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How To Comb To ‘Cover Up’, And Other Important Lessons I Learned About ‘Beauty’

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By P.V. Durga:

Growing up as a woman in our society, was probably the most stressful period for me because of all the attention around my physical features. Thankfully at home, my mother never made me feel conscious about my looks; it was these ‘others’ who took an unusual interest in my broad forehead, and even went on to teach me how to comb in order to cover up. And there were people who were bothered about how thin my hair was, as opposed to that of other girls. Like that was not enough, I realized that apart from having eyebrows, their thickness also mattered, courtesy of the ones who asked me if I had ever considered drawing my eyebrows to enhance them.

Image Credit: OceanView Medspa
Image Credit: OceanView Medspa

But there is another side to this. There were friends who wished that they had few of my features as well, because they wanted my sharp nose, brown eyes and cheekbones. Looking beautiful is just not enough, it seems. There will always be people who will dissect every feature in your face and body, and tell you how to look better. Isn’t that the reason plastic surgeons are laughing their way to the bank? The pressure to look good has percolated deep down into the minds of people. Let’s face it. These good looking people are automatically celebrated as the embodiment of all the perfect virtues in our society.

In times when television commercials about beauty products make a pimple seem like it’s the end of the world, and good hair as the basis of self-confidence, Kangana Ranaut turning down a fairness cream’s ad campaign inspired me because she was sending a clear message that beauty does not figure anywhere in finding one’s worth.
While feminists, on one hand, are fighting to help women gain acceptability the way they are, more and more women are falling prey to the idea of perfect features. But what is this perfection and flawlessness that we are running after? Is it all about the physical standards of beauty set by the western world? Also, I often hear celebrities saying in interviews that they are blessed with good hair/ skin. Does that mean that women who have the not-so-good hair are not blessed?

In all this frenzy, people have completely forgotten about the one thing that decides how an individual looks – genetics. And that was exactly why I stopped paying heed to all the attention about these flaws in me that people were constantly pointing out to. That was how I was born, and that is how I am going to remain. Beauty, for me, is a feeling which everybody is entitled to irrespective of their physical features.

I have always wondered as to why there is a hullabaloo about the looks of only a woman and not those of a man. Brides invariably end up stressing out about their beauty and weight before their wedding because of the pressure to look their best on the biggest day of their lives. Advertisements have repeatedly shown us that a woman is taken seriously at home and in the workplace only when she looks her best. Is society moving in such a direction where beauty is imperative for success in one’s personal and professional life?

Whenever I am a part of a conversation amidst women, I end up hearing gossip and criticism about someone’s beauty, or the lack of it. It is important that women feel equal to one another before fighting for equality with the opposite sex, and looks should stop coming into the picture. If we want to call ourselves feminists, beauty parlors should not be our only source of self-worth, and physical beauty should not be the yardstick for judging another person.

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  1. B

    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, from cars to curtains, 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, shaved body of a woman. And of course, when women are shown images of near-perfect bodies of models, singers, and actresses in movies, magazines, and music videos, it becomes a norm to want to attain that kind of a body. On top of that, feminists with their “it is a woman’s choice to wear what she wants” slogans are promoting miniskirts, low neck tops, short shorts, tight jeans, backless dresses, just to name a few, and this is doing nothing but creating a generation of body conscious women who are using dieting products, spending heavily on clothes, suffering from anorexia, poor self-esteem, all the while beauty, fashion, and diet industries continue to earn billions of dollars. Not to mention the billions of dollars being poured into plastic surgery, where perfectly normal, beautiful girls are being misled into thinking there is something wrong with their body. Beauty and fashion industries have benefitted from a marketing gimmick, and earned millions of dollars after bombarding girls with images of scantily dressed women in movies, music videos, TV, magazines, billboards, etc. Feminists and fashion industries dictate women with false notions of freedom which in turn oppress women by forcing them to dress a certain way to be a part of society, a society which can then freely pass judgement on the physical beauty of a woman. The only people who are targeting women are feminists as feminists need to ‘sell’ their absurd theories on freedom while beauty, fashion, and diet industries need to sell their products to control 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. During the burqa ban in France, women risked fines and jail sentences but did not take it off. 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.

    1. D

      I do appreciate the point you’re making.
      But I think feminism, through it’s idea of liberation has indeed given the choice to women who wanted to dress the way they’ve wanted to.

      But as you said, it is also true that it has, at the same time, created this notion of body consciousness.

  2. G. Lantern

    “Whenever I am a part of a conversation amidst women, I end up hearing gossip and criticism about someone’s beauty, or the lack of it.”

    It is women themselves who initiate and propel these kinds of conversations.

    “I have always wondered as to why there is a hullabaloo about the looks of only a woman and not those of a man.”

    I have always wondered why there is a hullabaloo about the salary of only men and not women.

    “If we want to call ourselves feminists …. physical beauty should not be the yardstick for judging another person.”

    No, I do not want to call myself a feminist, and physical beauty is the last thing I use to judge someone.

    “Advertisements have repeatedly shown us that a woman is taken seriously at home and in the workplace only when she looks her best.”

    Everyone, regardless of gender, is under pressure to look their best, especially at work.

    1. D

      Yes. Sadly, women themselves initiate such conversations, which is why I thought I must put it out there, because beauty shouldn’t become a criteria for equality.

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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.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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

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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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