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Because Body Diversity Is Something To Be Celebrated, Not Standardised!

More from Shambhavi Saxena

By Shambhavi Saxena

Not all activities are tailored keeping different body types or bodies in mind – to illustrate, a certain activist outfit I have known did not think to create activities that were inclusive for the elderly, the differently abled, women, or particular body types. Not enough visual productions think to write bodies of certain races or orientations, leave alone bodies of different abilities, sizes and appearances. Forget about luxury brands, even clothes manufacturers and popular stores seem to think humans do not come in sizes below or above those that they make and stock. Why else would Myntra choose a slim fair-skinned actor for their “Appreciate Yourself Sale“?

Afsaneh Najmabadi notes the cultural impact Eurocentric beauty standards had on Iran, replacing the focus on male love and male beauty with “heteronormalization of love and the feminization of beauty” (Women with Mustaches, Men with Beards, 2005). These same standards have driven women in Asian and African cultures to eating disorders, and plastic surgeries. Referring to Asian women undergoing eyelid surgery to look ‘more Western’, Martin Wong said: “Ultimately it’s … a form of cultural imperialism.

Acculturation is a major factor influencing the homogenization of bodies, more so in visual media, and may be seen as “an incredibly unconscious form of structural violence“. The sexualisation of some bodies and de-sexualisation of others is simply corollary. Does anyone stand to benefit from this? To answer that, we must recognize that the human body is not as private as we like to imagine, but a site of struggle, politics, and empowerment.

Thankfully, there are individuals and groups across the world challenging the standards and representations of body-conformity our minds are so saturated with. African American, mixed race and biracial users of Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram organized and participated in #BlackOutDay on 6th March this year, calling on all non-celebrity black individuals to share photos, gifs and videos of themselves, and requesting white users to further share them, in an effort to improve visibility. Even in the highly competitive and exclusive world of fashion, figures like Tess Holliday, Madeline Stuart, Shaun Ross, Andreja Pejić, Hari Nef and Tara Lynn are pushing for body diversity, self-confidence and self-love. The more we see of what the human race has to offer, and the more we accept these individual differences, the better for us, our ideas and even our health.

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  1. B

    Until the early 1960s, women did not have body image issues at large, because women used to cover their bodies. Women reserved their bodies for their husbands only. Now, with feminists trying to link revealing attire with liberation, more and more women are opting for spandex pants, short shorts, tight jeans, miniskirts, skimpy tops, backless dresses, etc, and this is creating a generation of body conscious women.

    The very fact that miniskirts come with the labels of liberation and freedom and the burqa with tags of regression and oppression show that liberation is not wearing what one pleases, but in showing one’s body in public. Women fight with their families for their right to wear the burqa all over the world, but that is not seen as a choice. And during the burqa ban in France, women risked fines and jail sentences but did not take it off.

    From beauty magazines to movies to advertisements to the diet and fashion industry, everyone is busy in portraying the perfect body image because of the money involved in it. It leads to consequences in the form of anorexia and depression, and girls go as far as opting for plastic surgery, which is a billion dollar business in many countries all over the world and even perfectly normal, beautiful girls opt for it.

    1. D Gill

      What are you talking about?? Are you aware that in Saudi women are fully covered yet are huge consumers of high fashion, beauty products and plastic surgery?

      Yet another rant from an insecure guy.. B, your understanding of feminism is completely wrong. When will people like you understand? Its about equality and the right to self determination.
      Eating disorders and body issues apply to men as well. This is about the beauty industry. An industry that thrives on unattainable body image in order to sell products/services to people. Beauty/fashion magazines, movies/porn, ads, the diet and fashion industry as well as the plastic surgery industry make money off of men as well and also affect their insecurites. Men use fairness creams, go to the gym, compare their dick size to porn stars, are brand obsessed, go for plastic surgery, dye their hair/beards, buy expensive items to enhance their image etc. just as much as women obsess over themselves. And yes it’s pathetic as these are false ideals but saying this just applies to women and their choice of clothing is completely incorrect.

      My issue with your comment is you ranting that the issue is about women keeping their bodies for their husbands and a womans choice of attire. Suggesting that womens liberation is the cause if these issues. This is an industry whose raison d’etre is human insecurities and also happens to be very eurocentric in its beauty ideals. Both men and women fall into these traps. So making this a women’s issue is incorrect. And FYI fairness creams and the obsession with it, fashion and beauty have been around since the beginning of time so don’t link this to womens liberation. Just a quick google search of beauty ideals over the last few centuries will give you some insight.

      And on a last note in case the backwards place you come from didn’t teach you this : A human beings body is their own and no one elses. No one has the rights to another human beings body.

