We all know Instagram breeds nothing but pretension and an obsession with portraying our lifestyles as aesthetically pleasing as possible. We are also aware of how toxic this culture is, the insecurity that it gives rise to and the desperation it instils in us to achieve these ideals, which frankly, less than five per cent of the world can actually afford. We know this. But of course, just because we are capable of being rational doesn’t necessarily mean we always are, especially when constantly bombarded with images of conventional beauty.
Let’s talk about women. No matter how many feminist, intersectional, inclusive, politically ‘correct’ pages I follow, the moment I am exposed to a beautiful girl with perfect abs, I find myself wistfully staring at her and thinking “Well, you know, it’s not so much about being pretty as it is about being fit”. It’s like Instagram and Capitalism got together to tell us that hey, it’s okay to be shallow – everyone is, so there’s nothing really wrong with you, you were simply born into the system.
Yes, fitness. The age-old defence for body-shaming. Because drinking blueberry tea which is marketed to help you lose fat and spending more than half your salary or pocket money on expensive gyms, Kylie Jenner products and kale salad (which is unsurprisingly quite difficult to get hold of in India) is going to help you get fit. But what about your mental health?
What about the violence you inflict on your body because you desperately want to change it because nobody taught you to love your body? Why is it that I’ve begun to hate the term ‘self-care’ because the Instagram version of it involves expensive candles and flowers and rose wine, which is ridiculous because self-care has nothing to do with objects external to yourself, which so many of us cannot afford, invariably making us feel worse.
Self-care is taking time out to take care of yourself and learning to be at peace without the need to spend exorbitant amounts. It’s not something that you’re supposed to regret later, it’s something that makes you feel better about yourself, like simply eating healthy (it does not have to be kale salad) or doing yoga (which does not need you to spend twenty grand a month on instructions).
What about the violence you inflict on your body because you desperately want to change it, because nobody taught you to love your body?
Please know that I’m not opposed to expensive gyms or diets, god knows I’ve indulged in them too many times for my own good. What I’m trying to say is, we need to find routines of self-care which we can afford, without being carried away by what ‘influencers’ on Instagram are telling us to do. I’m a final year college student, and more than the money, I don’t have the time to work out regularly anymore or prep my meals.
For a long time, I felt really guilty about not being able to do ‘enough’ for myself. I kept comparing myself to others and telling myself that everyone else seems to manage to be doing it – working out, doing their job, and having a social life. I kept looking back to when I did have a perfectly flat tummy and considered my inability to retain it as a personal failure.
I went to Goa this year and even my parents were surprised at my reluctance to wear my two-piece bikini because I was afraid of showing my curves. They assured me that I look fine, and as long as I feel good and healthy, what I look like doesn’t really matter. The point is, I shouldn’t need this assurance. This need for validation, propagated by the monstrous ‘like’ culture is honestly soul-crushing, dehumanising and objectifying. No matter what we claim, I know we all secretly take pleasure in the number of likes going up, but this has to stop.
Stop posting things just for the sake of what you think will appeal to people, and take a risk and post what you really want. Do it, I dare you. Once you manage to untangle yourself from this race of garnering likes, I can assure you, that’s what self-care really means. Because at the end of the day, it is about prioritising yourself. Prioritising what you like, what makes you happy.
It isn’t my job to look good for anyone. It also isn’t my intention to belittle those who enjoy looking good, dressing up, putting on make-up, maintaining their body. For those people who do indulge in this, hats off. I don’t find it superficial at all, I know how much effort it takes to maintain this kind of a lifestyle and not give in to the temptations of everyday life.
This need for validation, propagated by the monstrous ‘like’ culture is honestly soul-crushing, dehumanising and objectifying.
But I do have an issue when the society capitalises on the lack of self-worth of women, so much so that I know of people who can’t step out of their houses to even go to the grocery store next door without a dash of kohl and lip-gloss. This, I find, without a doubt, problematic, because you’ve made to feel so unsure of yourself that you’re afraid to show the world outside your bare face. It’s almost like having a naked face is opening up to the world with all your vulnerabilities, exposing yourself to harsh criticism, unwanted comments and social humiliation. According to studies, girls have a much higher rate of depression and lower levels of confidence when compared to boys and it’s closely linked to their greater social media usage. Also fun fact: social media usage also takes away from our sleep and exercise, thus negatively affecting our mental health and giving rise to a vicious cycle.
Similarly, there is also research which shows that social media can negatively impact the self-esteem of women, thus making them more self-conscious of how they look and motivating them to take up exercise. While exercise is great, it is very important to know exactly what your body is capable of as a beginner. There is a difference between wanting to get thin, and wanting to get fit. Women frequently take up crash diets and rigorous forms of exercise, like excessive cardio, and often not being able to cope with the drastic change in lifestyle, the body collapses. It can even lead you to miss your period.
How is this any different from causing violence to your bodies?
