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Story Of A Survivor: How I Moved Past My Experience With Body Shaming

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It’s not comic. It never was and it will not be…

Why are you so lean? Didn’t you eat anything? Why so many pimples? Why are you so tired? Hope you like more fatty body, don’t you? You changed a lot and became fatty. That kurta suits you more than this western wear. Your father and mother are so fair, then why you are like this?

These are some of the typical dialogues that many of us face on routine basis. Is body shaming something to appreciate? Many of us have encountered the same situation in one way or other. Many a times, we have been a part of some uncool conversation that made fun of a friend’s dressing style, hair style, body shape etc.

What Is Body Shaming?

Body shaming is criticising or teasing others based on their physical appearance, which may sometimes makes them cynical and affect their mental health. Many people are persecuted because of their size and shape, while some are shamed due to their other physical features. These harrowing criticisms are made on one’s colour, hair, body shape or structure, dressing style or any other physical appearance that others want to judge. For example, telling others they are too skinny or fat, criticising someone by comparing them with someone else’s appearance, judging someone based on their style etc. are all body shaming. This is a harsh practice that has been followed by generations. Ways in which people are body shamed are:

  1. Commenting on one’s own physical appearance or of others
  2. Criticising one’s physical appearance in front of them
  3. Commenting on someone’s physical appearance behind their back and with others

‘My Body is My Own’ was the theme of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Population Report 2021. It is for the first time that a UN report focused on bodily autonomy. The report defined bodily autonomy as one’s power to make choices about their body without any fear and not have someone else decide for them. The theme also addresses body shaming.

The Appalling Impact

When a person is already concerned about any one factor of their physical appearance and a close relative/friend passed a comment on the same, it demoralises them to the core. Even if they laugh in that moment and don’t mean to hurt anyone, the comment always echoes in their ears and affects them badly. Thus, the person starts finding flaws in themselves, irrespective of their many positives. Obviously, there will be a few who won’t take these comments or conversations seriously. But then we can’t predict who will get hurt and who wont. So, it is better to avoid such remarks.

One can be body shamed by someone close to you irrespective of their age. Many people justify this practice as a part of societal concern. Truly, no. Whether done knowingly or unknowingly, the effect of body shaming remains the same. The criticism that people put forward about one’s physical appearance are the factors set up by society itself that ultimately lead many of us to a mental breakdown or condition.

Being socially bullied increases the level of insecurity. It results in low self-esteem, which in turn affects one’s productivity. Thus, people who are body shamed often try to avoid gatherings, celebrations and show less interest in getting themselves involved in socialising. Certain surveys conducted reveal that those who face body shaming show less interest in making friends and try to stand away from the crowd. As a social animal, that can lead to depression. Thus, it may also increase the risk of suicide.

A Mirror Story

A still from Margamkali

The image on the side is from a Malayalam movie named ‘Margamkali’. The film conveys a negative message to society in many parts, even though it has been pretty good scenes. The female protagonist in the film has a big mole on her face and everyone makes her upset by talking about it. In one scene, she stands in front of the mirror and covers that side of the face with her hand and whispers, “I am beautiful.” It means that with the mole on her face, she looks ugly, which is not true. It is society that drags her into mental agony and depression.

The Way Forward

Everyone is unique in their own way. No one is perfect and there is no ideal body structure. Be positive about the way you are. Don’t drop self-love, self-respect and self-esteem anywhere as they are the stepping stones to lead a satisfied life. A positive body does not only mean acquiring a desirable figure set up by society, but also means being healthy, both physically and mentally. Treat yourself the way you wish because you are important.

Practice the ‘Hear and Drop’ approach towards those who promote body shaming. I am also an everyday survivor of body shaming, where people constantly ask me, “Don’t you have good food? Have you gone through any stress?” I don’t know why I am so lean. May be I would like to see myself as this or it could be any other reason. These jokes are irritable, but I tried and learned to ignore such comments.

If anyone is facing any problem based on my appearance, the mistake is theirs, not mine. We are not born to criticise anybody, it’s something that has been etched in us by society. Enjoy the diversity and let them live their life happily.

About the author: Ginju Elsa Mathew works as Young Professional in the UNICEF in its Chennai office and lives in Pathanamthitta, Kerala. 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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