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This Lockdown Year, We Started Off With Cursing Our Bodies

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“And softly, I said to my body, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.”

— Nayyirah Waheed

 

Lockdown at first brought smiles to many faces. Months and months of vacations from work and school and a relief from the stifling city crowd. But as we got deeper into the year, it became darker. We have had to overcome some of the hardest obstacles this year, one of them being how we as individuals perceive ourselves. Due to a sudden pause in our bustling lives, there has been, of course, a decrease in the physical activity we got.

Boredom, stress eating and anxiety are just some of the reasons why we put on a few extra pounds. This was shown by our bellies becoming flabbier, the razor-sharp jawline that was so in vogue becoming softer, our arms becoming chubbier and what not.

Isn’t it justified if our bodies went through some changes during these troubling times? Isn’t it justified if, just for a few months, we gave our body some extra compassion and care? Instead, why do we treat our body like a slave and subjugate it, make it behave out of sync with what it is ‘designed’ to be?

The exterior of this concept may seem to be black and white, but internally, it is extremely perplexing. To explain ‘Body Image’ in modern times, we will be taking the help of well-renowned sociologist Max Weber, who introduced an interesting theory of ‘Ideal type’. According to Weber, “An ideal type is a logically consistent model of a social phenomenon that highlights its significant characteristics.” In simpler words, an ideal type is a ‘perfect’ model of a social phenomenon.

Image has been provided by the author.

Who or what is the perfect model of body image?

Well, of course, the exemplary actors and actresses we love to see on the big screen or the alluring models we see on glossy magazine covers represent these ideal types. Weber’s ideal type is just an instrument or tool used to compare the perfect model of a social phenomenon to what we actually have in reality, so that we can strive towards perfection.

Bodies are not the same all around the world because of various reasons such as the food we eat, the kind of terrain we live in, the climate that surrounds us, etc. Our bodies cannot be categorised so easily. As an individual, you don’t need to strive for that perfect body you see on the big screen or glossy covers, because your body is already perfect.

When it comes to bodies, there is always that one recurring question,

“What is the perfect body?”

In India, the perfect body for a woman is a slim figure with a tiny waist, thin arms and legs. In Mexico, the perfect body for a woman is a voluptuous figure with wide hips. In Romania, a woman must have a fit figure with slight hint of abs, but not too much. If we look at the beautiful statues of divine goddesses in many of the Khajuraho temples, their stomachs are not completely flat, but in fact have paunches. So, if the divine deities that we pray to don’t have the ‘perfect’ body, then who makes these standards?

It’s none other than the patriarchal society we live in. This system sets standards and rules in stone for both men and women to follow. Women’s bodies simply become victims of male desire. While patriarchy puts constant pressure on men and women to have ‘desirable’ bodies, capitalists feed off those insecurities.

 

“Society’s definition of ‘health’ is, at its root, strategically designed to get us to buy goods and services that promise to make us healthier. Diet companies don’t actually want us to lose weight — they want us want to lose weight and keep paying over 60 billion dollars every year to use their service and/or product. Health-related companies don’t care about health; they care about profit. And they use our collective fatphobia to convince us to keep playing the capitalist game.” (Grace Manger; Adios Barbie)

This article would not be complete without taking the feminist point of view into consideration.

Female bodies are fundamentally much different from male bodies. Yes, females have the same organs as males — stomach, colon, intestine etc. —except for the reproductive organs. A female’s uterus is 5cm wide and 7cm long, her ovaries are about the size of a small plum, her fallopian tube is about 7-12cm long and just a single centimetre wide. So, with all this packaging as a necessity, there is always fat surrounding the stomach area to protect these vital organs. On the other hand, a male’s prostate is the size of a walnut, making it fairly easier for them to get those ‘wash-board abs’.

Body shame

According to Susie Orbach, a British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and feminist, some women engage in compulsive eating because their natural feeding patterns are disrupted by oppressive ideologies produced and distributed by the media and beauty industry. While becoming lean is a form of normative conduct, becoming fat, for Orbach, is a symbolic reaction against a phallocentric system that continuously distorts women’s body-image. Not only is there an obvious form of gender dualism at work here, but also a significant dichotomisation of culture and nature, body and mind, as well as individual and society. As she remarks, “Thin is natural, while fat is distortion.”

This year did start off on a negative note, with most of us cursing our bodies, rebuking it and asking for our stomachs to be flatter, our legs and arms more toned, and our bone structure stronger. But at the end, it is our body that has carried us and helped us get through this God-awful year. This body has helped us keep our head and heart in the right place during the worst months, this body that has helped us survive.

Make 2021 all about loving your body and loving your raw authentic self.

Thank you.

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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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