This Millennial Is Asking Us To Label Clothes, Not People #BodyShaming

Last updated 28 Apr 2017 . 13 min read

20 year old Aashima Taneja grew up as an only child raised by a single mother. She says she never really learned what it meant to just be a kid. “I find people who get shocked when they hear my real age because they definitely think I am way mature than my age and ask me how could I be doing so many things.”

'You Are Beautiful Project' is slowly and steadily gaining popularity among people and she says people want to feel good about themselves, thus they have received a very positive response since its launch just a month back. There are enough advertisements to make you feel inadequate, but none to say, “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL”. So we catch up with this 20 year old entrepreneur who speaks passionately about the issues that affect people’s self-confidence.

“I started teaching yoga to women at the young age of 19 after becoming certified from Yoga Vidya Gurukul, Nasik and am now planning  to conduct yoga retreats in Sri Lanka starting this June. I also co-founded 'Cakable- The Cake Table Company' which designs dessert buffet tables and one of our clients include BMW. It was only recently that I founded 'You Are Beautiful Project' in March 2017 which is an initiative to break beauty stereotypes and make people feel empowered about their own bodies and the way they are. Currently, I am pursuing my bachelor in Political Science honors from Delhi University.

We are often told to change our appearance. Magazines constantly offer tips about how to lose weight “in days,” appear slimmer “instantly,” and hide our “imperfections”, look "fairer"… without actually knowing anything about us, much less our appearance.This is one example of body-shaming, and it is everywhere.

Sitcoms so frequently use overweight characters’ bodies as the basis of many of the show’s jokes.  It has become the norm to criticise aspects of our bodies as some type of bonding experience with friends – if we all hate our bodies; it somehow makes us feel connected and united.  

Body-shaming (criticising yourself or others because of some aspect of physical appearance) can lead to a vicious cycle of judgment and criticism.  

Messages from the media and from each other often imply that we must change, that we should care about looking slimmer, smaller, fairer or tanner. And if we don’t, we worry that we are at the risk of being the target of someone else’s body-shaming comments.

Beauty and its changing definitions

There has always been a blurred line in our society of what beauty actually is. When we think the “epitome of beauty,” we usually think of celebrities like Mila Kunis or Megan Fox. We think of someone who is slim, toned, tan and looks flawless.

But we don't actually know what beauty is, and what do we base this definition of beauty off of? The idea of beauty has had such a huge impact on our lives. "Image is powerful. Image is superficial. " Beauty is not health, youth, or symmetry by society’s standards, but rather it is femininity, white skin, and tall, slender figures.

Photoshop is only a small component of making a model seem more beautiful. If you'd look at a model in real life and in pictures, they look way too different. It is the SAME person, but how could they look so different? Pictures. Pictures are constructions. Hair stylists, makeup artists, and photographers all aid in building this construction.

Men are also victims of body shaming

And this is not limited to only women. To many men, the lean-yet-jacked look has become de rigueur – the ne plus ultra of masculinity. Of course, it’s hard not to feel that way when it seems like every time you turn around, another shirtless man with 4% body fat and abs is staring at you from television and movie screens, in every advertisement and video game that comes down the pike.

The cruel irony, of course, is that men are now feeling the same pressures that women have been feeling for generations – to conform to an incredibly specific form of beauty. And of course, those who don’t measure up are taught that they’re failures – that they are inherently less desirable, even less manly, than the shiny-chested, leaned out Dolce and Gabbana model.

You Are Beautiful Project

I came up with this idea of initiating such a project out of my own experience. After becoming a certified yoga I started giving yoga lessons to women who had various health problems. My students knew the quality of my classes and could see results and never questioned me on my weight since I was still not so fit as the society would portray yoga teachers to be.

Instead, people around me, friends, relatives used to poke me all the time saying how could I be a yoga teacher when I myself was fat.  

I had confidence when it came to my teachings and knew that yoga was much beyond physical asanas. Plus Yoga also teaches oneself to become aware of one's' body and teaches self-acceptance.  But at that moment I realized such conditionings regarding one's physical appearance do exist in our society.

However, I did have to I pause my yoga teaching job that paid me "over a lakh" per month for over 5 months to start researching on this topic and to completely devote my time to start an initiative like 'You Are Beautiful Project'.

