I Took These Photos Because ‘Women Rarely Speak Nicely About Their Breasts’

“What makes you so special? Why they would choose you?”

Chilling words.

Into The Dark

Was she really asking me what made me such a special person that I would have the honour to be set up, drugged, and coerced into sexual activities, then unknowingly filmed and blackmailed? Every woman has a story, that one was mine.

Months before being faced with this traumatic event in 2017, I was inspired to get back to my roots in art and create a project from the heart. I decided that I wanted to create a tasteful, powerful photojournalism book on diverse breasts and the stories that come with them. I thought it would be a great project to help me grow in self-love as I had struggled my whole life with loving my breasts. Three months into my project, my biggest insecurity, my breasts, were threatened to be exposed to the world in the worst way. Coincidence or divine timing?

I decided after taking a step back from the intense and life-altering situation to see the moment for what it was. Divine timing.

Into the Light

Situations we face where someone is abused we too often let fear and depression get the best of us. I did too for six months as my best friend and I received encrypted phone calls early in the morning threatening and taunting us, but I was determined to take the worst of a situation and transform it. The second I decided I was done with fear taking over me I had never felt so powerful. Revisiting my project after many months, I had an entirely different view on how I would approach it.

#ThisOnesForMe

I had received overwhelming support from my previous photos and interviews published online, this allowed me to have a foundation to create a campaign called #ThisOnesForMe. With my team of eight women from around the world, we designed this campaign to allow people to take back their power over whatever has oppressed or challenged them in life relating to their breasts. We asked people to take an image of their chest from neck to belly button, with or without clothes, however they identify. Then have them share the image with the hashtag #THISONESFORME across the chest and a personal story. That first week we reached 120,000 people which connected us with individuals from around the world that were willing to share their stories and images. These stories bring up important and relevant topics that we face today, such as social conformity, discrimination, all forms of mental illness, body image, rape culture, LGBTQ, breastfeeding, gender equality, abuse and more. I believe the more people that share their stories, the more chance we have of inspiring change.

Why Boobs?

Why not? Breasts are the most contradicted, feted, sexualized and taboo part of a woman’s body. They are also one of the most defining parts of a cisgender woman. I realized when starting this project that women rarely speak nicely of their breasts, let alone their bodies and it’s not a surprise – they have been trained that way. There is a system of oppression manipulating our feelings about our bodies through millions of tactics like beauty standards, movies, music videos, and games. Breasts play a huge role in this and are extremely underrepresented. There is no diversity and only one type of breast is consistently shown (caucasian, perky and round). The common exception is of the black woman, who in movies often plays a slave being raped and exposed on screen with usually more natural looking breasts. This is troubling as it sets a standard for what is acceptable in the media (what is the standard?).

There is a whole generation of women being raised to equate their bodies to their value. We are made to feel uncomfortable in our own bodies and often shame other women about theirs. These instances are amplified to a greater extent when including the unique experiences of women of colour, women with disabilities, or LGBTQ people. In these experiences, we lose our sense of self. This problem results in women feeling disempowered.

Self-objectification and self-hate is an international epidemic, the consequences can cause rifts in all aspects of life. From shame and anxiety to depression, eating disorders, lower ambition and lower cognitive function.

We want to change this and give the power back to the people. As a society, if we acknowledge and educate ourselves on how we are oppressed, we can stand up in opposition and regain power. Our project wants all ethnicities, all that identify, all ages, shapes, sizes and forms to join our mission by participating in, and supporting the project therefore swaying public demand to support the body positive movement through changes in media, models and more. The world, advertisers, and the media will adjust. This is a revolution that is already happening all around us. (Sonny Turner is a great example of this already happening).

The Boob Book

This book is not a photographic book full of anonymous topless women. It is a book to inspire global change and self love. It is a gateway to new life for oppressed women and a safe haven to liberate and share anonymous stories. It is a social instrument that will be used for political change and empowerment.

This book will consist of 100 diverse women, diverse breasts and diverse stories, including, women of status who have created social change, feminist movement leaders, celebrity activists, women making waves today and a variety of others from all walks of life. Once the book is published we will tour with the book and exhibition to 8 countries to show the diversity that exists and share important stories. We will also educate people on social issues facing women in each location we visit such as reproductive health & rights, gender based violence and female genital mutilation.

This project will push boundaries, challenge laws and allow necessary stories to surface that would have never had a platform. We will also create a documentary that follows the progress of the project and the real social changes made as a result of it.

During this global transformation of self-love, awareness, and empowerment, we will disrupt and dismantle the current narrative of breasts from the foundation, and organically restructure a healthy relationship with our bodies as a united front. This will help us to move into our full potential and out of oppression.

Are you ready to bare it all?

For more, visit The Boob Boob, or check them out on Instagram.
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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 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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