Challenging Indian Women To Love Their Bodies Via Instagram

Challenging Indian Women To Love Their Bodies Via Instagram

“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.” - John Berger

Indian women are fighting a constant battle against their own bodies. What they see in the mirror isn’t what they see on the big screens and in glossy magazines, but the last few years have seen a movement of strength and confidence where women are taking ownership of their flaws and cherishing them. From the runways and big name fashion labels to individual Instagram pages, women are embracing their insecurities and celebrating everything society has deemed ‘ugly’ through the ages.

Indu Harikumar, better known by her art persona Induviduality, has taken on this movement just in time for the most commercial and potentially demoralising holiday of them all - Valentine’s Day. Being a woman alone on Valentine’s day can be seen as a sin and Indu, through her project ‘Girlisthan’ is taking back not only this one day but proving that it’s ok for women to be the proud of themselves every day.

‘I started Girlisthan, a crowdsourced art project with the objective of challenging the traditional male gaze and handing over the mirror to women. I just love hearing people’s stories, I never expected women to be so open with their bodies and opinions’. She invited women to send a description of the favourite part of their bodies and received dozens of photographs with intimate stories. Openly appreciating or loving your body can be seen as narcissistic - something that she aimed to question - and for many women it was the first time they were invited to praise themselves.

‘What started as an experiment has now lead to women in my social network across regions in India sharing deeply personal pictures and narratives about themselves. Publishing it on social media further encourages other women to question what they beauty norms of society that dictates perfection and flaws in women.’ Indu’s work defies the norm in the best possible way and is gradually opening up a conversation about women and self-love that is long overdue.

To see the whole ‘Girlisthan’ series and explore more of Indu’s work check out her Instagram and Facebook pages.


“I used to be bothered by my default frown and overcompensated by oversmiling in pics but now I like it. This is me appreciating myself.”

Rihaa Kaur

“I’m still in the process of learning how to love my body for what it is. Over the years, there have been instances and medical conditions that have altered the way I look – the road hasn’t been a pleasant one. From PCOS to an abortion, then psychological disorders, over the years I’ve felt I never looked at myself with my own eyes. It is sad how society and parents can play with your mind. Being born in a Punjabi family I was fed like there’s no tomorrow. So when I went from chubby kid to a fat woman, they wanted me to switch to a healthy lifestyle in a flick. Somebody tell them to be real.

Now after years and years I’ve come to terms with myself and my body. I’ve abused it, yes. And it still stands upright and curvy. That’s the beauty, I feel.

If I’ve to answer to your question about one thing that I love about myself- I like my boobs. I know how they’re identical but every inch feels different. When I feel too lonely and need to feel a man’s touch, I caress them and that does make me feel good.

Nayantara Parikh

“I love my breasts.They took forever to grow and I was so self conscious about them being small. I wore a sports bra until grade 12. I hardly even needed to at that time. I remember being scared that friends would know if they touched my back that there was no clasp, just elastic. Then I graduated from school and around 18 they grew and grew. “It’s the food in the US, full of hormones” “It’s the weight you put on in your first year of college”

I don’t know what it was- maybe just me. I’ve been self conscious about so many parts of my body (mainly my ass cos of its stretch marks) but almost never my breasts. I love them. There was a point in between where I was self conscious of how big they were (am I out of proportion? A common question).

When I’m shooting I like women to feel comfortable, like they are truly beautiful and have absolutely nothing to feel self conscious about. I want them to feel happy, loved, satisfied when I’m shooting them. Mostly I feel I’m successful in making my subject feel good. Isn’t it funny under all that I’m still self conscious of my own body! I try not to be. I try every day to not be. When you asked “what do you love about yourself - be vain” I first thought, I love my hair (I do!) but then I thought but I love my breasts. A thing I won’t normally say out loud. I feel somehow they are part of my identity, my self.

I shoot myself nude from time to time. I can’t believe I am sending you this but then, of course I’m sending you this.”


