This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ananya Pal. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Are You Hurting Yourself To Be ‘Pretty’ For Social Media?

It’s summer; the pressures of school have faded from your attention, and now you are back on Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. After days of being away from your beloved phones (if you were studying), you finally have access to those golden hours, with clear mirrors to take flashy photos, fairy lights, and there is no one hounding you to hurry up with your “IG worthy photo”.

After getting the right lighting and angle, with a ton of face tuning, you click ‘post’ and put down your phone. You can practically hear, and then see the comments rolling in: “You’re so fat! You look trash. #struggling.” Women are exposed to such derogatory statements way too often. Simply because we have come to an age in which the use of electronic communication is the new normal.

woman on her mobile phone, social media
Representational image.

Study Proves Social Media Affects Mental Health Of Teenagers

This is social media, and it allows absolutely anyone to post, chat, share, tag, react; the possibilities are endless. I see a ubiquitous, flawed beauty norm, on every single platform I know. Girls have to be skinny like a small bouquet of twigs, have those Kylie Jenner lips, the natural highlight, pearly whites, an hourglass figure, a clear complexion, and that bikini body all day, every day. 

Opinions displayed on social media often a collective uniform opinion has established a new standard for women’s beauty. And with this, the world has become very conscious of even the smallest of things, only because of the gnawing ‘FOMO. This goes for the beauty standards on social media as well. According to The Millenium Cohort Study led by the UK government, the pressures of social media (beauty being one of them) are harmful to the health of girls, since girls spend more hours a day on social media.

Over the years, I have noticed that if a girl does not meet or exceed the expectations society has for beauty, people do not click on the thumbs-up or the all too desired heart emoji for the post. Instead, they may go as far as dedicating an entire comment towards expressing how ‘ugly’ that person is even criticizing them.

But what exactly makes it a hateful criticism? Flashback to my early years as a young student, where innocent plush toys reigned over lunchtimes and breaks, and soul-crushing Instagram posts ruled overtime after school. My elementary school wasn’t usual. In the class, next door was a girl named Kennedy. Every time lunch rolled around, a stampede of children hunted for seats and guarded them for their friends, shooting deadly looks at those trying to sit with them.

The Beauty Standards Set By Social Media Are Unrealistic

It was like there was a literal “deadline” from the American Civil War, those who dared to come forward were repulsed vehemently. I always saw Kennedy and her swarm of friends and thought, “Wow, she’s a CCP! (an abbreviation my friends taught me) Cute, cool, and popular.” 

Kennedy’s friends used to backstab her on Instagram and group chats, gossip about how chubby and short she was. Everyone said that Kennedy was unaware of the things said about her online, but whenever she found out bits and pieces, I would see her crying in the girls’ bathroom, and deleting posts off her Instagram feed.  

Even though Kennedy faced the brunt of it, girls around her, the 9-year-olds, who have yet to learn the ways of the online world, let alone the real world, face an unpleasant reality. They learn that not meeting the “deadlines” of the social media beauty assignments, will hurt them emotionally and that there were ways to negate their impact. I’ve seen my 3rd-grade besties turn from wearing colourful, non-brand shirts and pants, to wearing branded, skin clinging clothing and expensive platform shoes. Whether you’re a bystander or the victim of this mess, the backlash is always there if you miss the deadline.

Here’s one story. At the age of 14, Ashlee Thomas was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. She felt as if everyone was criticizing her online. Ashlee was severely underweight and force-fed seven times a day to avoid hurtful comments. She was dying before her parents’ eyes only to become an unrealistic ideal. Just because of a single critical post on her body by some random person sitting behind a screen, Ashlee decided that she was ugly, and “deformed”. She felt that the internet world was banishing her. 

Such irrational behaviour towards something as natural as our person can only lead to very serious mental health issues. There were times were Ashlee was close to committing suicide. Here are some scary statistics.

A study conducted by Florida and San Diego State University proved that the use of social media caused suicide rates among teenagers (8th graders to twelfth graders), to grow by 65%. The Imperial College of London has proved that teens who use social media were more likely to report psychological stress than those who use it less. A US National Survey on Drug Use and Health surveyed young adults and found that their use of social media caused an average 71% increase in major psychological stress. 

Representational image.

Only You Get To Define Yourself, Not The Internet

Knowing, hearing, and reading about girls who have severe mental and physical health issues all because of stupid trolls online truly breaks my heart. It angers me to see that people have stooped so low that they push an imaginary standard that interferes with one’s expression of identity.

Hurting yourself to be pretty for social media should not be an assignment, for which a deadline has to be met. I can’t bear to see more young girls and my friends enslaved by the social constructs of this warped media.

They simply do not deserve to be shamed and most certainly don’t have to change themselves. Social media in this aspect has taken over many lives, and it shouldn’t have the power to do so anymore. 

So, now what? We’ve heard the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s time to change the script. Only we should be allowed to define our beauty. Only we should be allowed to define our boundaries. Having to live within a framework defined by someone else is not okay. Especially if it’s someone that doesn’t dare say awful things to your face. It’s time to reclaim our bodies from the netizens who frankly don’t matter. Our virtual existence should not dictate everything about us, it is our true existence that will push us forward in life.

Women should refuse to hand over the controls of how they should look, to someone else’s keyboard. And I know that as social media continues to impose its convoluted standards, we will hit some nasty comments. However, the choice of letting that affect us is purely our own decision.  Honestly and frighteningly, there are only two options. Either we decide to take control or we become slaves to the deadline of cruel beauty expectations.

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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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