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Social Media, Popular Culture Introduced Me To Both Body Shaming And Positivity

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How would you describe your relationship with your body? On being asked this question, the teenage me would have described it as uncomfortable, or maybe hateful to some extent. But the present me, a 22-year-old woman, would rather describe it as a relationship of learning and caring.

Body image and body consciousness has been a coercion thrust upon women, bounding us within the famous 36-24-36 matrix. But to think about it rationally, our bodies are not baking batter that can be moulded into such standard silicon moulds. Diversity among human beings exists not just of the mind, but also extends to our physical appearance, which our society finds hard to come to terms with. For the most part of my life, I grew up around this matrix of the ideal body or, as I shall put it brutally, the “bikini body”.

Growing up as a fat kid in the household, adolescence brought a stream of bodily changes. Preoccupied with this change, my media and popular culture consumption during my teenage years was majorly focused on watching Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and other Disney stars (prodigies of the perfect White body). This consumption simply lead me to believe that this is how puberty changes your body and turns you into a woman with a flat stomach and what I considered normal breasts. Bollywood, on the other end, featured heroines, clad in a low waist saree, with cameras zooming in on their flat belly. The perfect Indian figure would often be advertised on movie posters. Looking at my own body, I could not see myself in the women I liked.

With my thunder thighs, a bulging stomach and big breasts, I felt as if I had been cheated by the Gods of Puberty, or if there was some ill-luck that struck me. At the time, I obviously could not understand that this idea of one perfect body is a hegemonic social construct, manoeuvred to be coerced on to the minds of young women to perpetuate society’s homogeneous perspective of women’s bodies. For me, it was my body’s shortcoming, that I could not wear crop tops or maybe look a certain way, and not society’s narrow approach on body and diversity.

Credits; @delilahsroses

For many years, I read articles and styling tips on social media, on how to make my body look “decent”, fashion dos and don’ts for chubby women, and what not. I believed and religiously followed all these tips. Then, accidentally, just as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across a picture of a beautiful woman (Sierra Schultzzie) posing in a bikini. To my horror, she was breaking all plus-size fashion police rules and still rocking the look. I liked the photo and dug deep into her profile, and that is when I read about body positivity and body image for the first time.

(There have been various debates around the idea of body positivity. Most of the criticism against body positivity is surrounds the fact that this movement promotes categorisation of bodies, normalises obesity, and discourages exercise and physical fitness. It is also seen as non-inclusive of different ethnicities and is essentially an idea centred around White bodies. However, major proponents of the movement see it as a movement for social justice, one that includes every person. It is seen as an encouragement to work on health and fitness goals, and all this, accepting and not hating the way your body looks in the present.)

My social media consumption took a roller coaster ride from reading articles on how to fit my body into the ideal standard to watching YouTube videos of Sierra Schultzzie, Carrie Dayton and Lucy Wood who were breaking all plus-size fashion myths, and talking about thigh gaps and chub-rub. And it was not some random liberal movement far out in the West. There were people here in India, breaking those body image stereotypes and proudly owning their bodies.

I came across the work of Sakshi Sindwani, Meenu Goel Khade and Komal Narang. Their content is not just about promoting fashion trends, it goes much beyond that. Brutally Honest Reviews by Sierra Schultzzie and 11 Seconds 11 Styles by Sakshi Sindwani end up instilling more confidence in women with bodies of all shapes and kinds to feel a certain way. Apart from fashion, these influencers have also been outrightly honest about their fitness routine, and the struggle of working out in a society that expects outright results.

My social media consumption took a roller coaster ride from reading articles on how to fit my body into the ideal standard to watching YouTube videos of Sierra Schultzzie, Carrie Dayton and Lucy Wood who were breaking all plus-size fashion myths, and talking about thigh gaps and chub-rub.

After surrounding myself for the past few years with all these women who were unapologetic about their bodies, open to accept and embrace their ‘not-so-ideal-bodies’, I learned that there is no such thing as an ‘ideal body’. Every human body is different and being different does not necessarily mean that you’re wrong; rather, it’s a sign of strength. This reversal of the cultural content that I have been consuming on social media has helped me become the confident woman I am today who is open to learn and accept her body. But the road to this journey has not always been smooth for all of them.

Sierra Schutlzzie, in one of her videos, talks about her struggle with an eating disorder and the constant pressure to have the right kind of body, by talking about the effects of mean comments on her mental health. Even Sakshi Sindwani has been very vocal about being a big woman in Indian society. She recalls being bullied for being “fat and tall”, and going for therapy in school. And the bullying didn’t just stop there — she also recounts criticism from her own family commenting “Isse kaun shadi karega?”, “Zyda moti nahi ho gayi ho?”.

Although these women have evolved with their journey to become more confident in their bodies, being a public figure also comes with its own baggage. There are always instances of cyber-bullying and facing mean comments that extend not just to the person, but even to their family, which ends up leaving an impact on their minds. There are still times when I am not the most confident with my body, or when I feel insecure about wearing a body-con dress or hot pants. But this does not mean that I do not accept my body. Rather, it shows how far I have come in accepting my own body where I feel confident, and not the need to “fix” myself. One thing that I have learned watching these influencers is that there will be moments of self-doubt every once in while, but we need to find a way to deal with such moments.

Popular culture and media have their own facets, just like the two sides of a coin. Obviously, there is a marked inconsistency between the representation of forced body standards, as against body-positive content, but the gap is bridging. Social media is what we, as a society, put up as media and popular culture. To break this fixation on a standard body image lies in our own actions, and the type of content we prefer to consume as well as create.

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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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