IV. Vibha

“My favorite part about my physical body is a burn mark on my right arm. I’ve had it since I was a year old, from a cup of hot tea that I accidentally knocked over myself. Growing up, my grandmother always told me I should get cosmetic surgery when I grew up. I was never convinced. The scar is a part of me, how can I just erase it? Recently when I was about to get married, my future mother-in-law told me the sleeves of blouse for my wedding saree should be long enough to cover the scar. Again, I thought: but it’s a part of me. I’ve had it since I can remember. It’s like asking me to cover my face. I defied her and got a blouse whose sleeves ended just above the scar. Scars are memories. This is my only memory of the incident and I will not erase it or try to hide it.”

Shivranjana Rathore

“I’ve been told that I take after my father. Not just in the inconspicuous but also the more conspicuous traits such as my nose, eyes, smile and so on. I’ve also never been a thin girl or woman. My love for shorts and the quality to lead added to my boyishness. I tried to be timid and I also tried to be girly / feminine in the expected way - making way for others, being polite, speaking only when necessary and so on. I’ve shed all those pretenses now. I love my leadership qualities.

While my long hair never posed an issue for me but a part of me won’t make it shorter since that tiny voice in the head would whisper warn against appearing too manly especially now that I was saying bye to timidity. Got rid of that too and I’m in love with my hair now even more.”


VI. Nagwa

“I love my butt. Plain and simple. While I don’t consider myself vain by even the longest shot, I’m proud of my butt and everything I’ve done till now for it (I enjoy a good workout and I kill my legs squatting and lunging to keep that booty). I’m petite and not so endowed on the boob front but my “butt has just the right amount of squish” (words of a dear, dear ex, not mine). I’m very secure of my size and body and have never sought validation, however there’s one incident that stands out. While passionately making out, aforementioned ex drops to his knees and kisses the cheeks one by one - almost reverently and later went on to praise how amazing it is, etc etc. It felt nice to share my body with someone who loved it just as much as I did. It remains one of my fondest memories of our time together.

Of course, finding a pair of denims is a bit of a task, but then there’s Levi’s Demi Curve range (during sale season) that comes to the rescue.”


VII. BlrGirl

“I love my eyebrows. They are the one thing in my anatomy that I can confidently say has caused me the least amount of anxiety and distress in my adult life over real or perceived flaws. The one thing I can count on to shut up and remain calm when the rest of my body parts are staging mutinies demanding that I pay heed to their varying degrees of body dysmorphia and deathly serious inadequacies. Double chin! Cellulite! In-grown hair! Dry skin! Omg grays! Short waist. Arm fat! Back fat! Fatfatfat! But my eyebrows are very Zen and self-assured in the face of all this cacophony. I stopped threading my eyebrows about five years ago on an impulse.

In any case, I was a latecomer to the threading game and never quite figured why I started in the first place. I guess it felt like a rite of passage while adulting. Plus, it was my first and only real concession to looking groomed. I held on it for as long as I did out of pure habit. Sliding down into sticky rexine chairs with my head at an awkward angle (you don’t always get a headrest), begging the well-meaning but iffy rookie beautician to “only remove extras, ok?”, sitting right under her nose, praying that she doesn’t have bad breath or didn’t have curry for lunch and that her clammy hands don’t slip over my face, practically clawing apart the skin over my forehead and eyes, and still crying rivers - all so that I can have two uneven 90s thin Naomi Campbell eyebrows? Yeah, no, thanks. But amazingly enough, though the decade of abuse did leave a few gaps that won’t grow back, my eyebrows eventually filled out and went back to their almost natural shape. They are a little jungli, a little boho, a little all over the place - but I think they look great. Not Cara Delevingne great, but still. Plus I like my eyes too, so, there’s that as well.”

Sania Jayapal

“It would be my hair, I hated it all my life and always wanted to tame it. Now it is the one thing that gets me instant attention. I love it for what it is wild, colourful and happily messy.”

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