy men? What about the remaining 99% of men who will never get a chance to say a single line on national TV? How different is this from the fact that vast majority of women will never achieve the same standards of physical beauty as models and actresses ?

    So shouldn’t this cause anguish to the vast majority of men and women who are never going to make it to the top 1% ? I say it shouldn’t. We should work towards our own personal happiness with whatever we have. For example someone may have no interest in working himself to death so that his wife and kids can enjoy the money and success he earns. So he may choose to pursue what he enjoys, perhaps becoming an artist who earns modestly but enjoys his work. But the downside is that he may find himself not an attractive option for a lot of women. He can choose to change his ways or he can find someone who will accept him for who he is or simply stay the way he is. In either case it is his decision.

    And regarding Vidya Balan, she’s rare and awesome because not only is she “hot” (in a sensual as well as sexual sense) but also she’s a very talented actress. Mind you she’s done a great deal of exposure through movies like Dirty Picture and her revealing photoshoots. The thing that sets her apart is that she has both beauty and brains. Some actress have just one of them or even none of them 😛
    But that is seen all across the spectrum, across genders. Many men are really successful as well as handsome. Other men have one of those quantities or even none. It isn’t really a trade-off, it is much more to do with who wants to expend more effort in what traits and to what extent.

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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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