Through this project we aim to decondition beauty stereotypes but not recondition them because then that'd be putting A in place of B. Rather let each individual be as they are and induce the same confidence in them. Hence, our project's movement is called "Be As You Are".

I've always held onto a quote by writer James Baldwin: “The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” That always sounded like something I wanted to do. I just never knew how. The day we had our first event, I knew I had taken the first step to achieve it.

We made the project live only in March 2017 and have held 2 events and one workshop within the course of three weeks.

Research which went into the project

I started watching Ted Talks on beauty, started to interact with my friends getting to know about their experiences. I started reading about model's and actor's real lives. I got to know the common and extreme cases of beauty stereotyping and also how badly people want this to stop because it does affect them.

What about the fact that obesity is also a reality

There is a misconception that sometimes a little bit of stigma is necessary to motivate people to lose weight. Body shaming or making fun of someone's appearance does NOT motivate people, but makes them feel terrible about themselves.

The whole point is we need to stop judging and be okay with how people look, dress up, their skin color, their, weight, their height, among many other things.

Events till now and the experience

The project was launched online in March 2017 and we held our very first event on 2nd of April 2017. The event was called "EmpowerALLbodies" and revolved around a particular topic under beauty stereotyping - body shaming.

The event was held at Innov8 Coworking, Connaught Place, and included a body acceptance workshop along with an amazing list of speakers and a small session of stand-up comedy. The audience turnout was 200% of what we had expected. This first event worked as a fuel to keep going. I would and still have people coming up to me and asking when are we holding the next events.

We were also approached by the Rotaract Club of New Delhi for conducting a 2 hour body acceptance workshop for them. That workshop took place on 8th of April 2017 and was facilitated by the founder of Creative Movement Therapy Association of India.

Our third event was a close-knit discussion held to mark the importance of World Health Day 2017 and the topic was "Depression and how it is caused by the overpowering idea of beauty", held on 9th of April 2017 at Hearken Cafe, Shahpur Jat.

We have our next event coming up "Global Bubble Parade 2017 New Delhi" which we are organising along with 'Those in Need' Foundation on 28th May 2017 keeping the theme of the parade as "Break beauty stereotypes" and are targeting to call in all the relevant communities like acid attack survivors, LGBT, Mental health and disabled communities etc, along with other supporters.

The events have been a learning point, truly. I feel a lot more confident and motivated after each event because I gain this assurance that yes, something like this is much needed in the world. 

Future plans

I see this scaling up as a movement of "Be As You Are" and very much so because we can only try to change society's outlook up to some extent, ultimately it is us who will have to stop giving a damn about what the society thinks, and according to me that'd be the best way possible to shut society up because it would see you not provoked and would see how much you accept and love your physical appearance and it would stop wasting it time to try to pull you down.

To make this movement possible, we intend to do monthly events and also look forward to start with school campaigning at first because that's where a lot of conditioning happens, slowly scaling to college campaigning somewhere down the line. We also don't want to restrict this to a certain age, we feel everyone needs it.

For every love yourself quote, there's an advertisement out there to tap on the insecurities of people

Beauty companies want women and men to feel insecure about themselves because they want to ensure their product gets sold, which can only happen once they tap into the insecurities of people. But problem comes when these companies start making false claims like "be successful after applying so and so cream!”

I feel the way we can tackle these advertisements is by choosing our thoughts wisely. Each one of us is programmed from birth on. Leading researchers have found that as much as 75% or more of our programming may be negative or working against us.

Despite that, we have the power to give our mind the right directions to do the right thing. If we don’t, it will continue to respond to the negative programming that we have been giving it (possibly without even being aware of it).

Secondly, we need to remember that we create our own reality. To break the barrier of self-doubt that can contribute to our feelings of insecurity, we should try placing ourselves in a vulnerable position. It can sound scary, but that is where growth can come from.

Thirdly, talking to ourselves constantly in terms of self-esteem and self-worth, and eventually we can reprogram our thoughts and brain patterns to leave our insecure self behind.

There have been times I have thought about giving up since, I have had the pressure to juggle between the project, yoga, my studies. But I have realised, I've come a long way. It all became possible only because of my passion and never looked like an effort.

Whenever I used to feel low, I went back to this particular line - "Remember why you started" which was shared by my close friend and our project lead. I have found all my answers and motivation in this one line.


Lola Jutta
An unapologetic writer, budding travel enthusiast and a default optimist! Life is what you make out of it.

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