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The Scary Self-loathing, Depression And Helplessness Born From The Demands Of The Beauty Myth

By Osien Kuumar:

“The beauty myth of the present is more insidious than any mystique of femininity yet” — Naomi Wolf

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There’s nothing more daunting than the pressures and reserves of norms surrounding beauty in the current days. I was 10 when my grandmother first said “lose some weight if you want to look beautiful”. As a child I was lost. It made no sense till I reached my teenage and began to comprehend the snarky comments made on my body, much of which came from my family and friends. So I starved myslef, put my body through a plethora of diet plans to see what fits right, worked out for hours, and yet today I am struggling to figure out what is the “right weight”, good enough to be termed “beautiful”. Am I there yet? Will my grandmother be proud? Will it change the way people look at me? Will the world love me?

Many women, I am confident, have been through something similar across the globe. “Beauty” surrounds us, defines us and moulds us into the “perfect” “desirable” woman. Or does it?

Naomi Wolf, author to the popular book “The Beauty Myth” written in the 90s had much to say back then. And she did. Some of her assertions, in my view, are not only applicable to women but to other gender categories of the contemporary times as well. However, most of it is primarily about “being women” or “women-like”.

Not much has changed since the publication of that book. The contemporary times are equal participants to what women struggled for earlier and have to, even today. What has further evolved over the years is the participation and “victimization” of the “other” gender(s) under this mythic rooftop.

So what is the beauty myth? What led to its discovery and construction in the first place? Why does it constantly travel with a woman’s identity? There are in fact, a number of perceptions that one can form when it comes to the topic of beauty. Whether it’s a choice or a necessity, it’s difficult to differentiate. But following the historical perspectives that have today made “beauty” a significant fact that many feminist movements failed to eradicate, it has become a necessary choice. The beauty myth therefore becomes an ideal, a standard, and a delusional creation of beauty that one must attain to survive and achieve.

A direct result of this is the self-image anxiety women put themselves through. They live in a sphere where their bodies define their self-esteem and progress. “We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement: the beauty myth.” says Wolf. Thus, ‘beauty’ serves as an effective belief system to keep male dominance intact where they razz women for not being desirable based on a set criterion. The beauty myth here, covertly outdoes the good that feminism has done for women.

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Industrialization evolved the ideas of beauty to a new, much more engaging level, where women literally became a carrier of its possession. The beauty myth therefore eventually ended up undermining women’s role in work places, where they were judged on their physical attributes instead of their work and talent. Where they were already working multiple shifts i.e. of workplace as well as home and family, a third distraction from work developed with respect to beauty: waxing, plucking, toning, trimming, etc. Wolf calls this the Professional Beauty Qualification (PBQ) to state the role played by beauty in work places that prevent women’s success.

The corporate culture today stands on representation of businesses, which is valued not just by talent or human effort but also by the personalities, and appearances of their employees. However, women’s appearances are given more weightage. For example, news channels prefer “pretty” faces as anchors instead of someone who holds reliable talent. In fact, it communicates the “ vital lies” that rests on the pillars of desirable beauty, which directly contradicts women’s real situation. Women that follow the myth of beauty are hired as marketing faces. The fashion industry, too, completely rests on the prejudices against women’s natural body figures.

Another significant factor responsible for the current construct around beauty is the fixation of it with respect to women in power. This coincides with the current media portrayal of women who are doing well in their careers, primarily the celebrities and high flying corporates. It’s as if their fight for success is not merely about sitting at a powerful position in society but with their own bodies to stay within the criteria of “a flawless body” or a body that justifies their role. (For instance: Women in politics are required to dress a certain way, women in the film industry are desired a certain way).

Women over the years have been trying to escape the confines of the beauty myth. Some have succeeded to some extent, for instance, Ellen DeGeneres, an American TV talk-show host, who is also considered an LGBT role model, has managed to challenge the beauty norms and escape the myth. The others who haven’t, often fall for the myth. The sudden drop to size zero, and then eventually overcoming “rumoured anorexia”, as known about Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor, did in fact start a trend in India. My very own classmate back in school dropped 40 kilograms to end up in a hospital!