Fortunately, there are ways to change this. Women can reclaim these spaces to have a more positive outlook on life and feel better about themselves. One way to do this is to follow feminist accounts which promote body positivity and intersectionality. More importantly, follow accounts which focus on mind, personality and skills rather than just physical appearances. Another way is to tell yourself that what you’re seeing on social media is only one-sided and not the entire reality. People only post the best versions of themselves and it is often exaggerated. It is important to throw in a mixture of music, travel, sports, nature into your feed to break the monotony of just seeing appearance-based images.
There is a difference between wanting to get thin, and wanting to get fit.
Moreover, what I find really encouraging is that there are a number of brands which use their advertising and marketing strategies to propagate ideas of body positivity and inclusivity and offer healthy alternatives of social media consumption for their customers.
I remember some years ago Fastrack, a brand with the youth as their target audience launched a series of ads under the campaign #SorryForWhat with the tagline ‘opinions are overrated’. I saw a huge billboard in a mall with a woman posing and her underarm hair showing. For a second, what that ad portrayed seemed so easy. There was nothing repulsive about the model, as women with hair anywhere other than the head are often made out to be. In fact, I found her non-conformity extremely sexy and empowering. For a young girl in high school, this was an extremely encouraging and liberating initiative.
Interestingly, a number of brands which sell underwear are using similar strategies for promotion. For instance, Zivame uses models of all shapes and sizes to showcase their undies. While any effort to be more inclusive is appreciable, most of them are still conventionally thin. However, the brands doing some real convention-breaking work are Tailor & Circus and Wear Equal. Tailor & Circus, a clothing brand operating out of Bangalore, sells sustainable underwear. But what really appealed to me was their Instagram page, which was filled with colourful and playful images of women of all shapes and sizes just having fun and being comfortable. Their tagline, ‘underwear that loves you’, reiterates this idea of comfort.
Wear Equal, an intimate women’s wear brand based out of Kolkata sells products made out of 100% Upcycled Organic Cotton Fabric using Zero Waste production practices. Their brand focuses on intersectional feminism, and believe that women from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds must have access to underwear, as the lack of it would severely affect their menstrual hygiene and reproductive health.
They also have a similar Instagram page and Preeta Chaudhuri Ghosal, the founder of Wear Equal says, “We not only choose models of all shapes and sizes but also make sure that no editing is done on the features of the body such as stretch marks, underarm hair, skin marks, blemishes, pimples, facial hair, etc. We also pick models from different parts of the country to represent diversity in general features such as skin tones and hair types”.
I find this revolutionary. Generally, models who pose for underwear brands tend to be really thin with perfect skin, especially because the nature of the clothing exposes a large part of one’s body and invites a lot of unwanted attention and scrutiny. Underwear is undoubtedly the most intimate piece of clothing we own, and for a long time, the marketing strategies have focused on their sexual appeal rather than comfort.
This is ridiculous.
“So for us, our product category of underwear is most often (and wrongly) associated with lingerie. This is what struck us during the plan of our first shoot. All shoots of underwear/lingerie were done with a sexual connotation where women had to be styled in a revealing dress and made to wear sensuous expressions and pose arousingly in a bedroom setting. It seemed like women were not given the freedom to even wear a basic garment without including the man’s interest in it! We wanted to undo this image of underwear – which is an even more important need for women in order to support their menstrual hygiene and reproductive health. We, therefore, chose to make our photographic content showcase women in their homes, doing daily work and home activities, wearing comfortable clothes and feeling at ease wearing our underwear”, concludes Preeta.
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#GirlPowerTuesdays “When women support each other, incredible things happen” @wewearequal underwear keeps you fresh and comfortable throughout the day. 💯% Upcycled organic cotton, super stretchy and soft briefs that keep you going throughout the day as you achieve your goals 📸 by @dipayan92 Make up by @makeupartist_kushal Hair by @aadityasaha26 • • • • • #ComingSoon #SustainableFashion #UnderwearForAll #WomenforWomen #WeWearEqual #OrganicUnderwearIndia #WearEqualIndia #MadeInIndia #EcoFriendly #EqualUnderwear #WomanEqualWoman #UpcycledFashion #OrganicLifestyle #InclusiveFashion #ComfortableFashion #SisterhoodOfTravellingUnderpants
They do not believe in paying influencers for recommending their products, who often do so without using them. Instead, their strategy involves conducting contests which generate discussions on sustainable and feminist issues and the contest winners turn into influencers, who receive their products for free and review it as per genuine experience. While this, on one hand, means slow growth, it is important that such brands do not succumb to the easy way out and promote genuine and realistic expectations, because they are dealing with real-life people and not a faceless mass of customers.
Believe me when I say this, nobody has a clue about what they are doing, they’re all pretty much going with the flow. So instead of surrendering yourself to a bunch of privileged people online who are really good at pretending to know what to do, give yourself a break, and exchange that kale salad for a nice aloo paratha (carbs are important).
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Pinterest