Even in 2016, body shaming and gender stereotyping are not easy issues to talk about. We are supposed to be a modern, forward-thinking society — but body shamers are everywhere, and more often than not, they’re some of the people closest to us.
Tackling the culture of constantly (and negatively) sizing each other up, Bangalore-based artist Kritika Trehan recently published ‘Excess’, a visually compelling satire with striking collages.
The project began as 22-year-old Trehan's submission for a college project at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology.
"I decided to turn it into a book when several people started asking me if they could purchase it, and a lot of women wanted to gift it to friends and family who were going through something similar,” she said.
Part of what makes the book so authentic, is Trehan's openness about her own identity crisis and struggles with body shaming.
“My parents are from different cultures (Rajasthan and Punjab) and I was always confused about how I’m supposed to look," she said, "either I was not 'healthy' enough, or I was called a 'WWF wrestler'. Remarks about your body are often said in a 'joking' manner, so I wanted to ridicule this casual attitude that gives people the license to talk about other people’s bodies.”
As the project progressed, Trehan decided to include the stories of other women.
“I simply asked them one question - Have you ever been called fat/skinny shamed? I realised I wasn’t the only one going through this,” she said.
The stories of women between the ages of 13 and 55, combined with Trehan's own narrative, found form in mixed media collages — something Trehan explored for the first time in her years at Srishti.
“Collages worked seamlessly with the idea I was trying to communicate — since it’s the act of altering existing material to create something new, which is essentially what body shaming makes you want to do to your own body," she said.
The collages in Excess include images from Google, tumblr, various magazines and Trehan's grocery purchases. Excess uses imagery that most Indians recognise: the Amul girl, Barbie, Madhubala, all feature here, craving pizza, declining sugar in their tea, and wondering how 'some women' can eat anything and stay thin.
“Nostalgia played a huge role since I wanted the book to speak to women across generations," Trehan said, "I wanted to interest my grandma and a young cousin at the same time.”
One of Trehan's biggest challenges was getting the right tone.
“I didn’t want it to sound like a Do’s and Dont’s advertisement," she said, "but I was always worried about it being either too subtle or too direct. “
Trehan hopes that her work will compel people to question, if not change their perception on society, gender, and the notion of beauty. Responses to Excess have been overwhelming, but the most important ones came from close quarters — people who had body shamed Trehan in the past.
“A male friend who had body shamed me in the past told me that he finally realised what he had been doing for so long, and how it might affect the other person," she recalled, "my grandma also called and said she was guilty of body shaming, and that she’d think a little before speaking in the future.”.
Students writing to Trehan frequently suggest that she donate her book to school libraries, so young girls know how to respond to body shaming. What would she like young women to learn from the book?
"Shaming has a lot to do with how you think of yourself, and how much power you let another person hold on you," said Trehan.