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As A Teen, I Struggled With Self-Esteem Issues. Today, I Run My Own Fitness Challenge

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I grew up in a typical fauji middle-class family where strong values, discipline, fitness and education is of utmost importance.

Yet, growing up I was quite a plump child, low on self-esteem and confidence. Though my parents nudged me to get more active and play outside instead of being a couch potato, I would ignore their efforts to be a fitter me. Somewhere deep within, I felt deeply ‘unlikeable’ and believed anything I did would not make a difference.

Eventually at age 15, I became determined to lose weight for good. I drastically reduced my food intake. I would go for long walks and also do my own version of exercises.

Yes, I lost weight and became very thin. However, I also lost the glow on my face and the lustre of my curly, thick hair. I became very irritable, had constant headaches and experienced my fair share of injuries.

My first marathon – very poor endurance and posture, but running with the crowd, supporting each other was amazing. There was no looking back since then!

Within a year, I gained back all the weight I lost, and this became a turning point in my life.

I began questioning – what is the point of losing weight if it makes me sad, irritable, physically weak?

I decided to try again but pledged to do it right this time. I started studying about fitness and was also guided by my parents. My father who’s in the Indian Air Force and mother, a teacher by profession, both swear by “health is wealth”, and their support really helped.

Slowly exercising became a habit for me. I started looking at each day as an opportunity to be stronger, happier and more focused.

Today, my daily routine consists of an hour and a half of yoga, weight lifting, high-intensity interval workout and running, spread over six days a week!

A mind of my own

On the professional front, I had always dreamed of being a doctor since the age of 4. After Class 12, when it was time to enter a specialisation, I chose Ayurveda as my field of medicine.

My well-wishers advised me against it, and in fact, many thought I had lost my mind when I didn’t pick conventional streams. But I felt very strongly that the depth of traditional medicine deserves to be respected and understood.

Gradually, over a period of five and a half years, being under the guidance of some very inspiring teachers, I found out that Ayurveda was much deeper than just ‘herbal medicines’ and ‘home remedies’. During my course, what also caught my attention was the number of women and children in their teens, unhappy with their body, having low-esteem and wanting to lose weight, but all this in order to please others, never for their own happiness.

This made me realise the importance of mental health, and I did a post graduation in counselling and psychotherapy, which gave me a completely new perspective on understanding others.

Choosing good health

Post marriage, I was on a sabbatical and was looking for ways to apply my knowledge by giving lectures and seminars in different schools and meetings, trying to find my foothold. My husband’s transferable job meant that I had to do this on the move.

That’s when I stumbled upon SHEROES, an amazing all-women platform. I downloaded the app and joined the community closest to my heart – the Health Community, where I began posting little tips and remedies for the benefit of the young women who were obsessed with losing weight.

Engaging every day with so many young women in the community, made me realise the misconceptions and myths about weight loss that ruin our health. So, many of us are hell-bent on becoming thin that we are ready to ignore the physical symptoms of distress our body goes through in the process.

Day 5 of the SHEROES plank challenge. Push up, brush up, show up!

No shortcuts

In the past few years, while practising, I came to understand that there is a lack of patience regarding weight loss.

Everybody wants shortcuts, be it different treatments, medicines or herbal teas and drinks.

I wish to smash these notions and have started writing articles on the benefits of yoga and a good diet, as well as exercising in a safe, effective way.

Additionally, I  respond to posts everyday young girls who open up about their body image issues and are desperate to lose or gain weight. I encourage them to put health and fitness first.

To generate more excitement around fitness, I launched the 21-day plank challenge in the community, and soon other community members started posting their challenge experiences and pictures and asking questions around the proper techniques to do it right.

I am thrilled by these body-positive responses, and hope to continue motivating myself and others about diet, exercise and being fit and healthy.

My first Himalayan trek. The majestic mountains break you, test your willpower at every climb, make your cry. They teach you perseverance and never to quit! You know you’re in the right place the minute you see the humble prayer flags fluttering in the wind.

Feel the strength in you

As I look back at my fitness journey, I’m happy that I have learnt to look for, and appreciate the positive within me; that’s something I am really proud of.

What my body can withstand today, was not possible five years back. And I am still not where I want to be, but every day is a new opportunity to be better and stronger than yesterday.

As a teenager who struggled with self-esteem issues, I want to share a message for all the young girls out there – just feel the strength within you and straighten your crown. Because, you, beautiful woman, are capable of everything you want to be.

Just believe!

About Dr Arundhati Walwadkar:
I’m a passionate Ayurveda doctor, child counsellor, classical dancer, yoga, fitness and swimming enthusiast, a foodie, in love with Calvin and Hobbes, and a die-hard Grey’s Anatomy and F.R.I.E.N.D.S fan.

SHEROES Communities for women are accessible via Sheroes.com and the SHEROES app
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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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