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The Beauty Myth And The Indian Society

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What is the definition of a beautiful woman?

Ask one of your friends and they will have their own definition based on their perception constructed or developed in the society they live in. The social construct I want to bring up here as an example is body shaming and commenting on the complexion of women. You must have heard your mother say, “you would grow fat if you eat a lot, who would marry you if you grow fat” or your father say, “I have only one boy why should I get a dark skinned or fat girl for him.”

We often ignore these words uttered by our closed ones. The worst of all was the day when I found myself tagged in a post with a dark complexioned and overweight African girl stating “According to psychology the boy whose name starts with R, S, D and J will get this kind of wife”.

This was supposed to be a ‘joke’ but honestly this is racist and misogynist nothing else.

Now, this shows our mindset which is indeed shameful, but unfortunately, almost all of our young friends and family members have this inherent rotten perception of beauty. For them, someone who is overweight or has a dark complexion is just a subject of mockery. This is incredibly immature and shameful behaviour.

But how did it happen? From where did this beauty myth came into our minds. Is it created by the Indian film industry or is it an old patriarchal construct that popular media has further perpetuated?

Our life revolves around ideologies. Ideologies have shaped our society – but who created them? Me, you, our family members, the Babas and Maulvis of our society, or the film industry? Honestly, it doesn’t matter who creates these ideologies, because all we care about is following them blindly like sheep. Whether it’s size zero, six-inch heels, Botox treatment trends started by film industry or preference of marrying someone who has a fair complexion – everything was started by the egoist patriarchs of our society.

There controlling ideologies are everywhere, just switch on the TV and the advertisements will prove it, look at the matrimonial website ads the demands from grooms and brides will prove it. It does not seem to stop, the reason being our undermining the derogatory or controlling words of our loved ones. We allow the other to control us, to be ruled by their ideologies without pondering on the consequences. We don’t have any idea how fatal it can be to live up to a standard or ideal, and how difficult it is for someone who chooses to deviate from this set norm.

The beauty myth has spoiled the lives of many, but the media does not show us that side. One of the recent examples is the sudden demise of Sri Devi, a celebrated film actress. She died of a cardiac arrest and many experts have blamed cosmetic surgeries, strict diet plans and pressure to look healthy and beautiful in front of the world as the reason for her ‘sudden’ demise. She succumbed to her endeavor to look beautiful as per the perception of the society.

The short-term methods to lose weight which are being promoted – actually take a toll on the health of an individual. Thyroxin increases metabolism by causing pressure on the heart, which increases the risk of cardiac arrest. Likewise, anti-appetite medicines act as appetite suppressants, and impact heart and liver severely. Unfortunately, many young women in the business often adapt these methods to look a certain way.

Ideologies are important for any society to grow, but only to the point where it does not harm or impact you and your surroundings negatively.

Naomi Wolf says in one of her books, “The image of a woman is used against women to control them. The desire to control others in men have created ideologies that have shattered societies.” She wrote a very powerful book named, ‘The Beauty Myth’ as a consequence of the pressure women felt in the west to adhere to unrealistic social standards of physical beauty which grew stronger because of commercial influences on the mass media. This pressure leads to unhealthy behaviors in women and a preoccupation with appearance in every person, and it compromises the ability of women to be effective in and accepted by society.

Various ‘trends’ or beliefs around how an ideal woman should look have infested the west time and again, and we all know India loves to follow the ‘superior’ west. I would recommend this book to everyone who wants to understand the intensity of the situation we are in and where we are heading towards.

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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, 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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