Not only do cultural stereotypes such as “beauty without brains” or “Oh! She’s intelligent, but needs to improve her personality”, make sure women engage with “beauty”, but other social messages pertaining to women descriptions, constantly try to control women. Advertisements on television, endorsements in magazines, concurrent articles written on women health (dieting, anti-aging, fair skin, etc.), that constantly “objectify” women as their “selling” quotient, or target them as consumers under the shadow of “women liberation”, often end up glamorizing the role of women with respect to their “empowering” identities. They are not subjected to the whole truth and therefore come to absurd revelations about themselves. This makes them less interesting and desirable and the myth stronger and more persistent than ever. Taking my own example for instance, I often debate with my male friends on why they only look at “women of a certain type” and not all for who they are as human beings, but at the same time, deep down I desire to become that “type”, because that gets more recognition. In spite of realizing how dreadful this myth is, I (and most other women) fall in the trap.

fairness products india

Here I would quote Anuradha Ghandy, an Indian communist writer, who says “Marxism understands that some material conditions had to arise due to which the position of women changed and she was subordinated.” How were these conditions created? Who created them? The answers lie deep within the capitalist structure of women representation. Feminists who challenged these power equations and structural differences were termed “repulsive” by anti-feminists.

The relationship with female liberation and female beauty is another crucial aspect to the beauty myth. Here the permutations of “beauty” are deeply rooted within ideologies around religion, sex and culture. This is how women, in spite of breaking through several legal and material power structures, are stuck on images of beauty to dismiss their distress. Where women of colour are called “ugly” and so they strive to become fair, where a woman’s lovemaking skills are defined by the confines of the pornographic industry, where eating disorders and cosmetic surgeries are becoming a common deal, are we in fact, liberated? And are our “male counterparts” the sole game changers?

Are women propagating their own self-worth demise constantly? Wolf mentions how women treat “beauty” as religion, as an ultimate ideal, a belief. Mothers constantly feed their daughters with lies about beauty and age. “Your grandmother was once very beautiful” is what I have often heard from my mother. It’s as if the “old-age” ruined her and she is no longer worthy of the word “beautiful”.

Wolf says,“Men too have reverent feelings about this religion of women. The caste system based on “beauty” is defended as if it derives from an eternal truth.” She describes the contours of Christianity with respect to ideas of “decent” and “indecent” that existed but is now a part of the old moral code (with reference to creation of the “virgin Mary”). Today, however the “rites of beauty” have been modified, which reflects the “Judeo-Christian tradition: A woman’s flesh is evidence of a God-given wrongness; whereas fat men are fat gods”.

Even though the past rituals have been eradicated, the current statuses of these rites are more gnawing than ever. The “Weight-loss” cult, anti-aging potions, “skin salvation” creams, etc., used by the beauty industry are as severe as the earlier religious cults. The resulting self-loathing, depression and helplessness, because of inability to meet the demands of the beauty myth transgressing through beauty industries into women identities, is definitely scary.

Thus, the beauty myth eventually finds its way past religion, into a woman’s sexuality. A man’s, however, is irrelevant. Wolf recounts how our culture treats sexuality, and the way in which — not just through our advertising industry but through our art, literature, films, music and just about everything – we are taught to think about sexuality. The men under this platform become the doers and the watchers, while the women are done-to and watched. In fact, even after so many years of “female liberation”, most women are afraid of talking about their sexuality, bringing it up in conversations, admitting to the wants of playing the role of a “watcher” and question the “good-girl” image of them. For most, the “guilt” factor, or the “shame” aspect, plays a much larger role.

The emergence of “beauty pornography” after the 1970s (example: Playboy) did create sexual revelations for women, when they became free (with respect to American culture), however, Wolf assert in her book that this promoted sexual violence and normalized claims of “beauty” to be “ sexuality”. The intuitive understanding of the female sex organ as something to be taken care of, being the organ of reproduction constantly asserts the beauty myth.

