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Too Fat, Too Thin, Too Hairy, Too Sexual: The Kinds Of Body Shaming That Need To Stop!

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In her 2004 book, The Good Tree, feminist writer Eve Ensler compares all bodies to trees, and asks – “Do you hate that tree ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? Do you say that tree isn’t pretty cause it doesn’t look like that tree? We’re all trees.” It’s a lovely thought, to look at yourself as this pristine gift from nature. But too many of us don’t. What’s worse, too many of us rudely, mechanically, sweetly tell others not to see themselves in a positive way. The body positivity movement, which relies a lot on online tools, has taken it upon itself to spread messages of acceptance and self-love to people of all body types. It’s important that we engage with the culture of shaming so that we can end the moralizing, policing and stress caused by it, but to do so, we have to recognize all of its varied forms:

1. Thin Shaming

For someone on the fat side (no I’m not just saying this to get sympathetic reassurances of “no, you’re not fat!”) I get that thin-shaming can be just as painful. For a long time, I thought thin people were living the dream, getting all their clothes in their size, and looking a lot like the actors and models everyone wants to be. Because thin people are somewhat closer to the ‘ideal body type’ (decided by whom, we’ll never really know), I’d always assumed they had it easy. I didn’t think even think thin-shaming was a real thing. That is until I actually heard and saw it happening. The same intrusive questions about diet and exercise and illness plague people who are thin, as they are for fat people. Thin people are often followed by casual snickering about anorexia or bulimia, or pushy relatives with their noses planted firmly on your weighing scale needle. While I’m not denying that beauty standards force many women (and men) to obsess over their bodies, it’s also not okay to label all thin people are vain, conformist and brainwashed, just as you shouldn’t label fat people as slow, stupid and lazy.

thin shaming

2. Hair Shaming

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that any human in possession of a body will grow some hair. Sorry, if that soured Austen a bit, but it’s true! Body hair is 100% natural! Hair removal creams and epilators are not – which by the way are marketed almost exclusively to women. Hair shaming is gendered. This is because hair has traditionally been seen as a symbol of male fertility and power – women aren’t allowed to have any of that. Ever heard of the No-Shave-November campaign? The idea is to get all the men with facial hair to grow out their beards and donate the money they save from not shaving to a cancer fund. But would we encourage women to grow out their leg hair? Cancer patients may lose their hair because of illness and chemo, but women are told to lose their body hair or lose their self-worth! Cosmetics and grooming company profits tend to depend on their ability to make you feel bad about your body hair, and so far they’ve done a great job telling you you need to be hairless. At the same time, there is a lot of backlash for people who do choose to be hairless for whatever reasons. Everyone needs to take a chill pill and remember that our bodies are our own, and what we do with them is up to us.

hair shaming

3. Sweat Shaming

After a casual remark was directed at marathon runner Amy Rose, the internet soon became cognizant of this little thing called sweat-shaming. Think of all the sports brand advertisements you’ve seen. You may not have noticed this before, but the majority of visual depictions of women working out or running are missing something pretty basic: sweat. Before you break out your middle-school “ews” and “ughs”, allow me to remind you that sweating is an actual thing that humans do. Just like growing hair. Sure, a lot of us tend to squirm forever if we have sweat-patches on our shirts. If anything, this should be because of hygiene reasons, but in reality we are made to equate sweat with something profane, something lesser. And if you though there isn’t a class angle to this, there is. Labourers sweat, we don’t, because we have antiperspirant and air-conditioning; we’re civilized, and we’re flawless. We’re buying into a reality that doesn’t exist.

smiling-young-woman-was-jogging-with-a-high-legged-technique-e1430133662912 (1)

4. Slut Shaming

Yes, this made the list because the way we tend to police men, women and non-binary people’s bodies – that is their sexual choices and histories – is very much related to body shaming. You don’t get to call a woman a ‘slut’ or a ‘ho’ just because she knows what she wants and gets it too! Not only does making unsolicited comments about people’s sex lives make you sound judgmental and intrusive, but it also perpetuates unhealthy ideas about containing and controlling women’s sexuality. And why just women? Speculating about anyone’s sex life should not be on your agenda. People also tend to make nasty remarks about the kind of clothes women wear and how sexually ‘loose’ that makes them. Is there honestly nothing else you could be doing right now? Just stop.


5. Cis-Passing

So here’s the thing. Sometimes trans people do not transition. And this can be for any amount of reasons – finances, access to safe surgery, or maybe they don’t feel the need to change their bodies in any way. Expecting all trans people to magically transform their appearance into Heidi Klum-looking or David Beckham-looking bodies is not ok. Game developer Amy Dentata has written that “‘Passing’ is an inherently broken concept. You can only ‘pass’ as something you’re not. To say a trans woman ‘passes’ as a woman, is to say she isn’t really a woman.” We need to stop shaming trans and non-binary bodies, by pinning trans people into narrow constructions of gender – the very thing they want to get away from in the first place, remember?

jenner cis passing

Shaming culture is based on the assumption that people’s bodies are on display for constant evaluation. And to tell the truth, we’ve actually let it get this far. What we need now is to work hard to eliminate these and other micro-aggressions from our own daily speech and actions. Seriously, the world will just be that much nicer a place to live in.

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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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