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Dear Fashion Designers, Do You Really Want Your Work To Make Us Uncomfortable?

Dear famous fashion designer,

There are many things I admire about your brand – your impeccable attention to detail, the craftsmanship in your designs, the quality of your garments and your astounding creativity, to name a few. It seems to me your fashion only gets better with age. It’s beautiful to watch your designs grow with you, mature with you and resemble significant changes in your life.

But what I – and the world – admire the most, is your ability to transform your runway to be an element of the current times. Every season, you almost impossibly manage to have a unique vision – an inspiration for your pieces – and adapt it to an ever-changing, ever-modernising world. Be it high-waisted trousers or flowing floral gowns, skin tight leather or androgynous black suits, your collections resemble the times we live in, and the times we will soon see.

The multi-billion dollar industry, however, would be incomplete without the physical bodies that display the visionary designs of any fashion house: the models. The beautiful, tall, slender ‘pieces of perfection’ who strut down the runway. We aspire to be them, we watch as they glide down, 6-inch heel after 6-inch heel, with their smooth blonde hair, perfect dewy skin, peach lips and mesmerising eyes. We see them on TV, sipping on champagne backstage and in magazines, with their defined cheekbones and cellulite-free mile-long bronzed legs, mingling with people we’ve only seen – and fallen in love with – in movies.

Image Credit: Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Yet, it baffles me – how every small aspect of your esteemed brand changes with the world, improving and inspiring, but the models all remain the same – wafer thin, fair, perfect and unhappy.

Behind the 90-pound body is the young woman who has eaten three almonds in the day; behind the ‘au naturel’ flawless face is the pigmented skin, dotted with pimples, rough by virtue of the heavy coat of makeup; behind the sleek, straight locks are the dry, damaged tresses which cry to be saved from the harmful chemicals being fed to them every day.

But the young girl religiously reading Vogue in her room is oblivious to the unbearable pain inside her favourite model who is smiling at her through page six. At an innocent age, the young girl begins to emulate her; the teenager who used to laugh and eat her chocolate cake without a care in the world now scribbles down the number of calories in her breakfast apple after subscribing to a model’s ‘diet plan’.

Fashion has, as we all know, one of the biggest impacts on any adolescent’s life. But the question on my mind is, is this the kind of impact it should have? To teach people to be lacking in confidence, uncomfortable and unhappy in their own skin? To constantly look into a mirror and find flaws, imperfections, failures?

The purpose of fashion, as I know and believe to be true, is to empower – to make a person feel self-confident, not conscious, in a black minidress; to make someone feel beautiful in a 400-dollar cashmere sweater, not insecure that they could not fit into the size 2 sweater.

While the industry encourages the most stunning and expressive forms of art, it is also one of the primary causes of eating disorders, self-loathing and rejection in the young generation (mostly women as compared to men), setting unhealthy and unachievable beauty standards and norms. And for what?

Why is a particular waist size, skin tone and height requirement enforced in this business? In the real world, people who buy your creations, are not 5 feet 10 inches with 20-inch waists. They are short and tall, fair and dark, skinny and plump, and are still beautiful and deserve to wear fashionable clothes.

The purpose of a model is to bring your designs to life and display its look on the human body. But how can this be achieved by portraying only one type of figure? The many men and women who walk into your store and swipe their credit cards are poles apart in terms of their skin tone, race, size and features.

The biggest disappointment in the world of fashion is conformity. While fashion design and designers, like yourself, are pioneers of the new age of creativity, of pushing boundaries, we cannot ignore the harsh truth that you are blind to the true meaning of beauty. The many unfortunate cases of severe depression and malnourishment among models prove the same.

However, after shedding light on the dark underbelly of the fashion world, it is important to notice and appreciate how on a small scale, slowly, but surely, the norms are being redefined.

From the emergence of the plus size fashion sector, promoting women to love and embrace their curves, to shows including models with physical disabilities to many countries, such as France, setting certain weight and BMI benchmarks so as to not employ underweight, unhealthy models, to more races and complexions being seen on the runway, we are progressing at a gradual speed.

The heavy influence of social media has resulted in campaigns, media intervention and increased awareness about the necessary changes to be introduced in the industry in the future. Though it is enriching to see the rigid lines of this exclusive world slowly blur, it is not nearly enough. Each year, the competitions become more cutthroat and the conditions seem to worsen.

Do you not feel disheartened, knowing you spend incessant amounts of time, money and energy to perfect your craft, only to be the cause of self-hatred and dejection in the hearts of many? Is then your labour fruitful? Is it then worth seeing that actress grasp her Oscar in your gorgeous gown?

I urge you, and everybody else in the world, not only to think about this but also to take action. The only voices that can be heard are of those that actually stand up and speak. I write this to you, sitting at my desk, drinking my non-fat skim latte, wearing a crisp white shirt and size zero navy blue trousers. Ah, which brand you ask? It’s yours.


Your average everyday woman

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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.

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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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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