The depiction and portrayal of sexual violence against women, today is censored and is a crime. However, at one point of time rape and sexual violence were blatantly described, while women sexual fantasies were considered obscene. Their beauty was only meant for men fantasies and pleasure. But as far as today goes, there are only a handful of changes in the society in terms of a woman’s sexuality.

“So powerful is pornography, and so smoothly does it blend in with the advertising of products…that many women find their own fantasies and self-images distorted too,” writes Debbie Taylor in Women: A World Report; as quoted by Wolf.

The perceptions of beauty today is much more complicated and talked about. Recently I read an article on 11 celebrities who were “not popular” in school. Their reasons for unpopularity were directly linked with the way they looked physically in their early days and the perceptions with which they were looked upon. This article, on MTV’s blog section quotes Lady Gaga, who mentions she was “Being teased for being ugly, having a big nose, being annoying.”

It is important to note how consumer culture drives the market by objectification of women who ironically want to be objectified. Beauty pageants such as Miss Universe, Miss World, etc. across the globe stand on steady platform screaming how a woman’s beauty defines her worth to the world. Even though they talk about the “intelligence” and “talent” of the participating women, they forget how their application forms itself stand behind the beauty myth.

The increasing number of cosmetic surgeries especially in the glamour industry for the sake of “beauty” has killed many women. But there is no stopping. The extreme makeovers to attain the “proper” height and weight have remarkable consequences. The worst part of this myth is that it sets women in opposition to each other. The beauty myth therefore enhances class divisions, where only the upper-class women can afford to look youthful. An expensive cosmetic industry, along with surgeries such as those for enhancing breasts or removal of ovaries, is designed for the upper-class women who very readily fall in the web.

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Let’s not forget the Internet here. The Internet that has revolutionized communication has managed to create “face-less” identities for women who can survive in this space regardless of their physical attributes, as their knowledge and ideas are of paramount significance. However, advertisers, market monopolies, pornography, etc. exist to oppress women roles even here. There along with this exists the social media that surpasses the realms of the physical into the virtual, where again beauty has managed to influence the “social media identities”, and the social “profiles” of people on the web, particularly women. The beauty myth, thus, sustains itself through the Internet as well and therefore, Naomi Wolf’s work still holds relevance to a considerable extent.

What needs to be done today, by women, is not simply adapting to feminist ideologies, but firstly, understanding what feminism and feminine liberalization is. It is not an individual movement but a collective ordeal. Women need to realize that the challenge they face is universal instead of particular. It is systematic oppression that demands a systematic reform. That is the only way any changes can happen. To break free from the confines of artificial beauty or mythic ideas about oneself, women have to question their role in endorsing such a system. The idea of equality or reliance on emotional response to “equality”, it’s not what women want. What exploits them is the mode of production that uses their “beauty”, makes them believe that it is only their “beauty” which keeps progress in tact, and the understanding that there is no way out of it, and if there is one, it is with the help of the “superior” gender. Thus, to escape from the confines of beauty into an egalitarian, uncompromising, self-liberating environment, a collective approach against oppression, excluding men, is needed. The beauty myth subdues all and unless we turn away from the demands of the myth, we won’t find any escape route. Women have to understand the meaning of self-worth, self-confidence and not hurt themselves. The influence of the beauty myth is slowly transcending to other genders as well, however, the only way to stop it is by challenging it and not by hoping for an egalitarian society where everyone (including men) fall under its unjust purview.

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  1. Babar

    Yet another confused feminist trying to play the blame game. Women today are pushing for their rights to wear ‘whatever they want’, promoting lewdness, and then they play victims when they find out that their methodology is not working. Feminists look down upon the burqa, which is a true symbol of liberation. In a burqa, a woman is liberated from unwanted attention, stares, nudity, and is only for her husband’s gaze – women in France fought for their right to wear it despite the ban, risking huge fines and jail sentences. However, today, the bikini is the symbol of liberation. All it liberates from is decency, spirituality, and true value as a human being, where a woman is reduced to a chattel.

