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Opinion: Buying Beauty Products Doesn’t Help Your Self-Worth, It Only Helps The Economy


 By Itisha Nagar, PhD:

Disclaimer: The article is a satirical piece on women, mental health, and the cosmetic industry.

It is one of the better Sunday mornings, as I settle down with a hot cup of tea, my dog by my side, and I spread open the newspaper. Although news these days is hardly distinguishable from the weekly Sunday gossip magazine, still I lunge at the magazine first.

I savour the cover story on Bollywood’s topmost actress’s life and struggles, only to land on this advertisement about ‘natural hair colour.‘ The hair colour in question is ‘ayurvedic’, ‘gentle’ and ‘extra safe’, backed by ‘cutting edge science’, and ‘recommended by doctors’. ‘Indus Valley: Ayurveda since 2500 BC’ they called it, because why not?

Apparently, the Indus valley civilization had been working on ‘cutting edge’ hair technology to discover a magical women’s hair-colour, that can also “change their worth”. They missed this part out in our history textbooks, I thought. Hmmm….stupid libtards. The coolest civilization on this planet, I can almost imagine.

It’s a Sunday; people in the Indus valley have come together at the Great Bath, at Mohenjo-Daro to apply the magical hair-colour. First, they ritually separate their hair into four sections, then they begin to apply the sacred colour at the roots, combing through the rest of the hair event, finally applying a shower cap. All of them lie down for the colour to spread from their hair to the scalp to their brain, their eyes closed, waiting for eternal self-worth to seep through their minds and bodies and then BAM!!!! An asteroid they failed to see hits the unfortunate geniuses. You see, this is how the great Indus Valley Civilization dye-ed (pun not intended).

Apparently, Indus valley civilization had been working on ‘cutting edge’ hair technology to discover a magical women’s hair-colour.                                

2500 hundred years later, it’s a typical Sunday afternoon, in a household in the Indian civilization. The father is sitting reading the newspaper, while the mother is in the kitchen, and the children are hooked onto the afternoon matinee.

A dark-skinned, under-confident and an insecure woman walks into our lives through our TV screens. The poor woman is unable to get married, so naturally, her family is frustrated. She looks like she’s in dire need of anti-depressants when someone presents her something even better, a ‘fair and lovely’ cream. The advertisement then goes on to show her radical transformation. Not only does she become several shades lighter, but she also emerges as a successful, confident, and self-assured woman who now has a higher social status in the (arranged) marriage market. All because of her “whiteness.” The advertisement ends with her clinching a desirable marriage proposal (or a job proposal in the more recent ads); the camera zooms in on her “fair” and happy face. The message implied is: “Fair is lovely and dark is ugly, change your face cream and be worthy.” 

An advertisement for skin whitening products.

But how does one create self-worth in a woman, who let’s say, is a fair damsel, not in distress? Worry not; there are all kinds of products for all kinds of deficiencies that can be created in girls and women.

We have fairer skin for tanned skins, tanned skin for fairer skins, darker hair-colour for lighter hair, lighter hair-colour for darker hair, tummy tuck for excess fat and breast enhancement for deficit fat. We also have hair removal and hair implants, make up for those who don’t want the natural look, and natural make up, for those who don’t want to look too made up.

But if you’re the “smarter” lot who goes for the ‘doctor recommended products’ only, how about doctor prescribed intimate hygiene products for the self-cleaning vagina? If all that fails, hymenoplasty for hymen regrowth is bound to leave you feeling young and worthy. As we said, we have products for all kinds of ‘deficits’.

Women, don’t you know if you felt too good, it wouldn’t be good for the economy. The market profits from self-doubt and plummets from self-worth. The economy wants you to feel like a lesser being, but wait, only so that capitalism can swoop in and save you from a fate worse than death: being ugly and unworthy.

So no, don’t listen to this. It’s because of this mindset of the millennial feminist women, who do not buy their self-worth over the counter, that the economy has gone for a toss. Go, my dear, change your hair colour and change your worth. Uplift your self-worth, uplift the economy.

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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.

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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.”

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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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