Beauty and Beyond: Celebrating people of diverse backgrounds through an inclusive calendar

The calendar features 12 people of various genders, differently-abled people, and those from marginalized communities.

By Nimisha S Pradeep  Published on  20 Jan 2022 4:22 AM GMT
Beauty and Beyond: Celebrating people of diverse backgrounds through an inclusive calendar

Hyderabad: "Beauty is the ability to be able to embrace the ugly parts of ourselves or the parts that we are not very comfortable with," says Kamna Singh, a research scholar at the department of English, University of Delhi.

Ram Singh Guru, a Ph.D. scholar working on anti-caste and disability rights activist and a visually challenged person, adds, "When you visit a park or a garden, don't just look and enjoy the beauty there, but also touch and feel the flowers."

Geetika, a fashion designer, says, "Beauty is very subjective. In a society, beauty is a standard set by a particular people or group or community who decides what beauty is. But at the end of the day, everybody has their own definitions of beauty."

These are three people from three different social backgrounds with different views on beauty. Diversity is beauty - this is what the Delhi-based celebrity photographer and filmmaker Rishab Dahiya and his team wanted to convey through their 2022 calendar that they have titled 'Oddity: We 'also' the people of India'. It features 12 people of various genders, differently-abled people, and those from marginalized communities.

Oddity 2022 was launched on 1 January 2022. Rishab aims to decolonize and annihilate the existing idea of beauty and break the particular standards set by society to define beauty.

Twelve lives, Twelve stories

The 12 people featured are very carefully chosen to break the existing societal standards of beauty. Conventional discourses on beauty limit the concept of beauty but in Oddity 2022, you find women, men, and transgenders represented.

1. Kamna Singh

Kamna is a lecturer and research scholar at the department of English, University of Delhi. She works on autobiographies penned by Dalit women. She is also a visual artist. Her academic, as well as artistic, career looks at the body as a site of oppression.

2. Snehashish, a transgender person from the Bahujan community

"I am someone who could never afford to hide and erase my blemishes, or dream to have what is considered 'good clothes', 'good skin'; mine are the ancestors demonized in myths and historical writings; mine are the friends and families unnamed and invisible from spectacles, disrespected, violated and forbidden to own their own bodies," says Snehashish, an Ambedkarite scholar and activist.

3. Priyanka: The dual burden of being a woman and from a marginalized community

Priyanka is a 28-year-old fashion designer who calls herself "an introvert". She says, "First and foremost, I am judged for simply being an unmarried independent woman at 28. Then, for the peculiar way in which I speak which has a regional touch to it. People around me call it "Bihari accent" and attach negative connotations to it. Then, there are choices like career, my choice to wear clothes I like... and the list goes on."

4. Ram Singh Guru: Visually challenged disabled rights activist

Ram Singh Guru is a researcher in JNU, a social worker, and a disabled rights activist. "The world begins with hypocrisy and ends with the same," says Ram. For Ram, beauty is "Life is a beauty that can simply be felt by closing your eyes and imagining its distinctiveness.

5. Jyoti: Embrace your flaws

Jyoti has a spinal cord injury and is differently-abled. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Delhi University. She says, "Beauty is when we can truly embrace our flaws and see them as something that makes us unique and beautiful. Beauty is respecting your body despite the societal norms it breaks. Beauty is being kind to others and to yourself."

6. Geetika: Crucified for being fat

"I have faced a lot of fatphobia from childhood even though I was pretty active in sports just because I didn't fall within the Eurocentric standard of BMI. Even after body positivity became mainstream, again the standards set for "plus-size models" were rigid and not many like me could relate to it or see ourselves falling into it," says Geetika. She also carries the additional burden of belonging to a marginalized caste.

7. Pramod: Differently-abled JNU scholar

Pramod is a Ph.D. scholar at JNU. "When I first came to the studio for the photoshoot, I was anxious about how this experience was going to turn out for me. There were thoughts like what will happen here? What will the environment be like? Will the studio be disabled-friendly?" shares Pramod.

8. Disha: I was called a bear

Disha, a social media content creator, was shamed for how her body transformed as she grew up. "Starting right from my family to people around me, everyone teased me about my overgrowth of hairs. I was bullied in school for hairs on my leg to an extent that a 16-year-old didn't have even one friend. I was ugly as a bear, people called me that. That was my breaking point," says Disha.

9. Alaknanda: Short yet beautiful

Alakananda, who is currently pursuing her Bachelor's degree, says, "As a girl in this patriarchal society, life comes with a lot of hurdles especially when it comes to beauty. Being short in height, beauty for me has always been something that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin rather than conforming to the beauty standards set by society."

10. Divya Sabhapathi: Not fair, so what?

"I was surrounded by my relatives who kept throwing skin whitening remedies and making irrational statements that would make me feel bad for being "not so light-skinned". I remember a few people who would tell my parents that had they been cautious enough, I would have been born fair," recalls Divya. Divya is currently working as a risk consultant with Ernst & Young (EY). Also, she is an avid traveller, a motorcyclist who rides a Royal Enfield, a fitness enthusiast, and a Hindustani classical vocalist.

11. Jasleen: Career advisor for young queers

Jasleen started her journey as a household help at the age of 15. At 30, she ran an event management company under her own brand enabling career paths for young queers around Delhi. "I believe in dreaming, learning, and growing at every point of life so now I want to try my hand at modelling," says Jasleen.

12. Swati: Constantly fighting against a Brahminical-patriarchal world

Swati, who belongs to the OBC community, has been waging a war against the Brahmanical-patriarchal world and fighting a battle for survival in academia that neither accepts, values, nor cares for them. "When our people come to universities, they are bullied for their supposed lack of fashion sense and skin types. Many of us cannot afford skin treatment or care for mental health which is caused by the everyday mental harassment we face," she says.

The idea of a 'diversity' calendar

"The existing concepts of beauty are Eurocentric. For example, a skinny woman with a sharp nose and long legs is generally considered beautiful. Colour is also considered a basic indicator of beauty. But not everyone will have the same features, not everyone will look alike, and that's exactly what beauty is. Diversity is beauty," says Rishab.

"The only true definition of beauty is - Each and everyone under the blue sky is beautiful," he adds.

Rishab explains how diversity is important in a country like India. "We live in a country where the language changes every 30 km. It's impossible to have a single definition of beauty in a country like this," he says.

He also explains how diversity is important for the growth of a nation. "Diversity is a well-researched topic in the US. Studies have found out that the more diverse companies are, the more profitable they were found to be. This explains how diversity can lead to improved productivity and growth in an institution. When we have people from different backgrounds, there will be an exchange of ideas which helps us grow. In India, we need to have more diverse people in our institutions. Only then can our country grow," says Rishab.

Rishab conceptualized the idea in January 2021 but he explains how it took almost 12 months to find the 12 people. "Identifying the 12 people to be featured in the calendar was not easy. They come from marginalized communities. So, it is a struggle for survival for them. In between their hard-earned rights for education and part-time jobs, they don't find time for something like a photoshoot. Added to this, is the trauma that they have to deal with," explains Rishab who himself belongs to a marginalized community.

In 2021, Rishab had made a similar calendar called "Oddity: Don't Bend, Don't Blend" where six differently-abled people were featured to spread awareness about differently-abled people and to raise funds for organizations working for them.

Next Story