    Apparently it is liberating for women to wear miniskirts and cleavage revealing tops, while they constantly keep tugging at their skirts to cover up a bit more, and pull at their tops from the neck to hide their cleavage. Today, women are told by feminists to sexualize themselves in the name of liberation. They are told that in order to be seen as progressive and emancipated, they must dress a certain way. Women today are so systematically and strategically being brainwashed that they don’t even realize it. You must wear ‘whatever you want’, in other words, miniskirts, short shorts, backless dresses, tight jeans, low neck tops, spandex pants, etc. The underlying reason why girls face body issues today is because they are told that in order to be accepted by society, they have to have the perfect body. Look at any advertisement today, and not one is complete without showing a semi-clad woman in it, and needless to say, they have nothing to do with the advertisement. It is all about projecting a perfect, toned body of a woman.

    Feminists and beauty industries have reduced women to a chattel, where her body is used for financial gain. Sex is a marketing tool. You tell people to have transient sexual relationships in the name of liberation and the profits of companies manufacturing condoms skyrocket. You tell women to dress sexy in the name of emancipation and fashion industries profit by earning billions. Fill women with false notions of beauty, bombard them with pictures of scantily dressed women in fashion shows, TV, billboards, magazines, movies, and music videos, and women start
    spending heavily on clothes and start using dieting products even at the cost of suffering from anorexia, and today, perfectly young, beautiful girls are lining up for plastic surgery, spending billions in the process. From beauty and contraception to diet and fashion, all are industries are earning enormous amounts of money while women remain deluded and continue to pour money into the pockets of those who have infiltrated the minds of women through lies and deceit.

    1. D Gill

      And our day isn’t complete without one of Babar’s comments. Why don’t you tell us why you despise women so much? #babarforeveralone

    2. D Gill

      I didn’t even bother to read your comment until now because its usually the same drivel but this “the burqa, which is a true symbol of liberation”??? WTF? How about you wear a damn burqa and see how great it is then? See how easy it is to go about your work day wearing a burqa lol. A business person, doctor, lawyer, field worker, construction worker wearing a burqa. Oh yes very Babar, a very freeing practical garment that impedes your every move! Do tell, why are you so obsessed with what women do/their bodies/sex lives/choices etc? Have you nothing else going on in your mind besides this? You do realize you have serious issues right? Why is a woman doing what she wants so offensive to you? India is a free country is it not?

    3. TheSeeker

      Dear Babar,
      Based on the many comments you have posted on this website, I personally believe that instead of curbing misandry you are promoting misogyny. Unless that IS your aim. Anyways, if you want your ideas to be well-received, I suggest you post them on a different platform.

      Coming to this comment, I agree that if a woman is wearing provocative clothes she should be aware that she will be stared at, but the point is that in India, even if you wear clothing like jeans and a top many people stare at you. You can wear anything (even a burqa) and they will stare at you. So I think it is more the fault of the mentality of most Indian men than the women. Do you always see women walking around India wearing ‘backless dresses’ and ‘miniskirts’? NO! The general female population wears suits and kurtis!

      Sex is a marketing tool? How dumb are you, bro? People are not attracted to sex by condom advertisements, as far as I have seen. You have sex because it is a pleasureful activity, and to avoid having kids, you wear condoms!
      And please, please, please stop thinking that you can relate to the problems in a woman’s life. We wear clothes because we feel comfortable in them. We wear makeup because we feel confident with it! Men have their own ways and products to feel good about themselves, and we do too! Deal with it! You yourself have just proven that a woman is judged by EVERY DAMN THING SHE DOES. You are not a women and you NEVER WILL BE, ok?

    4. Babar

      If only married couples used condoms, the sales of condoms would hit rock bottom.

    5. TheSeeker

      Babar, so you’re saying that unmarried couples shouldn’t have sex? Why not? And why are you so worried about condom marketing sales?

    6. Babar

      Sex is a marketing tool?

