By Sonal Rana
“More than tackling sexuality, I was invested in creating a space to discuss vulnerabilities that women have regarding their bodies,” says Anushka Kelkar, the Mumbai-based admin of a fascinating Instagram account, browngirlgazin. Anushka’s objective was to click and share more honest portraits of people who identify as women, and to redefine beauty.
The problem, Anushka elaborates, is that women don’t quite find themselves represented enough, authentically at least, in popular media. Recalling her own experience, the 21-year-old adds, “When I was younger, I often felt that my body was very different from all the ‘beautiful’ women I saw on TV, or in the media that I consumed. They all looked flawless in a way that I found impossible to replicate – skinny but with curves in all the right places, glowing, fair skin with no blemishes, long hair that never had split ends like mine.”
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v) Recently, my mom sent me a video of Priyanka Chopra talking about how women tend to heavily edit their pictures instead of embracing their natural appearance, and how we should love ourselves. The next day, she told me to 'brighten’ my profile picture because my acne scars were too prominent. This dissonance struck me, but I realized that it is absolutely unconscious. This aversion to something as normal as pimples on an adolescent has become so deeply ingrained in our minds that it is no longer something we actively think about. Why is it that a certain feature is considered attractive, while another isn't? When I asked myself this, I realised that I wasn't the problem. Beauty is so subjective, so abstract, that I couldn't let myself waste away in its pursuit. –@bhattcheeks_
This scenario diminished women’s self-confidence and magnified their need to create, or rather feign, perfection – at least online.
Anushka, owing to her work as a photographer, was able to detect that in order to forge this supposed online perfection, people often curate their personalities, thoughts, and even insecurities.
Her college experience opened her eyes about the insecurities women deal with every day – about having dark skin, being overweight or having pimples to the ‘problem’ of body hair. Her page became a way to highlight and even celebrate these issues, and to make it a kind of cathartic outpouring for the women in the pictures.
The response came quick: scores of comments identifying with the pictures, and thousands of followers within months.
“The name browngirlgazin has two meanings for me – it alludes to the stereotypes and pressures that often come with being seen as a ‘brown girl’ or being an Indian woman today. On the other hand, I also wanted to imply that I was the brown girl who was gazing at all the women around me, trying to re-construct my own gaze and understand what it means to be a brown girl,” says the Ashoka University alumna.
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iv) It really is a vicious cycle, the cycle of eating disorders and depression. The disorder wasn't the only reason for it, but it never helped matters. I lost enough weight. I started smoking at the height of my depression, because my body was rejecting food. Now, it's a crutch. There are still days when I lose my appetite and I can only smoke and drink coffee. I don't know if it's just a bodily reaction or a response to my anxieties about my weight. Because I lost enough weight, but it's never enough, you know? –@meher.sachdeva
Photographs become strangely unnerving, Anushka expands, because one almost always fails to visualize what one might look like in them. “Expectations and reality hardly ever intersect.”
This is the final article in the three-part series ‘Women For Women’ published in eShe’s September 2018 issue