A man writes about how he was teased as a boy for being skinny and small. A woman talks about being ashamed of and then gradually coming to terms with her body hair. Another woman reveals how using a menstrual cup helped her move beyond the idea that periods were dirty. A new crowd-sourced art project called the 'Body of Stories' looks at the numerous ways in which we experience the human body. From feelings of shame and embarrassment towards our bodies to being told how to dress and behave, biases based on skin colour and weight, to body positivity and acceptance, the project has gathered a gamut of stories.
Mumbai-based artist Indu Harikumar started the project in January this year, after finishing the viral online project '100 Indian Tinder Tales' in which she crowdsourced and then illustrated real-life stories of Tinder experiences in India. Similarly, 'Body of Stories' encourages South Asian men and women to share their stories, start a conversation about bodies, and normalise them.
"Given the number of advertisements for skin lightening products and sales of the same, I am not surprised that I receive tons of stories about people dealing with extra melanin that Indian skin comes with," Harikumar said. "I also get several stories about fat shaming but that I think is a universal problem." Each of the stories is hand-drawn by Harikumar, who often references European masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Edvard Munch, as well as Indian artists such as Raja Ravi Varma.
Many stories reveal how our perception of our bodies is shaped by gender biases. "I think gender roles start so young, with segregation marked with blues and pinks, dolls and superheroes, naughty and nice. We label things and keep it out of bounds," Harikumar said. "I think we are all trained to see women through this narrow prison of female beauty. We are told through our stories that women must be beautiful and strong men fight for these women. And these norms, along with race, class, caste shape our experience of the body."
In the end, Harikumar hopes that the project creates a sense of community, and makes people who're dealing with negative body images realise that they aren't alone. "The purpose is to learn from each other, to dissipate the ignorance (mostly mine) and to know a little more about the world we live in and to let go of isolation," she said. "These lived experiences of real people are so unique, it evokes a lot of emotion, the imperfection makes me feel at home with myself and opens up a well of ideas to create from. It also makes me feel connected with random strangers and gives me courage to redraw masters in my unpolished, imperfect way."