      With all the nudity in movies, music videos, magazines, billboards, TV, fashion shows, etc, they must be promoting morality and setting a good example for girls today to follow.

    7. TheSeeker

      You are talking about nudity, I am talking about sex. They are completely different things, for your information. Sex, I believe, is a part of our natural body processes, isn’t it? But in this century, the only difference is that sex is finally a topic that people are now feeling more free to talk about. India has almost always been a sexually-deprived and suppressed country, which is one of the main reasons for crimes such as sexual abuse taking place.

    8. TheSeeker

      What is this ‘bikini is a sign of liberation’ thing? Have you seen women walking around the street wearing bikinis?? No, you wear bikinis when you go SWIMMING, for your information. When you swim, you can’t wear a ‘burqa’. Men also go shirtless when they swimming, women wear bikinis. But in the majority of India, the bikini isn’t even popular. So please correct your sources, Babar.

    9. Babar

      Bikini is a symbol of liberation.

    10. TheSeeker

      Well, not in India, Babar. And if you are so concerned, please tell us what to and what not to wear so we can be correctly liberated. 🙂

    11. Buli

      Dear babar… Why do i find you in all the articles when someone is talking of women issues… No women in the right mind would want to wear a burkha… Unless you are brainwashed to do that…
      Why are your comments always against women and feminism… Are you a troll writitng non sense stuff… Feminism never said wear revealing clothes… They said that a women should be allowed to wear what ever she wants… And not to cover up just because some sex starved men wants to stare… Thatvis called liberation… If i want to wear skimpy clothes then my wish… Of i want to cover myself up it should be my wish… Nobody should have the right to tell me what to wear and what not to…
      N i saw a comment where you stayed that women shouldn’t work… N they are paid in penny’s… What makes you think so??? I work in a bank… I love my job… My banks chairperson is a women… Do you thonk she also in penny’s…
      Btw feminism is not about hating men… It means equal opportunity and rights fr both the gender…
      If you feel thst men issues are not high lighted then go ahead why you don’t write an airtcle on men… Instead a complaining and whining in every article posted here… What do you even want to prove??

    12. Babar

      Feminism never said wear revealing clothes

      I guess with their ‘I will wear what I want’ slogans, speeches, articles, videos, pictures, and blogs, they are promoting the burqa.

  2. Templetwins

    You spoke as if women are some kind of programmed robots who fall into the prey of cosmetic consumerism. You spoke as if women have no agency or culpability in the choices that they make regards to how they want to look. Perhaps beauty industries create products to cater womens needs as they are demanding or buying such products to look a certain way. The only way to stop these beauty industries is to not buy their products and not give in/succumb to it but, oh poor me! they trapped us damsels with their advertisement. Right?

    The beauty myth therefore enhances class divisions, where only the upper-class women can afford to look youthful.
    Oh the irony! Naomi Wolf is an uppper class lipstick wearing, cleavage showing slim feminist unlike Andrea Dworkin who don’t fit the beauty standards. It is as if women have no choice in these decisions they make for their body. Almost all women’s clothing is designed to enhance their sexual allure and heighten their sexual power, and this is so normalised that we don’t even notice. That is why in spite of any harm towards them, they retain their choice to dress however they want ie they don’t want others to put a curfew of the privilege to express their sexual power.

    Being sexually desired is a form of power. Feminists admit this when talking about other groups: when a study reveals that white people or masculine gay men are more desired, they are said to be “privileged” because of this. But when exactly the same kind of desirability disparity is enjoyed by women, even when that disparity is much greater, feminists frame this as a burden, and oppression. They rationalise away the inconsistency.

    If it doesn’t give them power, then why all the padded-bras, wonder bras, vagina whitening to vagina tightening creams. Even if they aren’t naturally endowed with them they use cosmetic surgeries and other products to deceive the men, or to be desired by them. One could also ask if being sexy and desirable isn’t women’s own “power fantasy” : power to turn men’s heads, to be adored and envied, to live a fantasy life where rich and powerful men vie for your attention, and so on. How many girls dream of becoming models, enter beauty contests, and spend entirely frivolous amounts of money on beauty products, gym fees, clothes, shoes and other ways to enhance their physique?

