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Meet ‘Miss Moti’: South Asian, Plus-Sized And Unabashedly Proud!

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Ever read a comic and thought that the female characters weren’t diverse enough? Meet Miss Moti, the comic-strip protagonist who’s South Asian, plus-sized, and unabashedly proud of her body and of herself. Born out of creator Kripa Joshi’s MFA thesis in 2007 (which was initially a series of paintings to do with body image issues), the Miss Moti comics are about the various adventures of its unlikely protagonist, whose active imagination often blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Though the first few comics, “Miss Moti and the Cotton Candy” and “Miss Moti and the Big Apple” have been self-published, various other short stories featuring Miss Moti have appeared in anthologies like Rabid Rabbit, Secret Identities, and Strumpet. I caught up with Kripa Joshi for a quick chat, who opened up about her inspiration behind creating this comic, and how Miss Moti has helped her deal with her various struggles:

The word “moti” (fat) is often used for body-shaming, so what made you decide to use this epithet to create a character?

A friend of mine used to call me “moti” when I was in college, but in an endearing sort of way. However, the word “moti” has obviously been used as a negatively as well. When I was making this comic, the reason why I used it because of the play on the word – when you write it in English, you can pronounce it as both “moti” (fat) or “moti”(pearl). So, more than her being ‘fat’, Miss Moti is a gem of a person – an extraordinary woman who has an extraordinary imagination.

So you have reclaimed the word “moti” from its negative connotations?

I think “moti” is a descriptive word – it’s supposed to describe your body, but not pass judgement on it. The negative connotation depends on how people use it, and the intention behind what they use it for. I have used it to describe my character, and to imply that she is a “moti” (pearl) alongside being “moti” (fat) – so that’s how I’ve reclaimed it.

How much of this comic is autobiographical and how do you draw from experiences around you?

I won’t say that it’s autobiographical, but Miss Moti represents everything I’d like to be. I’m not as positive or as life-affirming as she is, but I want to be.

She came out of my own struggles with weight and depression, and the reason I made her was because I wanted to see a fat character who wasn’t caricatured or depressed. She is my aspiration, but there are real-life instances that I have used. In the first story, where she gets stuck trying to climb the stairs, the inspiration of comes from my own experience of struggling with climbing stairs or getting out of bed during my period of depression. The way she comes out of those difficult situations and the kind of willpower and optimism and imagination she shows on the face of it – that’s what gives me hope.cotton_candy04_72What’s interesting about these comics is that while Miss Moti’s body-positivity, of course, forms a large aspect of it, her character is never exclusively about her weight or her body – which is rare for the plus-sized characters we see represented in popular media. Was it a challenge to achieve that?

I don’t think it was a challenge at all. Actually, I didn’t even think about this while I was creating her, but realized this about Miss Moti only later on. The main characteristic of a character does not have to be that they are fat. Their body shape or their skin colour is just incidental and it’s not the what defines their personality, or who they are, and it’s the same for Miss Moti. She is somebody who is positive, she’s somebody who tries to see the best in situations, she’s somebody who’s kind. And she just happens to be fat.

Tell us a little bit about your artistic influences. Why did you choose to not use words in the comic?

In terms of the illustrations, I draw from the stylistic forms of the Madhubani and Maithili paintings of North India and the Terai region of Nepal. I do tend to like folk art a lot, and the simplicity and the decorative elements of it. This is where the bold black lines and the flat image profile of the comics is inspired from. But the comic evolved slowly into a unique style of its own once I continued to work on it.

combined-goddesses_72

As for the lack of words, I think it comes from when I was studying the history of comics, and the work of Winsor McCay. McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” stories were all about a boy who falls asleep and has these adventures, and when he wakes up, you don’t know whether he was dreaming or whether all of it was real. Reality and fantasy were coming together – something that’s there in Miss Moti too. While McCay’s drawings were amazing, I felt they had too many words in them, and on looking through them properly, I realized that the words did not matter, the images did. The color combinations and the artistic styles of the illustrations were so detailed, that you did not actually have to read a word to be able to understand what was going on. That’s why I made Miss Moti wordless.

When I made the first two comics, it seemed like the story that was playing out was more inside Miss Moti, so I felt that keeping it without words would help people put their own ideas and own feelings into what is happening rather than me explicitly stating that “this is what she’s thinking” or “this is what she’s saying”. Later on, I also felt that another benefit of this is that it goes beyond the language barrier, so it’s accessible to people who don’t speak or understand English. But all of these things I have thought about much later. When I had initially started the story, it seemed like it was just Miss Moti and the crowd and words weren’t necessary.

You lived in NYC at some point and I’m sure would have followed the recently concluded election. A lot about body image was said during this time from both campaigns – what were your thoughts when you heard these conversations?

First of all, let me just say how devastated I am that Trump won. It’s not so much the fact that Hillary would have been the first female president (which would truly have been amazing) but more the fact that she lost to someone like Donald Trump, who has said such horrible things about women, about minorities, and so on. The fact that he called Alicia Machado ‘Miss Piggy’ because of her weight, tried to ‘rate’ the women who had accused him of assault…it’s absolutely disgusting. He represents the sexist attitudes in which women aren’t seen for who they are, but for what they look like. Their bodies are constantly scrutinized, but not their personalities or achievements. Even when Clinton was running against Obama, she was being compared to Sarah Palin physically and her looks become the focus, rather than her policies. I do believe that because Clinton was a woman she was judged at a much harsher standard than she would if she were a man.

motivationmondays_yourself

And would Miss Moti have any thoughts on Trump becoming President?

(Laughs) Well, I have been reacting to current affairs through my Miss Motivation series, which is a weekly thing that I do. When I started it, I had no intention of it becoming political, and in fact, it was a way for me to get back to work after my experience with depression by setting myself weekly deadlines. But over time the series started reflecting current affairs, and whatever had taken place in that particular week. When Brexit happened, I made a comic about continuing to have the courage to go on in the face of adversity and in the week before the elections, I made one about choices and how these choices should be made out of hope and not out of fear. So in the coming week, I might just do one about Trump, though I haven’t thought about it yet.

Where do you plan to take Miss Moti next?

I’m in the process of making a proposal for this Miss Moti book I’ve had in mind for a long time. It’s a five part story arc which include “Miss Moti and the Cotton Candy” and “Miss Moti and the Big Apple”. They are all individual stories but they are meant to have an underlying arc, and talk about Miss Moti’s journey. This has been in the works for a long time and I’m hoping to now get it compiled and get it published.

In not more than a couple of sentences, how would Miss Moti react to:

Ice Cream:

Yum!

Clouds:

Great for floating!

People who say body-positivity is somewhat encouraging obesity:

Body-Positivity is about loving yourself and it has nothing to do with size. Even those who aren’t overweight can have bad body image about themselves, so obesity or weight isn’t even a factor.

motivationmondays_size

Thin people when they say ‘I look fat!’

It’s just negative social and media conditioning which makes people think this way.

Body hair (since it is No-shave November!)

It’s bit of a tricky thing, and in a way, it’s easier for a woman to be fat than have body hair because of all the stigma. It’s something that should not matter, but the social conditioning around it is hard to get rid of.

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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.

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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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