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My Journey From Googling ‘How To Eat Like A Victoria’s Secret Angel’ To Self-Acceptance

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TW: Body image 

My relationship with myself and my body began to go downhill in my early teens when the following message was unequivocally conveyed to me: that I was “overweight” and had to get serious about getting my “health” back on track.

This did precious little for my health – on the contrary, it set in motion an extremely undesirable chain of events inside me, that I still struggle to put an end to. At the ripe (not very) old age of 13, what should have been the most carefree years of my life, I began hitting the gym religiously and cutting certain food groups out of my diet, for fear that they were “bad”. And what for? Was becoming healthier really the point of all this, or was it little more than a quest for acceptance, from myself and from others?

Anyway, the older I grew, the needier I became. The more I shrank, the more highly everyone (including myself) thought of me, and vice versa. The only message I thus received was as follows: thinness is a signifier of the highest virtues, and the space my body occupied was inversely proportional to how disciplined, how hard-working, and how worthy of adulation I was.

My body became much, much more than a sum of the functions it performed. It was my ticket to, or away from, the life of glory I relentlessly and consistently ached for. Instead of practising gratitude towards my body for nearly effortlessly functioning, to keep me disease-free and energetic all day, I began to see it for what it wasn’t: on the daily, I used to beat myself up because my legs/arms/butt/midsection wasn’t as thin or as toned as a Victoria’s Secret Angel’s.

The comparisons, however, didn’t end at actors and models – I began to obsessively size myself up even against random acquaintances and if I came off as “chubbier”, I’d hit the gym with more rigour, and chalk up a new diet plan depending on what was in. Countless times I embarked on weight loss “journeys” and failed, for which I blamed my own supposed weakness and poverty of character. However, it wasn’t as simple as that– as I now know, deprivation and sustainability seldom go hand in hand.

My most “successful” efforts to lead a “healthy lifestyle” came in the last few months of 2018, which was when I was at my thinnest, and supposedly at my happiest. The diet I had put myself on was a mixed bag of what I’d picked up over the years from articles and books on nutrition, followed unforgivingly to the T.

One extra calorie, one early/late meal, one missed workout, and I became a “bad girl”. In short, one infraction was all it took to make or break how I would feel about myself for the rest of the day. All I ever thought about was how desirable, how aspirational I’d be by the “end” of it (which I never saw, by the way).

Never mind that my once rich, varied, and sophisticated to the point of snobbery, reading, list now consisted primarily of Google Searches like “Deepika Padukone fitness routine”, “Kate Middleton diet and exercise”, and “How to eat and work out like a Victoria’s Secret Angel”.

In short, one infraction was all it took to make or break how I would feel about myself for the rest of the day. *Image is for representational purposes only*

Never mind that I’d count calories obsessively and compulsively, to the point where even chewing gum and mouthwash wasn’t spared my merciless calculations. Never mind that on many a leisurely movie and dinner outing with my parents, I felt obligated to run to the gym and work my butt off in order to “earn” the “luxury” that was dinner. Never mind that in spite of identifying as a staunch third-wave feminist, I wasn’t practising what I preached. Never mind that the system of beliefs I had built my entire existence around was the one that had birthed and sustained horrors like corsets, foot binding, and eating disorders.

Thankfully, good sense prevailed. I made changes that were much needed and long overdue – I started socialising with those who loved and respected me for who I was and unfollowed a lot of influenzas (a nickname I’ve come up with for social media influencers) who were instrumental in keeping me and countless other young girls on this narrow path of self-loathing and reward and punishment.

This, along with a lot of introspection, led me to my present state –  although I still exercise every morning, I’m proud to report that I’m making a conscious effort to push vanity out of the equation. I exercise because exercise releases endorphins that strengthen bones and muscles, and have, to my pleasant surprise, worked wonders for my sleep cycle!

Corporations and society kept hammering superficial, toxic messages into my malleable psyche, and I, like a sponge, kept internalising them. That is until I’d had enough. Until I was finally introduced to the beautiful, strong, intelligent woman living inside this vessel, who has oodles of love, warmth, and ideas that will one day make the world a little more inhabitable. Until I knew better and saw through the photoshopped, surgically enhanced overworked and underfed lies. And I won’t stop calling them out.

Although I’m no longer at my slimmest and the “diet” is officially a thing of the past, I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally in a much healthier place now. Although I still have the occasional bad day, my self worth has improved by leaps and bounds. Unlearning centuries of patriarchal conditioning is no mean feat but I try every single day. I’m going to be a good girl and stay on track, because I have learned that when I rise, so do other women. When I’m happy with myself, I unwittingly give them permission to love themselves and embrace their gifts, too.

When I shine, we shine! And wouldn’t that be beautiful?

Featured image for representation only.
Featured image credit: Sasha Freemind on Unsplash
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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.

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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.

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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