    I often debate with my male friends on why they only look at “women of a certain type” and not all for who they are as human beings,
    When was the last time you dated a broke, bald, homeless midget? If women don’t have such high expectations from men then perhaps men wouldn’t have any preferences. The reality is there is unfair expectations from both men and women. I personally feel women are more entitled to want more than they could offer.

    PS:- Woman to plastic surgeon:- I want my implants to be large enough so that I can become indignant when men stare at them 😛

  3. Aditya Singh

    Capitalism doesn’t thrive on marketing and advertising. It thrives on status competition among consumers.

    1. Babar

      Demand is created through advertising.

  4. Babar

    D Gill, it is feminists who despise women, trying to break families, promote transient sexual relationships, promiscuity, and want to tear the moral fabric of society. Women are very gullible. First, they fell for Torches of Freedom, now they have fallen for skimpy clothes in the name of liberation.

    Muslim women have fought with their families for their right to wear the burqa, and also with their respective governments – Not everyone feels liberated semi-nude in public.

    http://youtu.be/dtDzDXg2GQU

    The underlying agenda of feminists:

    “The nuclear family must be destroyed, and people must find better ways of living together.” – Linda Gordon, Function of the Family, Women: A Journal of Liberation, Fall, 1969.

    “We can’t destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage.” – Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful, 1970, p.537.

    “No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” — Simone de Beauvoir, “Sex, Society, and the Female Dilemma” Saturday Review, June 14, 1975, p.18

    “Marriage has existed for the benefit of men; and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women… We must work to destroy it. The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Therefore it is important for us to encourage women to leave their husbands and not to live individually with men.” -The Declaration of Feminism, November 1971.

    “Women, like men, should not have to bear children… The destruction of the biological family, never envisioned by Freud, will allow the emergence of new women and men, different from any people who have previously existed.” — Alison Jagger – Political Philosophies of Women’s Liberation: Feminism and Philosophy (Totowa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams & Co. 1977).

    “In order to raise children with equality, we must take them away from families and communally raise them.” – Dr. Mary Jo Bane, feminist and assistant professor of education at Wellesley College and associate director of the school’s Center for Research on Woman.

    1. Fem

      “Muslim women have fought with their families for their right to wear the burqa”

      Muslim women have been brainwashed by people like you. No one in their right mind would want to wear a burqa. Men would never want to wear them (so it did not become a requirement for them). As a rule women who have knows freedom would not want to wear one as they know what is it to be free. The ones who fight for the right to wear it are the ones who have never known freedom and are full of false notions of modesty and piousness.

      Do not want to waste more time that required on you anyway. I know you would come back with completely irrational full of hate comment.

    2. Babar

      Women have been brainwashed to wear miniskirts and skimpy tops. No one in their right mind is going to be semi-nude in public. It is people like you who dictate women what to wear, taking away their choice. Miniskirts and plunging necklines are signs of oppression, where women are semi-nude in front of thousands. It is feminists who control and subjugate women by telling them to behave in a certain way, a way that they see fit. Please stop oppressing women and promoting your brand of idiocy.

    3. Babar

      The ones who fight for the right to wear it are the ones who have never known freedom…

      People are waking up to the lies spread by feminists. Your entire agenda runs on lies.

      http://youtu.be/dtDzDXg2GQU

    4. Buli

      You seem to nitpick those quotes said by radical feminist… Why don’t you broaden your mind…

  5. Manoj

    We also need to consider the biological aspects of the human beings. Women have to be beautiful inorder to attract the man which she recognizes as the best. Even men get attracted to curvy women because bigger the curve, bigger the womb and she can carry a healthy offspring. We are biologically programmed to select the beautiful person, and corporate use this aspect for marketing. But I agree that we should not judge a women in a workplace based on her looks.

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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.

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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.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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