Why I Hope Teenage Girls Don’t Follow Parineeti Chopra’s Example To ‘Feel Beautiful’

By Supriya Ganesh

“Leave the average behind.”

parineeti chopra built that wayI was pretty taken aback by the caption. So Parineeti Chopra lost weight, presumably due to her own volition. And yes, she had a photoshoot celebrating her body, which is pretty great. I am all for a woman feeling empowered and at peace with what she looks like – God knows that’s hard to come by these days.

But the pictures, featuring a slimmer Parineeti and prominent “fitspiration” quotes, leave me uneasy. “Fitspiration,” according to Lauren Bersaglio, creator of the movement #StopFitspiration, is “any message (usually in the form of an image with a quote included) that encourages one to ‘persevere’, ‘push’, or even ‘suffer’ through exercise for the sake of achieving change in one’s physical appearance.” Parineeti Chopra’s photos are a classic example of fitspiration– a newly lean Parineeti tells us to “stretch, never surrender,” “push harder” so we can “feel stronger,” and more prominently “leave the average behind.”

Is this notion of “average” supposed to refer to less than physically “perfect” individuals– without toned limbs, or an above average height – or people who cannot achieve a fitness goal? Either way, this message is disturbing. I think back to the days when I would use similar rhetoric to restrict my eating to one meal a day or less. I think back to the several forums I visited, where numerous people wrote of “obsessiveness” with exercise– spending several hours a day running without much sustenance, repeating similar mantras of endurance under their breath until they nearly collapsed from exhaustion.

Parineeti Chopra might love her new body, but what she fails to realize is that by celebrating it in this way, with these messages emblazoned on her pictures for the world to see, she harms others’ perceptions of their own body. Her weight loss is used in tandem with these quotes, telling us her “struggle” led to “celebration”. She is equating pain and exercise with an aesthetic change in her body, and that is a dangerous underlying message.

Firstly, it perpetuates the idea of an ideal body type. Her campaign’s message is “built that way”; the idea is that she kept pushing until a beautiful lean self, who was built “that” way, emerged from the folds of her old “chubby, childish” body, according to her Twitter. She writes, “I am sure, like me, even you are built that way … you can also do it!” This isn’t necessarily true– not everyone is built to adhere to society’s standards of beauty, regardless of how much we push ourselves.

Secondly, it associates the goal of exercise with an aesthetic purpose, rather than with the improvement of one’s health. Exercise should be engaged in with the aim of prolonging our lives, of having functioning bodies as time passes, but not because we want to look like “that actress did in that poster.” Once we have that aim in mind, we begin to push ourselves to reach a certain body type– streamlined, with a perfect hip to chest ratio and fat distribution. We tell ourselves we will push through and get there, and once we do, we will feel so much better about ourselves– or as Parineeti puts it, we will “celebrate.” Conflating your self-image with exercise is risky, and will only lead to disappointment. As Bersaglio aptly puts it– if you don’t like yourself now, you won’t like yourself twenty bench-presses from now, either.

parineeti 3These aren’t ideas that Parineeti herself necessarily adheres to – when asked for her response to the criticism, while she did say that she endorses “being your fittest self” and not “being thin” (which is an important distinction, as slimness should not be equated with healthiness), she added “I wanted to work on my body and I got 6-8 months to work on it. I am glad that the results are showing.” This clearly reveals her mindset – that the goal of exercise is to be toned.

Parineeti might be happy with her new self, and I am genuinely glad for her– it’s her body and her choice, and I know I can respect that– but I have to say I am disappointed in her. In an industry filled with slim, toned women, she of all people must know how difficult it is to have her self-worth tied to your appearance. Regardless of her personal thought process behind her weight loss, I had hoped she’d be a little more sensitive to the message she’d send out there– or to how the media would inevitably react to her transformation, especially with these photos in mind.

Articles have already been churned out on the actor’s “hot” new avatar, and her “beautiful” photoshoot, celebrating and glorifying her transformation. I am sure there’s a teenage girl out there reading these articles, craving the same compliments, who has a body far from what is considered to be “perfect.” I can only hope she doesn’t begin to follow Parineeti’s example to feel beautiful– attempting to match societal standards of beauty won’t get her there and it likely never will. Even though Parineeti might claim you are “leaving the average behind,” you’ll just end up running into yourself.

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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.

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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
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