      So B, your point makes no sense. Think your comments through next time.

    2. B

      “Are you aware that in Saudi women are fully covered yet are huge consumers of high fashion, beauty products and plastic surgery?”

      Saudi women don’t obsess over the size of their body parts, and don’t suffer from body image issues in general, because they don’t have to reveal their body to ‘fit in’ or be a subject of judgement from their peers and friends.

      “Eating disorders and body issues apply to men as well.”

      Yes, but only a small percentage compared to women.

      “So making this a women’s issue is incorrect.”

      Women’s fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry, and very large compared to men’s. Furthermore, in case you didn’t notice, all the articles on the topic are on women.

      “And on a last note in case the backwards place you come from didn’t teach you this : A human beings body is their own and no one elses. No one has the rights to another human beings body.”

      The backward place I come from taught me to respect women, not treat them like pieces of meat by offering them miniskirts and skimpy tops in the name of fashion, emancipation, and liberation. A woman’s body is her own, which is why it should not be put on display in public in tight, transparent, and skimpy clothing.

    3. ItsJustMe

      Right on the money Gill, but one correction, going to gym is a healthy practice in a world where there is little to no physical activity involved in a persons schedule. May be what you meant was taking steroids and yearning for that perfect body.

    4. B

      ” Its about equality and the right to self determination.”

      Equality. Yes, my favourite topic. I just don’t understand why women are released in hostage situations before men, lifeboats are reserved for women, why men have to leave seats for women, why it is men who pay alimony, why women receive lighter sentences for the same crimes committed by men, why dowry is a woman’s issue despite more harassment from wives, why men have to pay child support, why child custody is always given to women, why 95% of work related deaths are of men, why most homeless are men, why verbal and psychological abuse from wives is not included in domestic violence statistics, why quotas are in place for women in companies and parliament, why seats are reserved for women in buses and metros, why news channels announce ‘women’ and children, why men have to earn for women but not the other way around, why most dangerous jobs are worked by men, why media only focuses on women’s issues, etc, etc.

    5. ItsJustMe

      Are you seriously brain damaged? Take your frustration to the streets. Get a mic and have a go at it, say whatever you want to say, if someone joins you for a debate, you will get some satisfaction by directing you BS towards them. Dont rant about equality completely out of context and make other people who talk sense about mens rights and equality look stupid.
      A humble request from a Mens rights activist

    6. B

      How about you try and answer a single question, otherwise you are just as guilty of feminists hypocrisy and double standards.

    7. ItsJustMe

      Why should I? This is no place to ask this question. Because it is not a post on feminism. It’s like asking the priest to help with your science project.

    8. ItsJustMe

      For your info, I have similar concerns on men’s rights. But you need not rub it on every article. We don’t want to be like feminazis do we? Because right now you are stooping to their levels and even lower.

    9. General Muffin

      I like this guy. Every article concerning women has this guy’s comment. It never fails to make me smile. I don’t think this level of comic genius is possible by one person alone.. They may just be an organisation.

  2. ItsJustMe

    Why blame Myntra and the corporates. They just cater to popular believes of beauty in probably the world’s mot racist country. How many dark skinned heroes/ heroins does Bollywood have? How many of them succeeded. People dont want to see a dark skinned girl in silverscreen. They want a fair skinned, perfectly toned girl. Does not matter if she is a shitty actress at first, they are ready to sit through and wait for her to be better (Aishwarya Rai for instance started off with really awful acting skills in films like Jeans, Iruvar, and that stupid movie with Shah Rukh). But she was fair and beautiful and people watched her anyway. On the other hand Konkana Sen who had demonstrated her acting skills more than once through movies like life in a metro, Wake up Sid etc struggles to find a footing in this god forsaken industry which mass produces shitty movies as if trying to restore balance in the movie world for all the good movies produced around the world. It is not the corporates that creates these body images and insane standards of beauty. It is etched on to our minds. Bollywood majorly and some mainstream media reinforces this by showing only the fair as beautiful and desirable while the dark skinned plays the heroines friend or heroes cousin. No one wants to experiment, no one wants to take chances in movie making which is an art form and we expect corporates to take that up. If you really want to see the roots of this prejudice towards dark skin look within you. How many classmates have you made fun of calling them bandar, balu etc because they are dark? How many times have you laughed at a joke which makes fun of dark skinned people (in movies). How many times have you or your friends turned down a dark skinned man / woman because they do not appeal to you / them? Its not the corporates, its us. We are racist, we have the prejudice in our minds. But we would rather blame corporates because guess what we are also hypocrites.

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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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