Anushka Kelkar goes by the name ‘browngirlgazin’ on Instagram and her account is all about “honest portraits of people who identify as women, their relationships with their bodies, and redefining ‘beauty'”. We’ve come a long way regarding conversations on body positivity with multiple brands and celebrities making an attempt to refrain from using Photoshop and using their platforms to create space for a variety of body types.
This conversation, which has almost reached a crescendo in the West, is little more than a whisper here. While celebrities like Sonam Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha have opened up about their body image issues, Indian women still don’t have many people they can turn to when it comes to the concerns they have about their weight, body hair and stretch marks. This is where Kelkar comes in – with over 150 posts celebrating all kinds of women and giving them the platform to voice their hopes and fears, @browngirlgazin is the Instagram handle young brown women need.
We spoke to Kelkar about her project and the vision she has for it:
What prompted your decision to create this Instagram page exclusively for brown girls?
Beauty standards vary in various cultures and I wanted to focus on the narrow and very specific standards and pressures that exist specifically for girls in the Indian context. I wanted to create a space where the women around me could have a voice to describe their experiences and as much as this page has become a space where individuals and their journeys can be celebrated, I also wanted it to be a platform to document the diverse kinds of beauty that exist in our society. It was really important for me to challenge the typical notion of what a ‘brown girl’ looks like, or acts like. I wanted to document stories of women who identify as members of this society but don’t find their experience mirrored in the media around them.
i) Whenever I was fat-shamed, it came from strangers or acquaintances. Most often, the comments came from older men, old enough to be fathers and grandfathers. It was actually a trend I observed in the last couple of years- once a male co-passenger on a flight, once a gentleman in the queue at Starbucks and once my grandfathers friend. On the one hand, it upset me that the first thing they thought of when they saw me was that I was overweight. And I was mad at myself for freezing every time this happened and just letting it go without saying a word. –@sukopuko
How do you approach your models and go about the concept of the shoot?
Mostly just through Instagram—people have been sending me direct messages, and because I was living in a university campus there are always people who are around me so a few of the people I have photographed have been people that approached me around campus and expressed interest but I rely mainly on the internet and social media to find participants.
iii) TW: abuse Once, I tripped over a pipe and broke my arm. I went a whole week without knowing it was broken because compared to my usual injuries that are accompanied with so much anguish, the pain in my arm was bearable. I am that resilient. I wish I didn’t have to be, but I’m a fighter. Things are changing: I’ve gone from panicking when I was touched, or freezing in fear, to actually craving gentle and loving touch. I no longer have panic attacks when men hug me. I’ve gone from trying to cover my scars to letting them show. Because my scars are monuments of survival—proof that even if I feel like damaged goods, I am unbreakable. –anonymous
Do you use photoshop or any other editing tools at all?
I do use an editing tool to add a solid background colour to the photo but mostly I try to minimize any other kind of edits. Sometimes, I’m tempted to tweak the lighting a little bit but that’s about as far as I go. Creating authentic images is really important to me and making major edits to change the way a subject looks would feel like cheating and completely negate the purpose of this project.
What are the responses so far to your project? Have they been mostly positive or do you regularly battle trolls?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Women and men from all over the world have messaged me about how much they relate with the women I feature, and have sent a lot of love and support my way. However, the idea of women owning and being proud of their bodies is still one that makes many people uncomfortable and I do have to battle quite a few trolls. A lot of these trolls are very angry men who are sick of this kind of feminism and don’t believe these experiences are real. It can be really demotivating sometimes but I think it’s also a reminder of the exact reason why I started this project, if this stigma didn’t exist then the project wouldn’t be relevant.
ii) I saw my friend visiting the doctor every weekend to lighten her skin before her wedding, I’ve seen my mother enjoy her food a little less when people joke about how she should not. My best friend told me how he’s started a new fruit diet where you have a glass of juice and a fruit for a meal and stuck to only college meal times and no snack – now he “can finally meet new people” I no longer understand why I’m supposed to feel bad when I’m told that my back looks like my mother’s now. –@boredoir
If there was one thing you could tell young girls everywhere, what would it be?
Allow yourself to have a relationship with your body, start listening to your body, and learn to have fun with your body. Bodies are strange and for so many women, a source of a lot of shame. So many of us believe that if we don’t fit into this narrow standard, it is a personal failure. I’d like to tell young girls everywhere that these beauty standards are a total construct. Your body is incredible and it is yours—don’t let anyone else tell you what you can or can’t do with it.
i) Body Hair. The epitome of irony lies in the association of these two words with the standards of beauty. On one side it manifests into a symbol of exquisite beauty in the form of lustrous locks and natural eyebrows. On the other hand it is seen as a sign of abnormality, laziness, dirt or unwanted attention when it is on the arms and legs of a women who refuses to shave them. But why are we made to feel so insecure and horrible for something that is natural and uncontrollable? –@sadhika_
Do you aspire to have a mass following in the future or will it remain a cult page for the choir?
I really want to expand this page because I honestly believe that the way women’s bodies are perceived in our society has to change drastically. I really want to reach more men specifically because I really do believe that most men have never really heard women openly speak about these beauty standards and the pressures they create and I feel like healthy conversations about our bodies and the complexities that come with navigating them will really help. I also want to move to making portraits about men and their relationships with their bodies at some point.