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These Women With Body Dysmorphia Tell Us Why Language Around Periods Is Important

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Normalizing the language around menstruation will come only by accepting the fact of it being a natural process. This parlay can be achieved once we begin by conveying correct information on menstruation, as a natural process that happens to every girl. Much of the information is being imparted by mothers, which does not fit into the current scientific discourse.

Science Is The Solution To Stereotypes Around Menstruation

Notions like “pait mein anda phootna”, (an egg blasting in the stomach), “ganda khoon” (dirty blood) have become the common archetypes about periods. Distinct mythological sagas, folklore are the significant socio-cultural beliefs deeply embedded in the Indian psyche.

 The practise of engaging in scientific dialogues around menstruation should be embraced wholeheartedly. The dialogue should start from the school level wherein teachers especially science teachers (gynaecologists can be roped in) should transmit authentic information to students by elucidating the scientific terminology pertaining to menstruation and the biological processes associated with it. Young girls should be encouraged to indulge in meaningful reading on menstruation, menarche, puberty from the age of 9 or 10.

Many women are not aware of the functioning of the reproductive system as in, where does the period blood spring with. Misleading information has potential consequences on their psyche in terms of, internalizing patriarchal stereotypical notions, dealing with body image issues, the inability of coping with bodily changes, and most critical aspect, lack of awareness about symptoms of menstrual disorders which can be attributed to the stigmatization of their bodies during menstruation, poses a serious threat to their reproductive health and overall wellbeing.

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Social Media Is Reaching Out To More And More Menstruators

The pathological ignorance around menstruation which comes from shame towards this phenomena has been dominating the discourse and has led to some serious problems like crippling the health and honour of women. Some studies have highlighted the plight of some girls missing school on the pretext of menstruation. 

Many feminists, social activists, and enlightened youth are making constructive use of social media and other modes of information and technology with the endeavour of providing safe spaces to women for engaging in meaningful dialogues over their experiences in dealing with stereotypes, taboos associated with period blood, menstrual pain, physical and psychological turmoil during menstruation.

In an attempt to examine the meaning of the menstrual cycle in diverse cultures and religions, the common origin of almost every socio-cultural entity is seeming, “Patriarchy”. There is a multi-institutionalized footing whose cardinal factor is Patriarchy which nurtures these taboos for exerting control over women. 

The Taboos Have Led To Shame Around A Normal Biological Process

In my own social transactions, I have come across women using words like date, aunty, monthly crisis, for periods. The shame expressed around periods creates a feeling of sisterhood which reinforces their sense of womanliness. This collective understanding of womanhood and womanliness needs to be critically examined and debated.

Because this acts as a barrier for talking about periods in front of male members of the family. The women who utter the words like menses, periods are preyed on, in the form of obnoxious looks from their elder female relatives which makes it difficult for girls to express their feminine concerns in the familial context.

This further propagates self-doubt, stigma which manifests in the form of hatred towards the period blood and her body image during menstruation, as well as depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Surprisingly, on the other end, women have been made to feel that periods are a source of some kind of a divine superpower that happens to them every month.

But, looking from a multifarious lens, menstruation has a different and more complex language when it comes to women with body image issues such as body dysmorphia. 

Body Dysmorphia Arises From Cultural Conditioning By A Patriarchal Society

For centuries, women’s worth has been evaluated on the basis of their external appearance, physicality, sexual appeal, more than their calibre. From the patriarchal angle, we are still thriving in the hollowness of such hazardous connotations. This comes from chronic cultural conditioning which is deeply embedded in patriarchal structures.

But, internalizing such beliefs can be perilous to our mental health, taking the form of Body Dysmorphia. It is a psychiatric disorder that consists of the rejection of one’s physical bodily self, which is absolutely based on the anticipated societal evaluation. It is also associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which carries unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviours. Body Dysmorphia creates a deep disruption in individuals’ lives. 

Such deeply problematic beliefs and attitudes have been instrumental in the genesis and aggravation of psychological problems like, low self-esteem,  body image issues, body dysmorphia, eating disorders. The intensity of such psychological scuffles gets escalated by the stigmatization of menstruation because, in body dysmorphia, the menstrual body would taunt the already existing negative body image of that individual.

The stigma needs to end right at the grassroot level

A few women having body dysmorphia have revealed their strife with periods. One says, My body dysmorphia gets worse during my period. I lucked out, in a way, seeing as how my body doesn’t plague me with physically crippling PMS symptoms too often, but mentally? My menstrual cycle takes a major toll on me in that respect.  Combine that with the emotional turmoil that is a woman’s period, and you really have a potential recipe for disaster.”

Another says, “Listen, I know myself, and Julia on her period is unlike any other Julia you’ll meet. What’s interesting about the mood swings I experience during my menstrual cycle, though, is that sure, once in a while, I’ll unintentionally take them out on my husband or a friend, but most of the time, that negativity is directed at my own body.”

The Problem Can Be Worse For Adolescent Menstruators

During adolescence, the experience can be more challenging with the symptoms manifesting during the second two weeks of their menstrual cycles. The symptoms can make teens feel very unfamiliar with being themselves, as they’re abruptly overwhelmed with symptomatology such as: feeling low, depression, overwhelming apathy, excessive fatigue, brain fog, and irritability. These symptoms have the potential to hamper daily functioning, that they often lead to teens experiencing sudden challenges with concentrating and completing schoolwork, problems in relationships, and low self-esteem.  Teenagers also feel ashamed about their unwelcomed symptoms, which further makes it tougher to handle it. 

Angana, in her talk on Youth ki Awaaz, has asserted that there is a dire need of altering our attitudes and perception about period blood by striking a fine balance between belief about menstrual blood being “ganda khoon(dirty blood) and a sign of superpower.  It’s high time for us to appreciate menstruation as a normal physiological process.

Also, it is very crucial in this hour to inculcate positivity about menses in young women by celebrating it. Normalizing the language around menstruation has been the bone of contention among feminists. The approach towards this topic should be more inclusive towards women battling with body image issues, body dysmorphia and even transgenders should be a conspicuous part of this thought. 

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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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